As Hurricane Sandy blustered down the East Coast, many retailers siezed the opportunity to target consumers bolted inside with Sandy Sales. And while many retailers survived the storm physically unscathed, the social media backlash some received caused severe reputation damage.
“When people start dying and you see on the news that people are on the roofs of their houses trying to be saved, I don’t think that’s appropriate anymore,” says Erin Yogasundram, owner of jewelry and accessories e-commerce site Shop Jeen.
Gap‘s Twitter promotion and American Apparel’s deals backfired, as angry comments flooded the social sphere.
“Real tacky & insensitive with your ‘Sandy Sale’ yesterday. Pure greed,” Jennifer Farina posted on American Apparel’s Facebook page.
“Apparently @Gap mktg missed the class on when not to jump on a trending topic,” tweeted @GlenGilmore.
After initially promoting Shop Jeen’s 20% off SANDY code Sunday evening, Yogasundram admitted to pulling endorsements for the code Monday night, initially intended to run until Tuesday, upon witnessing the storm escalate and American Apparel receive negative press. However, Yogasundram says she continued to honor the code itself.
“I didn’t want to become involved in that mess. I sent it out really early before [the storm] was bad… I didn’t want to be sucked into that,” Yogasundram says. “I felt it became inappropriate, [and] I decided to retract the sale.”
While Yogasundram claims that the promo code did well Monday, she says only seven people used the code Tuesday.
Yogasundram says Hurricane Sandy has hindered Shop Jeen’s ability to receive new merchandise, communicate with vendors, and send customer orders. However, she says Shop Jeen is attempting to keep their customers in the loop by sending out personal emails and uploading photos onto Instagram.
“We want to get to know our customers,” Yogasundram says. “It creates a sense of community. I’m reaching out to you directly.”
Amanda Judge, CEO and founder of accessories e-commerce site Andean Collection, says she also didn’t expect Hurricane Sandy to cause extreme damage when launching the site’s Storm Sale.
“We figured that everybody would be staying inside and safe, hopefully, and not going out. So it gives people some entertainment, I suppose, while staying inside in their homes—something to do on the Internet,” Judge says.
While Judge says the company didn’t experience any ruthless comments, she partially attributes the lack of backlash to Andean Collection’s concerned posts.
“I think every time that we did publish something on Facebook, there was always some hint of what to do,” she says. “It was more than just ‘buy these products.’ We tried to put in some hints to be safe, as well.”
Judge says the sale “wasn’t hugely successful” and says keeping the customers’ safety in mind prevents companies from crossing that line between insensitive and cost-effective.
“I don’t think you want to be asking people to be doing anything that would put them in harm’s way,” Judge says. “You do want to acknowledge the dangers that are there and not just make money from a tragedy that’s happening. You want to rally people together.”