The outnet designer sale fail

Please note, this post was written by Catherine Pryce before she left the company.

Social media done properly can increase brand advocates (fans and followers), sales and brand visibility. However, when a social media campaign backfires it can leave a bitter taste with prospects and customers for a long time after, therefore having a potentially damaging affect on the brand.

Since hearing about the ‘Outnet £1 designer sale’ I have been watching with intrigue how this will pan out. Working in social media one can become both cynical and fascinated in brands and their efforts in social media. For example, I am a fan of Harrods (despite not being able to invest in much more than a new potato in the shop) because their Facebook fan page is well run, they have dynamic campaigns and it’s always good to be armed with a case study and examples when delivering training to my clients.

I can’t even remember where I first saw the Outnet campaign mentioned, but I signed up for the newsletter, had a mooch around the site and mentally noted that today was the day. Not being the most cutting edge fashionista (you try and get size 9 feet into Vivienne Westwood pumps!); I followed the progress of this campaign to see how it would be executed (honest boss!).

Which takes me to my first shot of the server fail.

With much hype and marketing activity leading up to this key date, it should have given the marketing/IT department ample time to prepare for such an event when increases in traffic to the website is surely a given. From a distance I can only speculate that they simply do not have the bandwidth to cope with the massive influx of traffic. Whilst you can’t just ‘move servers’ on the day (DNS settings, etc need to be changed), there are options such as speaking to your hosts in advance, increasing bandwidth or worse case scenario, changing hosts well before the event if they cannot accommodate the additional bandwidth.

Due to this basic error, hundreds, possibly thousands of expectant customers are unable to access the website. The result; well by 10.00am there is already an “Anti” Facebook group; ‘the Outnet stole my Friday’.

And much discussion on Twitter (#outnet) with wails of frustration from women that had gone as far as taking a day off work to bag a…er… bag!

I had not heard of the Outnet before but I certainly think that a lot of people will have heard of it now…unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. I will revisit this and look at the sentiment surrounding the campaign later on. But in the meantime, I think it is fair to say if the purpose of the campaign was to raise positive awareness this has been a massive fail.

This smacks of a rather ‘gung-ho’ attitude to marketing, and social media in particular; an approach which is dangerous to say the least – the frustration that many women have experienced from this will not be easily forgotten. Potential sales will be quashed by a bad user experience…it’s the same as a bad experience in a shop with sales staff or products. Word of mouth travels fast, especially when it comes to social media.
And all of this, from email, faulty servers, to a Facebook group and me writing this blog happened before 10.30 am this morning!

So, what can brands learn from this?

Well, most importantly, be prepared. From inception to execution every possible scenario needs to be considered. What happened this morning had the potential to be a massive success in regards to awareness, but it seems to the website was ill-prepared to handle the influx in traffic so it fell over. So before embarking on mass promotions of this kind, companies must plan for expected increases in traffic and ensure they have the appropriate server capacity well in advance. And then if there are issues, at least put up a 404 error page to explain what is going on.

And if things really do go as badly as seemingly they are for the Outnet, be prepared to communicate with the community through appropriate social media channels, such as Twitter, as well as a blog post and press release; all with the aim of openly apologising for mistakes made and offering alternatives, such as another day when the sale will be held.

So far I have seen nothing from their HQ but promotion. Social media and marketing needs to be two ways, a crisis PR package needs to be in place for moments like this. If you promise the earth, you need to deliver it. Therefore, have your staff prepped not only to deal with the influx of purchases, but to be monitoring social media and equipped to respond to people dissatisfied with their experience.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this one so stay tuned for further developments.

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