Bereaved mothers: Mailing lists a constant reminder

Junk mail, unwanted texts and spam email – they’re the marketing messages none of us want to receive. Then there are those we do want to hear about. The half price special offers, the latest product releases. Direct mailings from trusted companies such as Boots and Tesco can be extremely helpful for new mums. But for these women they became incredibly unwelcome and upsetting.

Lisa Gibbs went into labour with her baby Sienna at 23 weeks and 4 days premature. When she had an infection it affected her baby too and there was nothing that could be done.

Tanya Pledger's son Jenson was diagnosed at birth with a very rare and severe heart defect and sadly he only lived for 29 days.

When Lisa and Tanya lost their babies, they were members of the Boots Parenting Club, both receiving monthly emails and leaflets from the company.

Lisa found that she was still being inundated with various emails, such as updates of how big she would have been if she was still pregnant - and they just kept coming in.

Unsubsribing from such emails should have been straightforward because according to the emails,

'if you wish to unsubscribe from the parenting club newsletter' you just need to click on a link within it.

Doing so takes you to a webpage, which asks you to confirm the decision and both Lisa and Tanya are adamant they did this - Yet the messages kept coming.

Lisa’s husband called the call centre between October and May five times in total to ask them to unsubscribe and stop sending her the updates. Each time they said they’d stop them, but they kept on coming.

Tanya tried several times, probably about seven or eight times to unsubscribe from them through the email system. She also sent an email to the Customer Service department asking if she could be removed from their mailing list but still the post and emails kept coming.

It took six months, but the emails to Tanya finally stopped.

But this was a temporary stop, as in May this year she suddenly received an email, again from Boots saying her baby is 17 months old. The company had obviously kept her details despite her unsubscribing.

Lisa finally lost confidence in Boots’ staff to handle her complaints properly – and has since gone to the very top of the company.

She found the email for the CEO and emailed him personally appealing to him to help stop this. She asked him to acknowledge her email and has never heard anything from him since.

Tanya also wrote to the Boots’ chief executive. But while the mailings from that company have now stopped, she still receives leaflets from Tesco.

With Tescos she tried to unsubscribe about five times. Her mother actually phoned the customer service line asking them to unsubscribe her. That still didn’t help so she went into the local store and spoke to the manager. But two years later she’s now getting toddler magazines.

Samantha Kirby, whose baby was stillborn has been experiencing similar issues with Cow & Gate

She first tried to unsubscribe from their mailing list in September 2011. A year on, the emails keep coming.

Every month she received an email from Cow and Gate and has tried to unsubscribe many times by clicking on the link at the bottom of the email. When that hadn't worked, Samantha went via their main website and emailed them through their contact us button, and that still didn’t stop the emails.

Companies like these spend millions on direct marketing every year – in a bid to reach potential customers, and get them onto their mailing lists. But shouldn’t they be putting at least some of that effort into making sure their systems work - letting customers leave when they want to?

Individuals have a right to object to receiving marketing communications. They have a right to object to processing where that would cause them unwarranted damage and distress and they also can be protected against unfair processing.

The ICO is there to help when the law has been contravened. If people have asked an organisation to stop sending these communications and they haven’t done it, contact the ICO’s office, says the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Company Responses


A spokesperson for Boots says,

We’re deeply sorry for the distress that has been caused to the families featured in the programme and would like to offer our sincerest apologies again. The aim of the Boots Parenting Club is to offer support, advice and information to mums and we are extremely disappointed that we let some of our customers down. Unfortunately in May 2012, a system upgrade resulted in a technical error which we quickly rectified, however we now know this resulted in some of our unsubscribed customers receiving unwanted emails, for which we apologise.

We’re now confident customers are able to resign from our Club without any difficulties but we will continue to review our un-subscription process and customer care processes to ensure we deliver the best service and experience possible.

Customers wishing to speak to us about any issues they’ve had unsubscribing from Boots Parenting Club are asked to contact 08450 708 090.

A spokesperson for Tesco says,

We’ve been in touch with Mrs Pledger’s family to say how very sorry we are for any distress caused at such a difficult time. We’ve made sure that Mrs Pledger won’t receive any more mailings and taken steps to prevent this happening again to any of our customers.


A spokesperson for Cow & Gate says,

We were deeply shocked to learn of Mrs Kirby's experiences. As soon as we found out, we apologised directly to Mrs Kirby for adding to her grief and immediately removed her details from our system. In addition, we started an investigation to find out what had happened. Although we have systems in place for people to unsubscribe from our baby club they clearly didn’t work for Mrs Kirby and we are investigating why. We’ve already implemented some immediate improvements and once our investigation is complete we will look at all additional steps we should take. We are truly sorry.