Should You Rent Out Your Customer List?
About 10 percent of all consumer catalogers and an estimated 25 percent of business-to-business catalogers don’t rent or exchange names with any outside companies, according to a leading list-management company.
This month I’ll discuss the different aspects of putting your No. 1 company asset — your customer list — on the rental market. Caveat: I believe it’s healthy and necessary for a catalog company to rent and exchange names with others — providing the proper controls that govern the use or unauthorized use of the names are in place.
Consumer catalogers that don’t rent their lists often rationalize this practice by saying they’re protecting customers from getting unsolicited mail. They also think their valued customer names don’t appear on other lists. But these customers are proven mail-order buyers, and in many cases, are active and responsive catalog shoppers. As catalog buyers, their names most likely already reside on several other lists and probably on one of the cooperative databases. So while these buyer names are proprietary to your catalog offering, these same customer records probably also appear on many other outside lists.
Before the advent of cooperative databases, you could, to some degree, protect and/or reduce the amount of mail going to your customers by not renting your list. But since these co-ops have grown, there’s a strong likelihood that the very customer names you think are proprietary to your catalog are being rented frequently by other mailers. Indeed, the co-ops have changed the way mailers look at the list rental market.
In times past, you’d have difficulty obtaining lists if you weren’t willing to rent your own file. This mindset has changed since companies are hungrier for list-rental income to boost their bottom lines. Not renting or exchanging names can and does impact the universe of lists available to you for prospecting. Therefore, the growth of your catalog company will be limited if you’re unwilling to rent and/or exchange names with others. Think of it this way: If your list works for a particular mailer, chances are their list will work for you, too.