Comment Spotlight: Postal Addresses In Your Emails

From time to time comments on the blog are worth discussing with everyone in a new post.

During a recent critique of a post-purchase marketing email, Phyllis asked:

“As a home-based business, I am hesitant to automatically include my physical address in all emails. I have had several experiences with fraudulent emails from people claiming to want to buy one or more of my paintings[...] I would not have been happy to have these people automatically know my address because it was in my signature block.

Do you feel that even with a home-based business, there should always be an address included in the signature block and that I’m jeopardizing my business otherwise?”

She’s certainly not alone in asking this. Many other small business owners have voiced the same concern to me over the years. So let’s talk about it…

Why You Need An Address In Your Emails, Part 1: CAN-SPAM

Let’s start with the legalese. CAN-SPAM requires that a valid physical postal address appear in your emails. If you omit it, you run the risk of being fined up to $11,000 per violation.

Yes, CAN-SPAM is a U.S. law, not a global one. And you may not be in the U.S. However, if you’re working with an email service provider that operates in the U.S., they’re going to require you to abide by it in order to work with them.

Besides, CAN-SPAM isn’t the only (or even the most important) reason to include your address.

Why You Need An Address In Your Emails, Part 2: It’s Good Business

One of the things that we stress in our getting started webinars is the importance of building trust.

Including a postal address helps legitimize you to your subscribers.

The online world gives one a sense of anonymity — you can do a great deal on the Internet without identifying yourself to anyone. There’s safety in that anonymity, which Phyllis alludes to above.

But how do you trust someone who you know only by something as anonymous as an email address and (perhaps) a website URL? You can’t force them to reply to an email, and if that’s your only way of contacting them when you have a problem or question, you’re stuck. Would you be willing to take that risk as a consumer?

Many people wouldn’t. They want to know there’s a real person available, that they can hold accountable. Your subscribers may not contact you by post… but the knowledge that they can reassures them.

For that reason (as well as the legal stuff), you really do need to include a postal address.

But It Doesn’t Have To Be Your Home Address!

It just needs to be somewhere that you can receive postal mail. You can use a separate business address, even a P.O. Box.

After all, Phyllis’ concerns about someone showing up on her doorstep are totally valid… and whether you’re working from home or not, there should be a separation between your personal and professional lives.

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Justin Premick is the former Director of Educational Products at AWeber.

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32 Comments

  1. PO Boxes in the USA are cheap… $40/6 months. I personally use the UPS store for my mailing address. Much more expensive, $40ish for 3 months, but they also accept deliveries, which is important for some small businesses. I don’t even consider buying online unless I know there is a real mailing address and usually a phone number where I can actually speak to someone. The internet is too full of scam artists and businesses that are a "house of cards" I like to know they’re real.

    10/10/2007 9:59 am
  2. Hi Joel,

    Good advice – depending on what kind of mail/deliveries you expect to get, you may need a different type of mailbox solution. Thanks!

    10/10/2007 10:31 am | Follow me on Twitter
  3. The CAN-SPAM act is a US law, but it is quite liberal. If you running a business in any country of the European Union you have to respect the EU E-Commerce Regulations and its corresponding national legislation. A postal address in Emails is only the minimum requirement. Fines are quite high as well, and in Germany you might even have to pay compensation to a competitor, who detects your "offense".

    10/10/2007 11:34 am
  4. I too had the same fear. Particularly when I was going to put an address in a book I have coming out this fall. I certainly didn’t want people walking up to my home!

    The UPS Store (aka Mail Boxes Etc.) was a terrific alternative for me too. What I love is that, instead of a PO Box, I have a street address and a "Suite" number. This seems even more professional.

    Thanks for this great discussion thread.

    10/10/2007 11:53 am
  5. Are you sure that P.O. boxes comply under the CAN-SPAM Act? My understanding is that it must be a physical address. That means a UPS Store works, but not a P.O. box.

    10/10/2007 6:35 pm
  6. Hi,

    Everybody has such good advice. I really appreciate this discussion.
    I do put an address in my e-mails and my phone number. My address is a PO Box because I live in a town so small we don’t qualify for a mail carrier.

    About 2 weeks ago, a gentleman from Australia called to find out if I was for real. He said he doesn’t like doing business online with anyone who isn’t real. He also said he never orders or checks out any affers if there isn’t an address and a phone number that is answered by a person. He has been scammed by a company that put a phone number and address, but when he called he got an automated message so when he called and got me he was quite surprised and happy to find out I am a for real person.

    Thanks for the useful and very helpful information.

    10/10/2007 11:07 pm
  7. Instead of your home address, PO box (would you ‘trust’ someone who only uses a PO Box, in the UK it is still seen as ‘dodgy’) you could also use the address of your accountant (in UK circumstances, not sure how this works in the US of A) because 9 times out of 10 it’s also your ‘registered address’ for your company.
    (Company laws in the UK states specifically you have to mention at least that address in any communication you have with prospects and clients).

    (Keep It Simple Sweetheart, specially in business)

    10/11/2007 4:39 am
  8. Elizabeth,

    While we can point you to the text of the law, it’s prudent to review laws that affect your business (such as CAN-SPAM) with your legal counsel for their interpretation and advice on what you should use. You can get a PDF copy of CAN-SPAM from the FTC. You may also want to refer your counsel to the proposed rulemaking that followed shortly after CAN-SPAM was enacted.

    Shirley,

    Great idea – including a phone number can be a powerful trust-builder.

    10/11/2007 7:23 am | Follow me on Twitter
  9. Justin,
    USPS works for US clients only. I live in India. Are you aware of a similar service that international businesses can avail of?

    10/11/2007 8:38 am
  10. Hi Arindam,

    Sorry, but I’m not. Perhaps some of our readers can help you?

    10/11/2007 8:52 am | Follow me on Twitter
  11. Trevor

    A physical address is a good idea if you are selling physical products, but for someone selling e-books for a few dollars, the last thing you want is people calling or turning up to ask for one-to-one support on something you sell for a few bucks. I’d rather lose the sale than run the risk of dealing with nutters. If you’re selling through clickbank, the customer can always get a refund even if the seller doesn’t reply to e-mails so theres no problem.

    In the UK a PO Box is seen as though you have something to hide (and its easy to find the real address behind it because by law they have to give the real address to anyone that asks).

    If it’s law in the US then you gotta do it, but if it isn’t in your country then I think you need to consider the type of business you run rather than just saying ‘It’s always better to put your physical address’ when clearly in some circumstances it isn’t.

    10/11/2007 9:15 am
  12. I agree on the use of post office boxes.

    I have used one for years. As I don’t own my own home, most of my life has been apartment living and their mailboxes are notoriously not secure. I have had mine broken into a number of times.

    I also notice I get less junk mail using a po box address.

    Have a good day everyone!

    10/11/2007 12:04 pm
  13. This is an interesting discussion.

    I have a home business (have owned several over the years) and I have no problem putting my home address and phone number in my contact information and on all outgoing emails.

    I’ve never had a problem with this in over 25 years of owning home businesses.

    I did learn early on to set a policy of answering the phone only in the late afternoon eastern time and I have a strict "by appointment only" policy for anyone to visit my home. I make no exceptions for that – no appointment, no meeting. Yes, I’ve lost customers and clients, but never one of my best clients – they understand.

    In general, when a face-to-face meeting is desired, I go to my customers and clients and meet them at their homes and businesses, or we agree to meet at a restaurant conveniently located between us.

    I live in a nice, peaceful, rural area, so I don’t feel like I’m taking any undue chances in telling people where I live. After all, if they really want to know, it’s not too difficult to find out.

    I’m also huge and would not feel physically threatened if someone showed up unexpectedly.

    If I lived in a different area or was unable to defend myself, I may have different feelings and may choose to use a UPS store or equivalent as my address.

    (I’m not saying that’s why anyone else would choose to go that route – there is no intention of casting aspersions in anyone’s direction.)

    Truthfully, I’m more concerned with the people who enforce CAN-SPAM than I am with some random person showing up here, and I’m not too concerned about them because I always show my address and phone.

    As others have said, I never do business with someone who doesn’t show a real address and phone number, and if I’m buying anything more expensive than a book or two, I do call them first.

    Act on your dream!

    10/11/2007 3:58 pm
  14. I live in South Africa and almost everyone here has a Post Box address – we do not have a postal delivery. I live in a rural area on a farm and if I gave my physical address people would think I live on Mars! (ptn 42/11/249 JT!) So I hope a Post Box number does not put people off. I do include my landline telephone number and my mobile number and I have had calls from Germany, Greece, and Namibia asking about my product, so it must work! I do like the sound of the UPS store with a suite number.
    I have just been reading about a new ‘live chatline’ which could really build trust with your clients. You can actually see when someone is looking at your site, even see which page they are on and chat to them. http://www.unlocktheinternetgame.com/demo/.
    Have a good weekend!

    10/11/2007 3:59 pm
  15. The idea of a business publicising its physical address is not new. Its the way things operate in the ‘real world’. Why should it be so different just because a business has an online presence? If you have an office or shop somewhere, then people can turn up. Its life. If a business in only prepared to offer a post office box as an address, then this suggests to me that the business will not be building much trust online. People may still deal with it, but not in the same way.

    10/11/2007 5:23 pm
  16. First of all, we here at Got Eyewash enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. We always learn a great deal about email marketing by keeping up with Aweber blog posts.

    We use a P.O. Box for our physical address at the bottom of every email to the members of our MVP Club, but it is not because we are trying thide behind it at all. We actually use that P.O. Box for checks and money orders that our customers mail to us.

    Does anyone feel as though we should change that? We do not think customers frown upon the fact that we use a P.O. box.

    We look forward to your feedback.

    10/11/2007 9:07 pm
  17. That is an interesting note on the use of PO boxes in the UK – in the US, they are seen as "iffy", because although fake businesses may use them, there are also a lot of legitimate uses for them as well, including home-based businesses.

    For what it is worth, I have an toll-free number that costs me less than $5 a month through http://www.tollfreenumber.org. One of the reasons why I picked it up is so that I have more credibility as a business.

    10/11/2007 9:53 pm
  18. I do woory about using a personal address because there is the prospect of getting even more junk mail than I do at the moment. I agree with Karin that using a PO box in the UK has a lot of stigma attached to it, and would probably put me off the product is I saw one in an advertisement. So thare are cultural boundaries which are hard to overcome. If we as global sales warriors want to reach out across different nations, that would suggest that we are left with an impossible task when trying to comply with different rules and cultural expectations.

    10/12/2007 4:30 am
  19. In the US I have read from several people that instead of publishing the actual PO Box you can just use the street address of the post office, followed by a Suite number which corresponds to the box. The USPS will deliver it to the box as you would want and you don’t look like you’re using a PO Box if you’re concerned about looking illegitimate.

    10/12/2007 2:24 pm
  20. Mich

    You can always use mailboxes etc or a postal annex for your mailing address too. I figure it’s the right idea to use a toll-free number too since it lends itself to attracting more callers.

    I just registered with http://www.tollfreenumber.org tollfreenumber.ORG and the service has been very good. Thanks for the tip Lori! I recommend them too.

    10/13/2007 8:25 am
  21. To me, a visible phone number is more important than whether a business is using a physical address or PO Box. If I have a question, I want to talk with a live person during business hours and I don’t want to search for the number.

    As for PO Boxes, I think they are legitimate. I collect a lot of business cards with both a physical and PO Box on them. When I ask them, they usually respond it is for security purposes or because their support staff is off-location.

    Finally, it is common practice for large corporations to use PO Boxes as their billing addresses – just look at your credit card and utility bills.

    10/15/2007 7:26 am
  22. Trevor

    I made £2.5M, that’s about half a million dollars, selling e-books in the last two years without a physical address or phone number on my website or anywhere. Most of that was made from back-end sales as my customers came to recognise me as a trustworthy individual after purchasing my first ‘cheap’ product and carrying on from there. I think if I were just selling high ticket items then it would be essential to have a physical address and phone number, as I too wouldn’t spend a lot without it, but having already built a relationship with my customers its easy to upsell without the need. I can defend myself very well if necessary, but if my 3 year old is in the house I wouldn’t like the idea of some random weirdo turning up round the back!

    10/15/2007 12:31 pm
  23. Trevor,

    Thanks for sharing your experience! I agree that as the price of a product or service increases, the more trust-building measures you’ll want to utilize, including a postal address and phone number.

    There are certainly many actions that you can take to build trust with your subscribers; I would prefer to utilize as many of those as I can. To some people, having a postal address for your business in your messages helps legitimize you. While you’ve clearly done well, I’m left wondering if including a postal address (though as you’ve indicated, not your personal residence) wouldn’t bring in more sales.

    Of course, the only way to find out would be to test…

    10/15/2007 2:51 pm | Follow me on Twitter
  24. Hello,
    this is all good input. I have a small business and I am trying to grow it. What I have realized is that I cannot do it all! So I am looking for a service that knows how to professionally do my aweber emails etc.

    One thing I have learned is that even when i hire folks, because I do not know what to ask, when to ask or really any of the important questions to ask, I thus cannot differentiate between a pro and an average or new person/business. Make sence? Because I don’t understand all accounting, web marketing, web consulting, web hosting, advertising agencies etc etc. I don’t know who is good and who is not, if your new in the biz you have learned this same thing. Yes, i have used guru, and tdc etc.

    So alas, still looking for great help!

    10/17/2007 11:57 am
  25. Thank you so much, Justin and everyone else for posting my question and giving me options on dealing with including a physical address in emails. I’m now debating about putting down the real thing–funny that I don’t hesitate to do so in printed material– or to set up a post office box or UPS Store box.

    10/24/2007 2:56 pm
  26. Tara

    can people find out your location throught emails? like when you fill out the subscription page information, can people who email you find it out?

    10/26/2007 6:17 pm
  27. Tara,

    When subscribers fill out an AWeber signup form, they transmit their IP address. We check that IP against a database to approximate their location (country, state, city) so that our users can segment their lists geographically. However, we do not associate a postal address with subscriber IP addresses.

    10/29/2007 8:51 am | Follow me on Twitter
  28. ap

    HI To all as i am a complete novice in all things to do with trading on the Internet and this being my first visit to this "Blog Page" I must say that I find it ver useful,as I have so much to learn about all things in this new venture,I do agree with Trevor who it would appear is quiet succesful that choice of business is certainly a first reguisite and that depending upon where you are based dictates what format you use regarding the Information you wish to display for to be contacted to much Information to much Private Information is in my opinion "Dangerous"

    11/2/2007 3:59 am
  29. David

    Some interesting discussion, and I realise I’m adding a comment a few years after the previous one.

    Whilst I understand an address builds trust, I still have reservations about revealing it to everyone.

    Is there a problem in removing some of the detail from your address, such as your door number, and your suburb?

    Would making it vague break the can-spam laws?

    8/24/2010 8:01 am
  30. David,

    You need to be able to receive postal mail at the address as you enter it in your emails.

    Here’s a good way to look at it: if I took the postal address, as you have entered it in your email, and sent a postcard to you at that address, would you receive it?

    If so, then you’re fine. If not, then you need to fix your address to conform to CAN-SPAM.

    8/24/2010 9:13 am | Follow me on Twitter
  31. Glad to see you’re still chatting! So, late input from UK. Many UK and European users are concerned about conforming with local legislation when using a cloud service – can I comply? Where is the data stored? Some UK / European specific advice would be useful and would encourage more uptake for you.

    Small comment on toll free / free phone numbers – US people seem to like them but neurotic UK customers tend to see them as another way to hide, preferring a geographical area code. Lots of peole have inclusive minutes phone deals anyway… Vive la difference!

    By the way, I heard about Aweber after I posed a Linkedin question about a ‘TopTen’ email marketing survey. People said it wasn’t a good survey because it didn’t include Aweber!

    8/25/2010 5:45 am

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