On a chilly, dark Halloween evening, Spot Studio scoured the deep dark crevices of the internet to find the lost tales of eCommerce companies who monumentally messed up their marketing efforts. Get yourself a hot chocolate and find your favourite teddy bear, these eCommerce horror stories are sure to have you shaking in your office chair…
When Gap Tried to Be Current
I think we can all agree that Gap is rarely with the current times. That can be endearing, but this is a tale of when it’s best to stick to what you know – and for the love of god research trends on Twitter before leveraging them for your business.
One unfortunate day in 2012 hurricane Sandy devastated the US. #Sandy began trending on Twitter, and Gap thought they’d chime in with one of the deadliest insensitive tweets in online marketing history:
The simple yet completely idiotic mistake by an unsuspecting Twitter manager set off a horrific storm of criticism towards the brand. News coverage spread globally on Gap and with devastating effect. If you thought the brand couldn’t be any less cool, you were wrong.
Bill’s Baked Good Disaster
Thankfully a work of fiction, we found this chilling eCommerce horror story at Huffington Post:
It had been a lucrative week for Bill’s Baked Goods, sales were steady and orders were flowing. October had arrived and business was at its’ normal pace. What more could Bill ask for? Bill runs Bill’s Baked Goods, an online retailer that sells custom made cupcakes- and according to customers they were scrumptious. This was Bill’s first entrepreneurial endeavor and things were looking great. Little did Bill know, his luck was about to change. Monday came and to Bill’s surprise his orders were at a record low.
His heart sunk, what in the world just happened? He frantically went into the system, were things in place? Did the site go down? What was this unforeseen decrease in sales? Everything looked fine. As he pondered this mystery a light went on in his head, what had his competitor Carissa’s Cupcakes been up to this weekend? His jaw dropped, there it was on the homepage banner: 50% off all orders through now until HALLOWEEN! Holy smokes, HALLOWEEN? That was 2 weeks away! How could he have not thought of this? As he rummaged through their site he discovered they had been running special holiday themed promotions for the past month! The whole site was decked out from top to bottom in Halloween décor and had banners running on all pages displaying discounts and specials.
As Carissa’s sales doubled, Bill’s sales took a hit. A hard lesson learned to break into the holidays. Bill’s team buckled up and immediately put a plan in place for the remainder of the year. No chance Bill was going to be spooked like that again!”
Bloody terrifying. The moral of the story: always be prepared – snooze you lose.
The Heinz QR Code Blunder
It’s a treacherous world when eCommerce horror stories can happen to even the most beloved household brands. Last year an unsuspecting German consumer scanned the QR code on a bottle of Heinz Ketchup only to be directed straight to…a porn site. Saucy. (Sorry we had to. Forgive us.)
Daniel Korell scanned the checked label to read about an upcoming promotion but was directed straight to the German porn site Fundorado. He complained on social media telling Heinz their ketchup “really wasn’t for underage people”. Heinz’s social media team apologised and responded on his image: “We really regret the event very much and we’re happy to take your suggestions for how we implement future campaigns on board.”
To sort out this total nightmare they told him that he could design his own label and they’d send him out a bottle with his design on it for free. It’s just as well he was over age or it would take a little more than free ketchup to heal that kind of trauma. This was a perfect moment of free advertising for Fundorado however who offered him a year’s free subscription. One company’s hell is another’s heaven!
Boomingdale’s Casual Endorsement of Alcohol Fuelled Date Rape
Source: Huffington Post
Probably the most gut wrenching eCommerce horror story we have to offer, here lies the tale of when Bloomingdale’s catalogue ad copywriter certainly lost their entire career. What was most likely meant as a “lighthearted” joke, caused absolute mass outrage. Here we can see a male guest at a party giving the side eye to his female friend, with the caption “spike your best friend’s egg nog when they’re not looking”.
Twitter exploded in total outrage, and brands will forever learn from Bloomingdales fatal error: do not ever under any circumstances suggest you should spike people’s drinks. You would think common sense would have kept this one under wraps but it just goes to show a stupid can lurk anywhere. Beware of what you’re insinuating.
Come a Little Closer…
Not exactly an eCommerce horror story but definitely a marketing one. For the morbid marketer in all of us we thought we’d include this out of total fear. We can’t tell if it’s genius or a very dangerous mistake – either way one cold blooded copywriter is responsible for this. A hard to distinguish funeral company situates “Come a little closer” on the other side of a subway platform. It’s out of fascination and total astonishment that we share this tale with you. Don’t do it. And if you think that’s an anomaly – some people don’t even mean it:
Arguably one of the most dangerous QR codes in the world. Death wish and a half.
1p Product Massacre
Back in 2014, for an hour one Friday, between 7pm and 8pm, a problem with RepricerExpress led to hundreds of items being sold on Amazon at a fraction of their normal price. At the same time, some customers said, Amazon charged its usual fees for every item sold.
Judith Blackford at Kiddymania, told Sky News in an interview she could be forced out of business as result of the error. She said: “I started using Repricer Express – a repricing tool as did a lot of other businesses. “Last night through an error in their programme they listed my stock on Amazon at 1p per item including delivery…I have lost about £20,000 overnight. Having asked Amazon to cancel the orders they are still sending them out and charging me horrendous fees.”
Imagine being forced out of business thanks to an error from a third party company? In just one hour the mistake took its toll on hundreds of businesses using the Amazon marketplace. Horrible.
The ASDA £50 Discount
In true Halloween fashion, October 2013 brings one of the most costly mistakes from ASDA, the UK equivalent of Walmart. ASDA released a voucher that claimed shoppers could get £50 off their order – a deal that was only supposed to be used once. However a glitch meant that shoppers were able to use it over and over again, with hundreds of people costing them a lottt of money.
They quickly withdrew the offer and said they wouldn’t be honouring any outstanding offers. And that’s not the first time ASDA have done something like this.
A spokesman said “a small number of savvy customers” had “got more money off than they should have”.
Tesco has also suffered a number of pricing errors. In March 2013 a buy one, get one free offer on Danone’s Oykos yogurt and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter scanned at buy one, get three free at the tills. One enthusiastic (or downright insane) shopper ordered 72 yogurts and 12 tubs of the butter substitute for £2.34 plus £2 to collect them. A costly mistake.
The Screwfix £34.99 Nightmare
In 2014 what was seemingly a blessing from the eCommerce gods to consumers was hell on earth for DIY product company Screwfix. A website glitch saw that every single one of their items was repriced to £34.99.
One lucky customer bought a sit-on mower worth £1,599.99 for just £34.99. Screwfix, which is part of B&Q-owner Kingfisher group, soon cancelled all orders that had not already been delivered or collected from stores and said it would issue refunds to customers. It said people who had already received their goods were unaffected. However, they did threaten some of the customers who took advantage with the full price: “Screwfix just called me and said if I don’t bring the items back and get refunded what I’ve paid they are going to charge me the full amount. I have a receipt. Are they allowed to do that? Help me.” said one user.
Imagine having to clean up that mess.
The Checkout Disaster
The last of our eCommerce horror stories, we present you with another hypothetical tale of online retail nightmare. Taken from the Huffington Post, this one gave us the chills:
“Paolo decided it was time to enter the age of technology and start a 100% online pizza delivery service. He had owned a successful mom and pop shop “Paolo’s Pizzeria” in his small New Jersey town for the past 20 years, serving the absolute best pizza around. When Paolo decided to convert to the online world, he didn’t take into account the challenges he would face. Halloween had consistently proven to be one of his busiest nights of the year which meant it was time to update his check out system- or so he thought. Earlier that morning Paolo decided to contact his web team to create what he believed to be a more efficient check out.
All week Paolo had been preparing for this day, stocking up on necessary ingredients ensuring that he would never run out of food. When the clock struck 5 orders started pouring in. Unfortunately, so were a large volume of phone calls from unhappy customers. The check-out system was a fail! Complaints of orders gone wrong and webpage crashes were only a small brunt of the problem. A night that was meant to be fruitful ended up being a complete disaster. As word quickly spread of this issue, customers shied away from Paolo’s as they ran over to the local pizza shop to pick up take out before their trick or treaters arrived! As the night came to a close, only a handful of orders had been successful made.”
We see checkout spooks like this constantly. Fortunately for you, we write lots of content on how to avoid checkout errors and ultimately stop you from losing customers. You could call us the heroes of stories like this. If that story freaked you out then fear not, we’re always sharing ways to improve your checkout for customers. Don’t worry!
Hey big guys, we’re only having a little bit of fun. Please don’t take us to court for libel.