Purchased Email Lists: Should You Use Them To Grow Your eCommerce Store?

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Humans are always looking for shortcuts.

A diet pill that makes us lose weight without going to a gym. A get-rich-quick pyramid scheme. A cryptocurrency that “can’t fail.”

In the eCommerce and business world, purchased email lists seem to fit in this same category of shortcuts.

Is email marketing really just as simple as ponying up some cash for a list of names?

I’m sure you can already tell but the tone of this intro, but the answer is most likely no. In fact, purchasing an email list rather than growing it organically has some pretty serious implications (many of them bad).

That said, the answer can be a bit nuanced, and there may actually be an appropriate time to purchase leads, but only in very unique scenarios.

We’ll tackle all of these questions and more in this post, as well as:

  • The implications of purchasing email lists
  • What scenarios may be appropriate for buying leads
  • How to grow an organic email list
  • The difference between single opt-in and double opt-in protocols
  • Strategies to maintain a high open rate in your email marketing strategy

And much more.

Let’s get into it.

The benefits of using email marketing for eCommerce

You likely wouldn’t be asking the question about purchased email lists if you didn’t already believe in the power of email.

Or, perhaps you’re just curious.

Either way, let’s start by reviewing some of the proven benefits of email marketing efforts for eCommerce:

It’s cost-effective

In digital marketing, the rule of thumb for a favorable return on investment (ROI) is a 5:1 ratio. Anything above 10:1 is considered an exceptional ROI.

In fact, it wouldn’t be out of place to think of email lists as real-life business investments.

Email marketing has a 36:1 ROI, according to a 2021 study by Constant Contact. That’s right. For every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return is $36.

This is because, unlike paid ads, in-person events, or media placements, email campaigns cost next to nothing after the initial setup.

Many solopreneurs and small companies are making an absolute killing on email marketing by simply putting out useful, helpful, and informative content via a weekly or monthly newsletter.

Or, they’re using lead magnets to capture prospect email addresses and then slowly dripping out additional content and product offers to slowly move them down the sales funnel.

It’s trackable

With legacy marketing, such as radio, TV, print, and even some digital ads, it can be nearly impossible to properly attribute leads or sales to particular campaigns.

But with email marketing, you can literally see how people are interacting (or not) with your emails—whether they’re opening them, clicking through links, or unsubscribing.

Even beyond that, when you couple email marketing with a web analytics platform like Google Analytics, you can actually see precisely what links each user clicks, how they behave on your site, and whether or not they convert to the next step in the sales funnel.

This enables you to make truly data-driven decisions about your marketing strategy. You can see what’s working, double down on those efforts, and then discard the tactics that just aren’t resonating with your audience.

It’s personal

Even over 50 years after its invention in 1971, the email inbox is still sacred.

In fact, email is the most intimate digital medium available to marketers today. Sure, you can use personalization tags in paid ads or even send direct mail, but those still go through an intermediary platform like Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

When it comes to email, you’re not merely throwing a message at them through a megaphone—you’re having a conversation

Email allows you to personalize each message to an individual recipient and make them feel like you’re talking directly to them, which leads to more conversions as well as higher customer satisfaction.

It’s versatile

The versatility of email as a marketing channel is undeniable, especially when it comes to eCommerce stores.

You can use it for anything from a welcome email sequence to a product announcement, event invitations, shipping notifications, cart abandonment reminders, and so much more.

And you’re not limited to static content either. As technology advances, so does the level of interactivity you can have with emails.

You can now embed interactive content like surveys, quizzes, polls, countdown timers, and more directly into emails. This not only increases engagement but also allows you to collect valuable customer data.

Plus, the automation available with modern email marketing platforms makes it easy to set up drip campaigns that send out a sequence of emails based on the individual actions of each recipient.

It allows for deep audience segmentation

Most email marketing platforms have sophisticated segmentation tools that allow you to split your list into smaller, more targeted segments.

This means you can send the right message to the right people at the right time based on their individual behavior or identity.

For example, if someone has been inactive for a while, you could try sending them a reactivation campaign.

Or, if they bought a certain product, you could send them an email offering accessories that go well with their purchase.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to audience segmentation and email marketing technology makes it easy to do.

And the best part? All of this can be automated. That means you can write all your emails in bulk, set it up once, and let your email marketing platform of choice do the work.

It can’t be taken away from you

Finally, one of the most compelling reasons to use email marketing is that you own your list.

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can all decide to change their algorithms or policies at any time—and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Email is different though. Even if your email marketing platform decides to make changes or even goes out of business, you still own the list of email subscribers and their data.

You can export that information at any time and use it in your marketing campaigns, no matter how much the landscape changes.

The potential benefits of purchasing email lists

Alright, now that we’ve gone over the immense benefits of email marketing, you’re probably a little bit more eager to get started.

Perhaps you’re even investigating the possibility of purchasing an email list of prospects to get a jump start on your audience.

We get it. Building an email list, just like all other organic marketing channels, is tough and takes a lot of time, and nobody wants to just wait around for an audience to grow bit by bit.

We try to stay balanced here at SkuVault, so let’s give this idea of purchasing an email list a fair shake.

Here are two potential benefits of purchasing a list for your email outreach efforts.

You get a jump-start on your audience building

The biggest benefit of buying an email list is that you can get a jump-start on your audience building.

You don’t have to wait around for people to find your website and subscribe, or try to incentivize them with discounts, giveaways, and other tactics.

You can purchase access to a high-quality list of prospects right away and start sending out your content, announcements, and promotions.

You can test and hone your copywriting skills

Another benefit of purchasing an email list is that it gives you the freedom to test and hone your marketing skills.

You can try out different subject lines, calls-to-action, design elements, content strategies, and more.

Of course, this only works if you purchase a high-quality email list from a reliable marketing provider that provides accurate and up-to-date information.

But if you do, it can be a great opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t before investing your energy and resources into building an organic list.

The problems, challenges, and downsides of purchasing email lists

Before you pull the trigger on buying that list of names and uploading that CSV into your email platform, there are some pretty serious implications you should be aware of.

Here are some of the downsides to prospecting a purchased email list:

High likelihood of outdated email addresses

No one in marketing likes getting their emails bounced back. It’s a waste of time, resources, and effort for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, when it comes to buying an email list, this is all too common due to the fact that email lists can become outdated quickly—especially if they were collected from publicly available sources or through third parties.

You might get a smattering of random personal email addresses from totally unrelated markets, making it highly unlikely you’ll be able to turn them into new customers.

This risk is especially prevalent if you’re targeting industries with high turnover rates, like tech or finance.

Sophisticated spam filters are more likely to detect purchased email addresses

Another downside of purchasing an email list is that the recipients may be more likely to get caught in spam filters.

Many spam filters are sophisticated enough to detect purchased emails, and this could end up hurting your deliverability rate and damaging your organizational reputation.

Potential of violating anti-spam laws due to lack of opt-in

This downside requires a bit of explanation, so bear with me.

It’s certainly not the most “fun” part of the job, but any marketing professional must have a thorough understanding of anti-spam laws.

Failing to do so may result in potentially devastating lawsuits being brought again your organization.

These laws include the following:

CAN-SPAM Act (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) in the United States, which requires that commercial emails include certain information, such as a valid physical mailing address and an opt-out mechanism.

GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the European Union, which requires that businesses obtain explicit consent from individuals before sending them marketing emails and also requires them to provide a way for individuals to unsubscribe.

CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) in Canada, which requires that businesses obtain consent from individuals before sending them commercial electronic messages and also provides for a right of action for individuals who receive unwanted messages.

Spam Act 2003 in Australia, which regulates the sending of commercial electronic messages and provides penalties for individuals who send spam.

The best way to safeguard your organization against these lawsuits is to implement a double opt-in mechanism as part of your email marketing.

Double opt-in in email marketing refers to the process of a user signing up for your email list and then confirming their subscription via an email that you sent to them.

This extra step helps ensure that the user is actually interested in receiving emails from you, and it also helps protect you against any potential legal action resulting from sending unsolicited emails.

Unfortunately, if you purchase an email list, it’s extremely unlikely that any of the emails on the list have gone through a double opt-in process.

This means that you may be in violation of anti-spam laws if you send marketing messages to them without first obtaining explicit consent from each recipient.

This is especially risky when sending to recipients in Canada. Notice the language in the CASL law, which requires businesses to “obtain consent from individuals before sending them commercial electronic messages.”

The potential consequences are severe: fines and penalties of up to $1 million per violation (seriously).

If you don’t want to risk your business reputation or incur massive fines, then purchasing email lists is definitely not the way to go.

The wise choice for eCommerce stores would be to focus on building a quality list organically and through double opt-in protocols. This will ensure that you’re in compliance with anti-spam laws and protect your business from potential legal action.

It may take a bit more time, but the long-term benefits are worth it.

No way to verify the quality of email addresses prior to purchasing

The other downside to purchasing an email list is that there’s no way to verify the quality of the emails prior to purchasing.

You may think you’re buying “high-quality” email lists, but chances are there will be some bad apples in the bunch—emails that are no longer valid, emails that bounced back, or emails that are associated with spam traps.

All of these things can negatively impact your email deliverability rate, which will in turn negatively affect your open and click-through rates.

Not only that, but sending emails to bad email addresses also increases the chance of being flagged as a spammer, which could lead to your emails getting blocked by ISPs.

In other words, buying an email list is not only a potential violation of the law, but it’s also bad for business.

Skewed performance metrics will sabotage your email marketing efforts

So let’s say you are somehow able to circumvent or avoid all of the aforementioned downsides.

There’s still one massive issue with purchasing email lists: it completely sabotages your email performance metrics.

Let me illustrate this disadvantage with a real-life story.

A real-life example of why you shouldn’t purchase email lists

I remember working with an organization that, early on, purchased a large list of emails in their industry (over 10,000) and uploaded them into their marketing automation software.

At the time, they were just learning the ropes of email marketing and wanted to get a jumpstart on their list (an understandable impulse for a tech startup).

Over the years, the organization grew and began to learn more about email marketing best practices. This included implementing double opt-in protocols, building out an organic list, and sending out valuable weekly newsletters.

But a major problem revealed itself: the organic leads were now completely intermingled with the purchased leads. And because the marketing automation software had gone through multiple iterations, nobody was sure which leads were purchased and which were organic.

In other words, you had junk leads mixed with good leads, and nobody knew how to parse them out.

The end result was that we couldn’t trust our email performance metrics. Open rates and click-through rates were either terrible or, at most, below average. Why?

Because 50% of the list was likely totally dead, outdated, or had no interest in the organization.

It was a mess and caused a lot of headaches down the line.

Not to mention the fact that we weren’t able to measure and improve our email performance through A/B testing or different messaging.

This reason alone should give you pause when considering purchasing an email list.

On the other hand, if you take the time to build an organic list using permission-based emails, you’ll know exactly who is on your list and you can trust that your open rates and click-through rates reflect the actual performance of your campaigns.

Most email marketing software and email service providers prohibit rented or purchased email lists

This is probably the most significant downside of all and may be the last thing you need to see on the subject.

Due to the fact that spam is already such a heavily-regulated and maligned practice, almost all modern email service providers and software platforms outright prohibit the use of purchased or rented email lists.

Others who don’t prohibit it make it extremely difficult by mandating double opt-in procedures.

Here is a list of email service providers that will ban users for using of purchased or rented lists:

  1. MailChimp
  2. Constant Contact
  3. Campaign Monitor
  4. Sendinblue
  5. Mailgun
  6. Postwork
  7. SparkPost
  8. Elastic Email

This reason alone should cause any business owner to exercise extreme caution when entertaining the idea of purchased lists.

Even if you don’t see your email service provider of choice on this list, those that don’t outright prohibit it will make it much harder to use purchased email lists through double opt-in safeguards.

Let’s summarize this section:

Purchasing email lists is not a good idea for several reasons, including the potential of breaking privacy laws, damaging your reputation, and skewing your email performance metrics.

And perhaps most convincingly, all reputable email marketing services either frown upon or strictly prohibit the use of a purchased list.

It’s best to focus on growing an organic list with permission-based emails to ensure accuracy in your email performance metrics and provide a valuable experience for your customers.

List building strategies for earning email lists that stand the test of time

It may be a slower road, but you can’t go wrong with following these email marketing best practices:

  1. Create signup forms with a compelling call to action or lead magnets that will appeal to your target audience.
  2. Whenever you build a landing page, embed those signup forms for website visitors and potential customers.
  3. For anyone that fills out your email sign up form, send a double opt-in email for them to confirm their subscription. This has the added benefit of preventing your emails from going to the spam folder.
  4. Prompt new customers to sign up for your email list as part of their checkout process.
  5. Funnel fans from your social media accounts to your email list. This is one of the fastest and most reliable sources of organic lead generation.
  6. Welcome new subscribers with an email sequence that includes content, products, insights, or other things that appeal to your target audience.
  7. Keep your email contacts organized and clean, routinely purging cold email subscribers who haven’t engaged with your emails at all in six months.
  8. Segment email addresses into separate email lists based on demographic information, landing pages, social media channels, or anything else relevant to your business.

Doing this will be more beneficial in the long run and result in better ROI from your email campaigns.

Is there ever an appropriate scenario for purchasing an email list?

To be fair, there are appropriate scenarios for buying email lists, just not in the contexts we’ve mentioned so far.

Let’s once again illustrate this with an example.

Say you’re a sales manager of a small team of reps at a Fintech company.

You don’t have much of a marketing budget, so cold email or LinkedIn outreach is your most viable strategy right now.

You have a pretty solid grasp on your ideal customer persona, but you know that having your reps scrape the web or LinkedIn for contact info is not the best use of their time.

You decide to hire a freelancer or company to extract prospect contact information for a highly-targeted outreach campaign.

Now, how is this any different from purchasing an email list in the methods described above?

It’s totally different. Here’s how:

  1. The email list is generated based on a list of very specific criteria (demographics, firmographics, job title, etc.)
  2. The email list is gathered in real-time by a freelancer, increasing the probability of fresh contacts
  3. Reps will reach out to the contacts in a highly-targeted, highly-personal way. This is a far cry from a general email marketing blast sent from a software platform
  4. These are prospects the reps would’ve had to reach out to anyway, you’re just streamlining the process by hiring someone to do the grunt work of contact scraping

To summarize, this is a much different scenario because you’re actually specifying the parameters of the contacts you’re looking for, not randomly buying a 1,000+ row spreadsheet of email addresses and hoping for the best.

Final thoughts on purchasing email lists vs. growing organically

If you’re looking to grow your eCommerce store, it’s best to avoid purchasing email lists altogether and focus on building an organic list with permission-based emails.

This will ensure accuracy in your email performance metrics, build trust among your customers, comply with privacy laws and regulations, and provide a valuable experience for the people who opt-in to your list.

However, if you have a specific use case like the one described above, then purchasing an email list can be an option — just tread lightly.

For more information on how to grow your eCommerce email list through organic means, check out the following related posts:

Thanks for reading, and good luck building your audience!

Matt Kenyon

Matt Kenyon


Matt has been helping businesses succeed with exceptional content, lead gen, and B2B copywriting for the last decade. When he’s not typing words for humans (that Google loves), Matt can be found producing music, peeking at a horror flick between his fingers, or spending quality time with his wife and kids.