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Why is changing your email address so tricky for some websites?

It usually doesn’t happen very often but sometimes we need to change our email address. Whether it’s a change of name, circumstance or, for varied reason, have lost access to our original email, it can happen. It could be for personal safety reasons.

I’ve just done this and switching email was painless. However, letting every website that you’ve registered with know about it, isn’t. Technically, it should be – you can change your email, right? In most cases, yes. In some cases no, but there’s a solution. But for a few sites – including large UK retailers – it’s a big “no”. It’s a security risk (I’ll explain why in a bit) and they won’t given an explanation as to why they do it either.

On those sites that don’t let you change it, reaching out to them via Twitter or a contact form, normally yields an answer like this…

Unfortunately our system does not allow you to change those details.  

Followed by…

However if you reply to me with your email address you wish to use instead then I will be happy to alter it for you on your account.

So, basically, you can’t do it on the site but it can be done, manually, by them. Not sure why, as many don’t do many security checks before doing it (which is what you’d assume the limitation here is). Indeed, many sites that do allow you to change your email address do some good quality checking beforehand, so the need to do this manually is really not a requirement. But, ho hum.

The above is a bit of a pain as it takes time to resolve but, you know, it can be done.

Then there are companies such as Waterstones. They don’t allow an email change at all. Instead, you have to set up a new account and they’ll transfer over any orders and loyalty points. You can then request to close the old account. It’s even more work to do and, again, I can’t fathom the reason for doing it this way.

However, there’s a final group. Asda and Smyths Toys don’t allow you to change your email or even to transfer orders to a new account. In both cases they expect you to run two accounts.

And here’s where the security issue lies. If you no longer have access to the old account (or will lose it in due course), how will you know about account breaches that occur? Somebody could sign in and use your account and you’ll never get any emails that show this is happening.

The situation with Asda is worse as they also issue loyalty points on any clothing purchases, which I’ve been collecting – I can only spend these now using my old account, which means adding more orders to my old account and not being able to receive any emails in the meantime.

In both cases, I’ve asked for their reasoning for preventing this. Smyths didn’t reply and Asda initially gave a vague answer

Hi there, you are unable to change your email address because this links your account to the system.

I’m not sure why this is an issue, as an email address works like this on pretty much every site. I asked them for a further explanation and, like Smyths, they then didn’t respond.

I don’t have much of an option here, but it’s sad to see that two big UK retailers blocking a basic operation such as an email changing for… well, no apparent reason.

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