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Big Brand Email Fails Continue. How Can Office Depot Do Better?

February 2nd, 2016 | 8 min read

By Darin "Doc" Berntson

Big Brand Email Fails Continue. How Can Office Depot Do Better?

Hell Hath No Fury Like An Email Subscriber Scorned!

This post is a bit long, about an 8-minute read. It's worth it, though.

Who here loves to get an email? Specifically emails from companies trying to sell you something?

I know you didn't raise your hand. So, this post is for you!

Back in November 2015, I went to the local Office Depot to buy some name badges for an upcoming HubSpot User Group meeting here in Salt Lake City.

While checking out, the clerk asked me if I wanted to sign up for their rewards program, so I did. In doing so, I opted in to receive periodic emails from the company.

Office Depot sends a lot of freaking emails. I mean a lot.

During the month of December, I was seriously laughing at the amount of emails I was receiving, but laughing even harder at what the Black Friday deals were. It was something like "Door Buster Savings on Reams of Paper". Sexy, right?

Nothing like paper to make me want to wake up at 3 AM to get in line.

For the entire month of December, the paper promotion went into full swing. Almost daily there was something in my inbox and at least 75% of the emails I received that month from Office Depot was about the paper deals in the subject headline.

In January, I decided not to delete the emails, but to keep track of them... you know, for fun. (I know, odd things amuse me)

It Started With A Tweet

On Jan 13, 2016, I tweeted the following:

From a social media experience, I have to give their team some credit. They replied pretty dang fast, so I knew they were listening (though the response didn't really answer my question).

The Experiment Continued

Jan 26, 2016, I tweeted again:

The official Office Depot Twitter account responded this time asking me to email them. (Maybe they could possibly tailor the emails to something I would want, besides paper, of course).

Let's Do This. Time To Email Office Depot

Here is a screenshot of the email I sent:

Office Depot Twitter Respose email one

Not too long after, I received a reply. I was impressed with how fast they responded.

Here is a screenshot of the reply. (names have been removed to protect the innocent)

Office Depot one

So, let's break this down.

  • My concern was addressed +1
  • Was offered an opportunity to call her, not just email +1
  • The two options (removal or opt down), while a solution does not answer my issue. Nor does it fix the issue she clearly sympathized with in the opening paragraph. -1
  • A request to opt out takes 8-10 weeks? What is this, the stone age? DO they need a carrier pigeon? -1

So, based on my "scientific scoring", I rate this email response a ZERO, or shall we call it a FAIL?

A Couple of Days Pass

I decided I was just going to let it go, or maybe I'd just opt out on my own later using the handy unsubscribe link.

Until... more promotional email fails arrive!

Here are the subject lines for the next two days of promotional emails from Office Depot

  • Jan 27: ||||| HOT Hammermill® Paper Deal |||||
  • Jan 28: Office Depot® Paper $21.99 | Gift Card with Ink or Toner Purchase

I'm Done. It's like Popeye says...

popeye this is all I can stands I cant stands no more

It's time to respond to the Customer Advocate's email from Office Depot.

Research Time. To The Trash, I Go!

I decided to go back through all emails received from Office Depot in my trash folder over the last 30 days. (Note, I only wanted to bring to their attention the emails regarding paper in the subject line. There were many more)

I spent 30-45 minutes researching and crafting this email response.

Here is what I wrote: (Copy/paste rather than screenshot since it's a bit long)

Hi Rep Name, (leaving out her name)

Thanks for the reply. Was not sure I would reply or not until I got more email from your company today.

Because I work in the internet marketing space, which includes email marketing, I really enjoy watching how some business execute. In this case, I am just extremely annoyed.

Here are some of the recent subject lines I have received from you guys:

  1. Today Jan 28 Office Depot® Paper $21.99 | Gift Card with Ink or Toner Purchase
  2. Yesterday Jan 27 ||||| HOT Hammermill® Paper Deal |||||
  3. Jan 26 Hurray for $26.99 Hammermill®!
  4. Jan 22 $19.99 Boise® X-9®. Only 2 Days Left
  5. Jan 19 $19.99 Boise® X-9®! Yes It's True
  6. Jan 18 $19.99 EACH! Boise® X-9® Paper When You Buy 2
  7. Jan 13 Sale on Quality Paper Brands
  8. Jan 6 Up to $40 Off Qualifying Purchase + Paper Deal$
  9. Jan 5 WOW!! $25.99 Hammermill® + Huge Furniture Sale!
  10. Dec 29 2 Days left on a $27.99 Paper Deal!

Now in between these it was mostly toner headlines, and prior to Christmas it was a ton more about paper, but I do not have these in my history anymore to show you.

The point is, if you insist on sending an email daily to your subscribers, or in this case "rewards members", make it worth opening, otherwise it falls on deaf ears and people do not open it.

Or, you could go a step further and segment your list out my many factors:

  • Previous purchases
  • location
  • interest
  • Type of business
  • and much more

I am in a business where I rarely print ANYTHING. A ream of paper will last me a year or more, and I sure as heck do not need boxes of it, or reminded of it every day.

I hope you do not mind my rant here, but it's just past the point of too much. You have thousands of products, and I am sure there is more that you could have on sale that I may need.


That's all I have for this response other than I am not sure why it would take in upwards of two weeks to be removed from a list. I'd like to get a good email from you, but if the same stuff keeps coming out, I'd rather receive nothing at all.

Have a great day!


Point of this email:

  • I wanted to point out that I still want information from them 
  • I offered advice on how they could segment their database (why not, it's what I do) 
  • I mentioned that I have no interest in the paper deals. 
  • And I touched on not understanding the 8-10 week process to get an opt-out. (that is crazy)

Tick Tock - Waiting For The Response

The next day I get a reply. I was excited to see what she had to say. (not like Christmas morning excited, but excited)

You'll shoot your eye out kidI felt pretty good about my email response to her.

Kind of like how Ralphie must have felt, in A Christmas Story, when he wrote his essay about getting the Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.

In this case, I just want better emails. And I really don't want to beg Office Depot for them.

So, anyway...

Just like in the movie, the response from Office Depot was just about as thoughtful as "You'll shoot your eye out, kid"!

Here is what she sent to me.


Office Depot Response two

BAM! Just like that, I am out. Problem solved? Not so fast!

Honestly, this has to be the worst response I have ever received from any customer service department, and quite possibly, the most comical. 

Other than fast-tracking my opt-out, she didn't address anything I sent in my response to her, and she's a "customer advocate"?

Of Course, I Respond.

Office Depot my response two

Obviously, in this response to her, I'm a bit annoyed. I am not trying to be a jerk, but holy crap! 

The Final Reply From Office Depot

A short while later I received this:

Office Depot reply three

While she is sorry to lose me as a customer, as the customer advocate mind you, she is apparently OK with it. That or, Office Depot is OK with her being OK with it. Either way the Grade = F

I didn't respond any further. I was over it. 

As all of this was going on, I did get one more promotional email with the subject line reading "FREE Gift Card with Qualifying Purchase". 

Click: Let's open this email up and see what I need to buy to get a FREE Gift Card, shall we?


Does it get any funnier than that? 

Reams of FREAKING PAPER are at the very top! 

Sure, I can buy $150 of paper, or other products to get this gift card, but the paper is the star of this email. 

So damn funny, it's sad!

Moral Of The Story & Educational Moment

To wrap this up, and make this post educational rather than only a rant, let's look at what Office Depot could and should be doing differently.

1. Know your buyer personas.

At the time of sign-up, use some of the information they have on me or my company to segment me into a bucket and email me what I may be interested in rather than the same damn thing every day. 

If they knew I was an internet business, sending me paper offers may not be the best idea since I just don't use that much paper. It's called the Internet.

BTW, for giggles, I did go look at my email preferences with Office Depot. There are not many options, but they have me marked as Female. Oops.

Office Depot email prefrences

Safeguard my privacy, sure. Label me as a female in your database. Have you no decency?

2. Let your customers choose.

Send me a link and let me select the types of products I am interested in buying, and then send me information on that. (Tech, supplies, pens, furniture, computers, puppies, brands I like, etc).

3. Consider adopting a new marketing technology.

Be like an Amazon or Walmart, and look at previous purchases, or maybe items I look at on your website and send me emails saying something like... "Since you bought this" or "since you looked at this" you may be interested in this.

Also, look at an email marketing platform that can help you segment your database.

4. No one needs to hear from you every damn day, I promise. 

Ask me how often I want to receive emails from you. Give me a daily, weekly, or monthly option. Maybe have an option for when a certain category goes on sale (like that iPad Pro I want). The options here are endless.

5. Experiment with different subject line headlines and offers.

cheesy.poofs.jpgYou've heard of banner blindness, right? There is probably something similar in the email world, let's just call it Spam Mc Crapperson Garbage Crap Email No One Wants for now. In either definition, people will stop seeing the junk you advertise to them if it's always the same message.

They will ignore, click delete or unsubscribe faster than a cheesy poof in the hands of Cartman!

Try different offers. Take the time to actually prepare something people may want to open rather than just rehashing the same offer just hoping that they finally open one of them.

6. Job Titles Matter.

If you are going to have someone called a "Customer Advocate", have them actually advocate for the customer... not just simply dismiss and move on. 

A title like Customer Advocate has a particular meaning behind it, and if you are going to be called that, be able to act the part.

7. Opportunity lost: Listen and delight the customer.

My last resort goal was met, I was unsubscribed. But, how she handled the conversation could have gone a number of different ways. 

She could have:

  • Said she hates to lose me as a customer, but maybe she could let me know that she was sending my info to corporate so my response would be heard and that it matters to them. 
  • Offered me to be removed for now, and then follow up with me once they have their issues fixed. 
  • Done anything else. Something like a gift card for your troubles. Send me a funny meme. Send me some cheesy poofs. Anything.

In other words, how could she and Office Depot figure out a way to go above and beyond and attempt to delight me, rather than lose me as a customer?

For a company like Office Depot, which has enough challenges as it is, it's totally fine to write me off? They have competition like Amazon, which oftentimes blows their pricing out of the water, plus free shipping. Only the experience or the convenience would make me want to remain a customer of theirs, and they blew it.

Am I the Only One? Or Just The Only One Speaking Up?

We live in an age of seller beware. It's not "buyer beware" anymore. 

Office Depot and other businesses doing similar marketing tactics need to wake the hell up. 

  • How many of their emails go unopened by people in their database? 
  • How many other subscribers unsubscribe for the same or similar reasons I did? 
  • How many people do they annoy, rather than delight?

Email marketing is still one of the best, if not the best way to market to prospects, customers, and promoters of your business. Your email list should be treated like gold and NEVER abused. 

The emails you send, the website you build, and the other marketing you do is NOT ABOUT YOU. 

Whenever you have contact with a prospect or a customer, whether it's in person, via email, on social media, or whatever, it must be all about helping and delighting them. 

If you focus on delight, all metrics will go up. If you don't focus on delight, you may as well close up shop!

Until next time,


Darin "Doc" Berntson

Owner/Head Coach @ Bernco Media. Digital sales & marketing since 1997. Passion for teaching companies to be the most trusted voice in their space. They Ask, You Answer Certified Coach & HubSpot Certified Partner & Trainer. Reversed Type 2 Diabetes doing KETO. Wears Mickey Mouse Daily. Daydreaming of next Disneyland Trip.