A case in point: Amazon's new Apparel and Accessories Store, launched with great fanfare last month and featuring merchandise from companies such as Lands' End, Guess?, and Gap. Like many others, I was enticed—as a longtime Amazon addict—to try it because of a $30 coupon promotion.
I clicked on the apparel store tab, put a couple of pairs of pants from Old Navy and a fleece from Nordstrom into my Amazon shopping cart, then checked out with my Amazon customer ID and password. As anticipated, the merchandise arrived in a few days. But an unexpected addition showed up two weeks later: a pitch from Old Navy titled "Free Shipping. Plus, Item of the Week."
It was a promotional e-mail, sent to the address I use for Amazon ordering. Mystified, I turned to spam-hunting tools to discover the e-mail had indeed been sent on behalf of Old Navy by direct marketing firm Digital Impact. I had never purchased directly from Old Navy's Web site or knowingly signed up for e-mails from Old Navy, and my Amazon "Customer Communication Preferences" were set to refuse marketing e-mails.
Even though I'd started on Amazon, visited a main Amazon store tab, placed the order and paid through Amazon, the order was filled, in part, by Old Navy—abruptly trumping my Amazon customer preferences. Old Navy could now market to me to its heart's content, limited only by Old Navy's policies.
Patty Smith, Amazon director of corporate communications, points out that Amazon posts the privacy policies of most affiliated merchants. Had I discovered the "Old Navy & Your Privacy" link on the lower right of Amazon's Old Navy merchandise page, for example, it would have taken me to a policy that clearly states that Old Navy automatically adds me to its promotional e-mail list when I buy anything it fulfills.
Before placing their next Amazon.com order, consumers might consider with whom they're really doing business and what e-mail address they're using. The increase in the number of Amazon's merchant partners might lead to more-convenient shopping—and a commensurate boom in registration for disposable Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail addresses to be used strictly for Amazon.com purchases.
Frank Catalano is a tech-industry analyst, consultant, and author. He can be reached via www.catalanoconsulting.com.