Deceptive marketing will hurt your business – and drive customers to your competitors. I had a very bad experience this Labor Day Weekend, falling into a trap set by a very popular big-box pet store chain. My experience with their deceptive marketing campaign was so bad, I felt compelled to write this blog as a warning to my clients and other businesses on what NOT to do when you launch a promotion to drive in new or existing customers. I not only was duped once, but TWICE (fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me) – due in part by the store staff who did not clarify the terms of the marketing campaign, luring me in for a second visit and more money spent. Needless to say, their error got even worse by intense spamming to my email account linked to my store card after my visit – turning a once loyal customer into someone who will never shop there again. EVER.
This retailer began the negative experience by emailing me on a daily basis with the promise of a $5 discount for each visit to their store over the Labor Day Weekend, from Saturday Sept. 3 through Mon. Sept. 5. Everyone likes a good deal, right? Yes – and I am one who appreciates a reward as a customer with a discount. And of course, Labor Day Weekend is one of the big sales weekends with numerous participating retailers, drawing customers into their stores with the promise of savings and benefits.
The emails each contained a large graphic with a $5 coupon, good for a next visit to the store. The coupon was enhanced by pulsing effects to draw the eye to the $5 (in huge bold font, centered on a line of its own, dominating the coupon). And each of the emails had a subject line that counted down the days to the special discount: “Only Three More Days Left to Get Your Discount!”, etc. Since this email came daily for several days prior to the weekend, I decided that this was the weekend to buy a month’s worth of food for my dogs, birds, and to re-decorate my aquarium.
When I checked out on my first visit on Saturday, the clerk handed me the receipt for about $100 in purchases, and pointed to a coupon at the end of the receipt for $5 off my next purchase. I thought this was an additional perk – hey, I not only received $5 off my cart, but another $5 to use next time! (Specific dates applied, beginning after the holiday weekend.) I did not check my receipt to see if the $5 discount from the coupon (which I showed him on my phone while he was scanning my items) was deducted from the total. I simply trusted that it was, and this was an added bonus. I left feeling happy and rewarded for my patronage.
Before I returned home, I received another ping on my phone, and another coupon, with the count down accelerated to “Only Two More Days Left to Get Your Discount!” When I got into the front door, my spouse mentioned the need for another item that I did not have on my list. “Well,” happily I replied, “I have another coupon – I’ll go back on Sunday and use the discount!”
When I returned on Sunday and showed the coupon to the clerk during checkout, this time I was told about the small print on the coupon. She told me to scroll down and read the small print below the unsubscribe link (text in a font so small on my phone I had to swipe out and enlarge it): the discounts were NOT applicable for this weekend at all, but only coupons on the end of the receipt, and good only for days specified AFTER the holiday weekend, and when a minimum of $25 was spent on each visit. By hiding the terms of the discount below a huge graphic and in tiny, nearly unreadable font size, this was without a doubt the most deceptive marketing I’ve come across in quite some time.
So, I had already purchased $150 in items in two days, secured everything I needed for the month, received no discounts, and had two useless paper coupons that went into the recycling bin (crumpled angrily, I admit). I felt utterly duped. It’s not that $10 was a huge amount of money or anything – it was the principle involved. Not only that, but the retailer rubbed my nose it it further by launching a separate email for every item I purchased to my phone within an hour’s time, luring me back to the store to buy more dog food — bird seed — cat treats — aquarium supplies — fish food — dog toys… My phone ping’d and ping’d, and each email was a $5 coupon (had to be enacted by a visit during the weekend and by spending more money), and each had a subject as follows: “You just got paid by ***!”, “Your $5 is waiting for you! Ends TOMORROW!”, “Earn it Today, Spend it TOMORROW”… And today, checking my spam folder (I began marking all emails from the retailer as spam), more and more emails. I have been barraged by a targeted, aggressive spam campaign, even though I unsubscribed 6 times in the last 24 hours. In one weekend, I have received almost 15 spam emails, and they don’t stop. Their unsubscribe link notifies that it will take approximately 7 business days to filter my email, so seven more days of relentless spam to my account is coming my way…
This retailer alienated me completely, and turned a loyal customer into an angry, abused and ripped off one, who has already removed the store card from his phone and vowed to my family that this retailer is now off limits. We will drive 20 miles out of our way if we have to and support another retailer if need be. This one is on our black list.
The moral to my story is to advise anyone interested in launching e-campaigns or print ads to make sure your discounts, promotions and events are clear and direct. Deceptive marketing may bring someone into your store that one time, but when that customer realizes that they have been misled, they will never return. Is quick revenue for 3 days worth exchanging a loyal customer for years on a regular basis? NO! Don’t entice your customers with anything other than a real, tangible offer. And don’t abuse their trust with aggressive marketing that irritates, angers, distracts and encumbers them. When marketing is done properly, you will have a loyal, happy and satisfied customer. In today’s competitive retail environment, you can’t afford to drive important traffic away from your store.
This retailer drove me away, and I will never again reward them with my trust, money or personal information. The damage has been done, and in this case, it’s permanent.