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Why Do Unsubscribe Requests Take So Long To Process?

Good email management dictates occasionally unsubscribing from mailing lists that no longer interest you. But why are so many companies super-tardy when it comes to removing you?

Over the past week or so, I’ve been conducting my annual Unsubscribe Review, where I remove myself from mailing lists I’m no longer interested in (or which I failed to notice the ‘no email’ option when I made a one-off purchase). Largely, this involves bothering to click through on the unsubscribe option on emails, rather than just automatically deleting them without really thinking about it. (I take the old-school approach of deleting irrelevant email, so I can’t use the approach of searching for the word ‘unsubscribe’ to identify potential problems, but that’s definitely worth remembering if you take a Gmail-style don’t-delete-anything attitude.)

Unsubscribing has certainly reduced the number of irrelevant incoming mails I’m getting, but I can’t help wondering why so many companies treat what should be a simple one-time task as a major chore. In an ideal world, clicking on an unsubscribe link should result in an experience like this:

In practice, though, it’s far more common to encounter a message like the one from PayPal seen at the top of this post, claiming that the process will happen “within five days”. What exactly are the five days needed for? Are there already five days of marketing messages lined up ready to post? Is PayPal secretly storing its data for each user on individual floppies which have to be retrieved by low-paid support workers in South-East Asia? It’s not like we’re talking about a small company here, after all.

Sadly, five days isn’t even the worst-case scenario I’ve encountered. That was this, from SanDisk, which admittedly has form when it comes to communications inefficiency:

In reality, deleting a record from a database should be able to happen instantaneously. Got any insights into why these delays occur? Been offered a longer delay than ten days? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.