But I didn’t click ‘submit’!


I wanted to put out this quick post to gather people’s opinions on the practice of gathering people’s data from forms before they’ve clicked ‘submit’. 

As a quick example – say you wanted to get a quote from a business to…refit your windows. You start to fill out the form on their website so they’ll contact you later to provide you with a quote. But halfway through the form you run out of time or, more pertinently, decide you don’t WANT this company to have your information on file. So you abandon the form and leave.

My question is – do you think it’s okay for the window fitting company to collect that abandoned data and, more importantly, use it? 

I’ve encountered this question more than once in my professional career and have vociferously stated that I am against it. I am particularly against using the data to contact someone directly, as they made a conscious decision not to submit that data. The counter-arguments I’ve heard are generally:

  • “If they ran out of time, then we are providing them with a useful service by contacting them.”
  • “Hundreds of businesses do it. It counts as a semi-hot lead, as the person has shown some interest in your service.”
A colleague even told me about a practice whereby companies note down the IP addresses of users on their site and then convert those IP addresses to phone numbers for their outbound sales teams to dial.
It was also suggested to me that we could take this data (that hadn’t been submitted) and email the customer, to say “hello! We saw you on our site and wondered if we could help you at all.” It sounds a bit invasive to me and I don’t really like it.
BUT – having said that, I could be in the minority! Please – leave your comments and let me know what you think about this.

7 Responses to “But I didn’t click ‘submit’!”

  1. I’m a PPC Marketer and much as people assume us to be on the grey side of the fence when it comes to marketing ethics, I’d agree with you on this.

    Their could be any number of reasons for the bounce, be it time or like you say a loss of interest. To use this data directly, especially by phoning or adding to mailing list without context and/or permission is wrong.

    AdWords does allow you to re-target users that have bounced from a certain page with ads on the content network. Although unpopular with some this is impersonal enough to test the water without ramming it down their throats, plus you you limit the impressions to limit the exposure. This is where I draw the line though.

    If you have a account you can now get emails from Amazon from just browsing a category and emails direct from Google asking you to rate a page that you’ve visited in their help centre. This is also too much and for me ties in with your argument.

    Unless you can categorically say with 100% certainty that you know the intent of the user, that information should protected and off limits to salesmen and marketers.


    • Thanks for your reply SEMantiks. I’m glad you’re on my side of the fence for this argument! It feels like the argument is pretty solid here – but you’d be surprised how much resistance I meet.

      It seems to me that people can’t see beyond the immediate goal – making sales. Nevermind that that customer feels violated or uncomfortable or irritated – so long as you get that sales opportunity up-front.

      I also struggle with the Amazon emails I constantly receive after browsing on there. In a way, I’m grateful that they’ve at least made an effort to market to me, Jennifer Davis, rather than send a blanket email that targets anyone who’ll open it. But on the other hand it’s too much, too often.

  2. Unless it says quite clearly on the form “we will know about everything you type into these boxes, regardless of whether you choose to send us the information, and may use this to contact you”, it strikes me as somewhat unethical. I expect your average user will assume the company only gets hold of the data once they’ve clicked a button to submit it and as such it should surely be treated that way unless otherwise stated.


    P.S. I came here via a retweet and didn’t even realise it was your blog until I saw in your reply “…effort to market to me, Jennifer Davis…”. Haha!

    • Was it from Dan’s tweet by any chance? But I’m glad you realised it was me in the end!

      Agree with you too, obviously. I was surprised when I first heard that companies will actively collect data you haven’t submitted, so I’m sure the average user would be quite put-out to hear it.

  3. 5 Becky

    I guess the resistance you have been encountering comes largely from interested parties? The ‘hot lead’ line is obvious if I’m sitting in a marketing meeting (as a marketeer) discussing this, but equally, if I knew I was that hot lead, I’d be livid. I have abandoned forms on many an occasion (usually on purpose) and am shocked at the idea that there is nothing I can do to stop that company from picking up my data once i started typing. The gitwizards! So no, not ethical.

    • Gitwizards! What a brilliant insult. And yes Becky you’re right, the resistance always comes from interested parties. And when I’m sat in those meetings, it’s easy for me to be the voice of the user because my bonus/goals aren’t so directly targeted on sales figures.

      However, I hope there’s still room in business to be both ethical and drive good quality leads. I can’t help but think that a furious lead who feels violated is extremely damaging and, due to the low quality nature of the leads gathered, not worth the risk.

  4. I have had thin happen too many times. They call me while at work. With one company I told them that I didn’t finish the form because it was the wrong webpage (my mistake); I explained this and told them I was not interested and to please not call again. The next week they called again with a different sales representative. Again, I politely explained the mistake which didn’t seem to make a difference he just keep pushing the service and getting down right rude, insulting and hateful. That shouldn’t happen

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