On Product Registration Questionaires

Answer these questions so we can sell your contact information to others.

About two weeks ago, I went on a little shopping spree at Best Buy. One of the things I walked away with was a Nikon CoolPix S550 compact digital camera. I needed it (yes, really) to replace the 2-1/2 year old Canon PowerShot I kept in my purse. The PowerShot had become unreliable (to say the least) and, although it has several features I really like, it had to go.

Yesterday, while weeding through the stack of paperwork that came with the CoolPix — including both a full-length manual and Quick Start guide in Spanish — I stumbled across the registration form. “Return this card to register your purchase and enter our $100,000 Give Away VI,” the yellow folded sheet proclaimed. So this morning, as I sipped my first cup of coffee, I began to fill out the form.

Where they get the idea of calling this a “card” is beyond me. It’s a sizable sheet of paper, folded in thirds, with registration form fields on one full side and a third of the other. There are 30 questions.

I began filling out the form with basic information like my name, address, and e-mail address. They’d need this information, I reasoned, to contact prize winners. I also provided basic product information, such as the date of purchase, model purchased, serial number, and place of purchase. Then I answered questions, via check boxes, about the features that influenced my purchase decision and the other similar products that I owned or planned to buy. This is all basic market research stuff.

Next they asked about my skill level as a photographer (I checked “advanced amateur”) and computer skills (“advanced”). But I paused when I reached question 15: “Would you be interested in a digital camera course?” I would, but I didn’t want Nikon trying to sell me one via annoying e-mails or mailings. Still, I checked Yes.

More marketing questions followed. Is the camera for business or personal use? What business am I in? What kind of computer do I use? What other brands did I consider?

Then came the big departure from questions about the camera. The questions started getting personal. How many people in my household? Ages? Genders? What is my occupation? My husband’s? What’s our household income? What level of education did I complete? What credit cards do I use? Do I own or rent my home? How many magazines do I subscribe to or buy at newsstands each month?

Finally, the list of things we might do — 64 of them! — with check boxes. You know the options: Shop by catalog/mail, donate to charitable causes, have a dog, have a cat, own a CD-ROM drive, tennis, sailing, power boating, foreign travel. The list goes on and on. This is basically a check list so they know who they can sell your information to.

And that’s what these registration forms are all about — a way to get you to voluntarily provide personal information so they can sell it to others, who will then bother you by stuffing your mailbox with dead trees (as Miraz would say) or filling your e-mail box with special offers and links to their Web sites.

To confirm this, there’s some fine print at the very bottom of the form. It looks like it’s in about 6-point type; I needed my cheaters to read it:

Thanks for taking the time to fill out this questionnaire. Your answers will be used for market research studies and reports. They will also allow you to receive important mailings and special offers from a number of fine companies whose products and services relate directly to the specific interests, hobbies, and other information indicated above. Through this selective program, you will be able to obtain more information about activities in which you are involved and less about those in which you are not. Please check here if, for some reason, you would prefer not to participate in this opportunity.

If I’d finished the questionnaire — which I did not — I’d check this “opt out” box. But would that really protect my information?

So I decided to save the 41¢ postage — you didn’t think they’d cover that cost, did you? — and just shred the damn questionnaire.

What do you think?