5 Big Reasons Why You Should Never Buy an Email List


Share on LinkedIn

Image Source

Email is a crucial part of any marketing strategy. It takes relatively little effort to set up, especially when using a good email app, and can offer substantial returns (up to 122% ROI in some cases). 

Your marketing emails can contain attention-grabbing offers or give the customers direct links to products or information that help them make informed purchasing decisions. Email marketing can also instigate conversations that lead to more conversions and sales

Businesses have to be flexible, as demonstrated by the many moving to cloud apps and remote work, but having a good customer base is one of the foundations of growing your business and increasing revenue. Knowing how to expand that base in the right way is essential. 

Building your email list is an important tactic to grow your customer base, but how do you go about it? The major route to obtaining a larger email list was once to buy it from a company specializing in this area, but times have changed. There are now a number of reasons why this is a tactic you should never employ. We look at five of them. 

1. Legality & Regulations

Image Source 

We all know laws and regulations can be complicated and hard to understand. That’s especially true when it comes to the valuable resource we call customer data. What laws and regulations affect you depends on where you do business. If you trade on a global scale, you need to be aware of any data protection laws in the countries you transact in.


The GDPR was implemented in May of 2018 and is a regulation within EU law covering privacy and data protection across the European Economic Area and European Union. It also regulates the transfer of data outside those areas. Its primary purpose is to give people control over their data and to regulate international business. 

Any company, anywhere in the world, has to adhere to GDPR if they do business within the EEA and EU.  

How GDPR affects the inclusion of customer details on a mailing list can be summarized in four simple points:

  • Customers must give active consent (i.e. tick a box rather than untick a box).
  • Consent should be kept separate from other terms and conditions. 
  • Withdrawing consent should be simple. 
  • Clear records should be kept of customers who consent, when they did it, and how. 


Image Source 

If you operate only within the USA, the law you need to be aware of is the CAN-SPAM Act (the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act), which has been in force since 2003. This not only regulates agile testing and bulk emails but any sort of commercial message (defined as “any electronic mail message, the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service”).

If you send an email that violates CAN-SPAM, you can face a fine of up to $43,792. This fine can be applied to each and every email that violates the act. The main requirements of the law are:

  • No false/misleading headers. Information should be accurate and identify the sender. 
  • The subject line must accurately describe message content. 
  • If your message is an advertisement, you must identify it as such.
  • Your message must contain a valid legal/physical address even if that address is a post box. 
  • There must be a clear way for the receiver to opt out of future messages. 
  • Opt-outs must be cost-free and honored within 10 working days.
  • You are legally responsible for such messages even if you have contracted your marketing emails to a third party. 

2. Brand Damage 

If you decide to buy an email list and then send marketing emails to the thousands of names on it, your email will be classified as spam. To get an idea of how big a problem spam email can be, let’s consider a few statistics:

  • The average number of emails sent each day is around 22.43 billion.
  • Nearly 85% of emails are spam.
  • 36% of all spam is advertising. 
  • For every 12.5 million spam emails, one reply is sent. 

Not only is spam immensely annoying to the receiver, but the chances of success are one in 12.5 million. And, if you’re sending completely unsolicited and potentially illegal emails, you’re tarnishing your brand image among potential customers and decreasing the likelihood of them buying from you in the future. 

Consumers aren’t afraid to share their opinions, and many research a company before making a significant purchase. If your business gains a reputation as one that spams potential customers, negative comments and reviews will appear online and your brand reputation could be irrevocably damaged. You will often find people screen sharing these reviews on social media. 

3. Poor Response Rate/ROI 

Image Source 

Two figures already mentioned should be considered here. A good (not spam) email marketing campaign can deliver up to 122% ROI. And around one reply is sent for every 12.5 million spam emails fired off. 

Let’s say you send out 13 million spam emails and get one reply that leads to a $1500 sale. That $1500 may cost you a substantial fine under the relevant regulations as well as a damaged reputation among your customers. 

With such obviously poor returns, it’s not worth the risk of sending out such emails.  

4. Issues with Provider

Other considerations aside, if you buy an email list and spam the people on it, you may face big problems with your provider. Most email providers on the public cloud actively work to reduce spam, and if your emails start being flagged as such, they could fine you, close your account, or launch legal action against you. 

With some email providers, they may prohibit the very buying of an email list within their terms and conditions. They view even the purchase itself as a form of spamming, and doing so could lead to the punitive actions listed above. 

If you are running an email campaign or managing a large list, think about using a BULK service such as Campaign Monitor or MailChimp. If you are cold calling at an individual level, then Postbox is great. But bought email lists should never be your go-to when using these services. 

5. Quality 

Another negative of buying an email list is that it will most likely be of very poor quality. It’s doubtful you will have exclusive access to it, and you could be one of multiple businesses sending out email generators with spam emails to those on the list. Going back to that one in 12.5 million figure, how much worse would that number be if each person is spammed by 10 or 20 other companies?

The companies that sell these lists are looking for a quick and unethical profit, and they care very little about what benefits the list brings you in the long term. Another thing to consider is just what % of the leads on that list are actually likely to be interested in your product or service. 

You want quality in every aspect of how you do business, from video conferencing to customer service provision. Why drop those standards in this one area? 

So What Do I Do?

Image Source

We are increasingly looking to automated solutions such as RPA software in each area of our business. This can apply to emails too, but first, we need to build that mailing list. 

We all want our businesses to grow, and we all know that good – and ethical – marketing is the cornerstone of that growth. We also want to consider the pricing of any email service we use. 

So how do we build an email list in such a way that we remain ethical, avoid breaking laws, upsetting new or potential customers, tarnishing our brand reputation, and ultimately damaging revenue? 

Emails can help increase revenue during the slower months of the business year. And when used in tandem with digital innovations such as SaaS, we can create a streamlined and efficient model. 

There are many ways to build an ethical mailing list i.e. one that recognizes consent (and the right to withdraw at any time) and one that will, in the long term, enhance rather than damage the reputation of your business. 

Some ways to expand your email list include:

  • Optimizing signups on your website. Any visitor to your site is showing some level of interest in your products. Encourage them to sign up to your mailing list by providing the option on all your pages. 
  • Social media. Social media is a great engagement tool. By highlighting offers and features on posts across various platforms, you can attract new sign ups by encouraging them via your posts. 
  • Blogs. Blogs are not only great – and informative – marketing tools; they can also be a conduit to getting potential customers to sign up in order to receive future offers or information. 
  • Special offers. Another way to grow your list is to incentivize it. Make it clear across your channels and platforms that ‘members’ of your mailing list receive exclusive offers and discounts that are not available elsewhere. People like to feel special. 
  • Trade shows & exhibitions. If your organization attends any of these, they can be a fantastic way to add to your mailing list, especially when you consider that people at these events are likely to have more than a passing interest in your services. 
  • Call centres. If you have a contact centre or dialler systems, you may receive thousands of calls every day. A large number of these callers may not be on your existing list, so why not have your agents ask to sign them up during the call? If you do not have your own call centre, you can outsource to one from this list of UK call centres. 
  • Offer freebies. Another incentive, but it can be worth your while to offer a low value item (to you) when people sign up to your list. Yes, many may later choose to opt out, but it is likely more will stay than leave. 
  • Subscription levels. Many people are understandably hesitant to sign up to lists as they think they will be inundated with emails. Offer different subscription levels that dictate what they will receive and how often, and make it clear you will never share their info with third parties. 
  • Quotes and invoices. If you are sending quotes or invoices to customers not on your list, include an opt-in option with their paperwork. This is easy to do, especially if you use good quoting software. 

The Takeaway

Image Source

Email marketing remains one of the most powerful tools when it comes to communicating with your existing customer base and increasing conversions from potential customers. But purchased lists of customer contact details should be a no-go area for any organization with an ounce of sense or ethics, never mind those wanting to avoiding legal repercussions. 

If you are just starting to build your email list, be patient and learn to walk before you run. A little time and a lot of hard work can help you build not only a sizable list but one that will lead to conversions and a good ROI. Take advantage of free email app trials to help you reach out. 

Samuel O'Brien
Sam O’Brien is the Chief Marketing Officer for Affise—a Global SaaS Partner Marketing Solution. He is a growth marketing expert with a product management and design background. Sam has a passion for innovation, growth, and marketing technology.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here