28 November 2010

Modern Retail is Full of Caveats

Marketers today wrestle with how much power consumers have. Consumers can find your product at the lowest price possible, they can mercilessly criticize your product, and they can tune out your marketing altogether.

You might say caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) has been replaced by caveat venditor (let the seller beware). Two stories from today’s news teach us, however, that caveat emptor is a very contemporary phrase.

Caveat Emptor

The New York Times reports at length today on the fascinating and scary tale of DecorMyEyes, an online seller of designer eyewear. The owner, Vitaly Borker, discovered that customer complaints pushed his company to the top of organic search results. It wasn’t SEO. It wasn’t SEM. It was the complaints from people who tried to buy Lafont and Montblanc frames.

Sensing an opportunity, he purposely picked nasty Internet fights with those who complained. Traffic soared. Most of his sales are routine, straightforward – and profitable. Most of his time, however, is spent fighting, intimidating and threatening the customers who are not routine and straightforward. You don’t want to mess with this guy.

Caveat Lector

Walmart made some enemies of their own this weekend. In most of the United States they started their Black Friday sale at 12:01 a.m., but in Massachusetts the sale began at 4 a.m. Hundreds of Bay State shoppers starting lining up Thanksgiving night, expecting to be let in at midnight, and they weren’t happy (see local news coverage here and here).

As of this writing, there’s no official explanation, but here’s my analysis. Walmart stepped up its game for Black Friday this year, announcing it would open the doors at 12:01 a.m. and “leaking” its flyer full of midnight door busters two weeks ago. The big national news headline: “Big Walmart Sale at Midnight!” The small print, including this article from the Boston Herald: “Starts 4 a.m. in Massachusetts.” Caveat lector (let the reader beware).

Caveat Venditor

In both of these cases there are lessons for marketers. The first is obvious, that the Internet has democratized information such that everything is available to everybody. The problem is that nobody digests everything. Therefore a lot of people in Massachusetts got the national news headline but not the local story.

Another lesson is to be careful of who you are dealing with online, especially if you are a business-to-business player. Borker’s eyewear business hurt some wholesalers who didn’t know his m.o. Search may be a science, but it can be abused by mad scientists.

Most of us are not mad scientists; we’re genuinely interested in having consumers love us, really love us. If your company or client doesn’t engage in dialogue with its consumers, the time is well past due.

1 comment:

  1. People need to file complaint's against him with the attorney general of New York. His corporate filings are a tissue of lies, with false names like Tony Russo and Jessica Apple. And he has specifically stated in messages that he intends for his corporation to end up bankrupt to prevent creditors from collecting in lawsuits.