FAQ: Is it OK to swap or acquire lists from a third party?

It is surprising how frequently this still occurs. Two businesses enter some form of strategic business partnership intended for mutual benefit. This typically involves some form of gaining access to the other’s customer list.

Even in scenarios where customers ‘sign up’ to the other party’s list, it is very rare for these types of arrangements to work. Very rare indeed. Wait… No, can’t think of any examples where it has worked!

Here’s why swapping or acquiring lists from a third party is a really bad idea…

1. Garbage in, garbage out

Firstly, the ‘sign up’ process typically takes place offline.

For example, the individual scribbles their email address on a sheet of paper. Some time later, the email is then manually data entered into a list. Alternatively, the individual may type their email address into an iPad. Both these methods are common at events like trade shows or ‘pop up’ stores.

This manual process means there is no ‘double opt in’ process (ie. where they confirm their email address). Consequently, the emails have not been ‘validated’, either from a technical perspective or as a measure of genuine intent.

This creates a few problems:

  • It’s very common for people to give fake email addresses – particularly if it’s a requirement for a sweepstake or prize draw
  • It’s very common for typos to occur
  • Without having a double opt in process, you are missing the first opportunity to filter those who are not genuinely interested.

2. Nobody likes receiving a cold call

Secondly, acquiring a list from a third party usually means importing the emails to Klaviyo via CSV, in a batch process. As opposed to people incrementally subscribing via a Klaviyo form over a period of time.

This means there is absolutely zero history between the list and its members. The list is absolutely stone cold. So going ahead and emailing them in a campaign is like cold calling.

Why should this matter?

Email service providers like Gmail, Hotmail, etc, are increasingly vigilant about protecting their email accounts from ‘spam’.

If you have never sent any emails to this list before, then suddenly send hundreds or thousands, completely out of the blue, it looks very suspicious to the email providers.

Consequently, there’s a very good chance many will either:

  • Block your emails before they reach the target recipients, or
  • Perhaps reach the target, but go straight to their spam folder.

It’s like cold calling someone and they just hang up.

3. Sorry, who are you again?

Thirdly, let’s assume your emails are valid and make it past the ESPs and the spam filters and land in the targets’ inboxes…

  • How many of the recipients will actually remember signing up to your list?
  • How many will just immediately unsubscribe, or worse still report it as ‘spam’?

Personally, I’ve had many occasions where I’ve received emails from sources I do not recognise. It usually results in an immediate unsubscribe.


Avoid using lists from third parties.

You could choose to ignore the pitfalls outlined above. You could decide to pursue a list acquired from a third party regardless.

But if you do, there is a very high chance it will result in a poor outcome:

  • Best case scenario, you might get a handful of sales
  • Worst case scenario, delivery rates are low, bounce rates, unsubscribe rates and spam reports are all very high and Klaviyo puts a block on your account.

It’s very difficult to come back from a worst case scenario.

Much better and far easier to focus on building your own list, on your own site. Then ‘warm’ your list before you begin large scale campaigns.

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Watch this entire Klaviyo presentation on List Building and Management.

What is your experience with using third party lists? Share your experience in the comments below.

Related Klaviyo help centre documents:

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