A Public Relations Disaster “How To” Right Here In Toronto

Support Local.

I’m sure you’ve seen those two words side by side many, many times. It’s a trending act, and one that helps small business owners in your community grow their ventures. If I have the opportunity to get a similar product for a similar price from someone local – why not, right?

That’s exactly what Amanda* (named changed for security) wanted to do when she ordered a swimsuit from 437 Swimwear. With prices starting at $55USD per piece, it’s quite the commitment for an online bathing suit purchase, especially with websites like Zaful and Boohoo selling their bathers at $20 for the full set. Obviously if it doesn’t fit, you’d want a refund.

437’s refund policy is pretty reasonable – get a store credit if you reach out and ship your suit back within 7 days of receiving it. But what if you don’t like any of the other options, and the fit just isn’t right?

Lots of retailers have rules around their refund/exchange policies, but from my experiences as both a Sales Associate and a shopper (both sides of the counter!), rules are made to be bent and broken. That’s what retail is – customer service.

Not only did 437 Swimwear decide that their policy is set in stone (customer service faux-pas #1), but the co-founder must have hit “Reply All” instead of “Forward” when deciding to tell her team that a. Amanda’s Instagram following (920 followers) wasn’t going to impact their brand, and b. her “donation” to the company will be funding their “boujee drinks” in Mexico.

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Naïve. Naïve is what the co-founder is, thinking a social media underdog can’t affect her brand.

So what has happened in the approximately 38 hours since the e-mail was sent?

Amanda posted everything that happened in her Instagram stories. Her friend reposted it. My friend reposted it from that girl. I reposted it from my friend… and I’m sure many other people reposted it onto their own profiles as well. Rumour has it, the story was shared in a Facebook group with about 30,000 girls around the world too.

I decided to keep an eye on both the co-founder’s and the brand’s Instagram accounts to see how they would react to “no impact being made on the brand”.

  1. The co-founder set her profile to private.
  2. Soon after, her profile disappeared (deleted).
  3. The brand profile went to private mode.
  4. Eventually, the brand disappeared too.

So how does a fairly small, local brand escape out of this PR disaster? What are their next steps?

From my small experience of working together with PR teams, I’m not really sure if they’ll be able to save it at this point.

I suspect the two aforementioned Instagram accounts will slowly reappear, in hopes that the angry surge of friends and friends of friends of friends of friends will forget this whole thing ever happened.

The right, ethical thing to do? A full refund (and maybe some other compensation?) to Amanda, and a full-fledged public apology would probably be appropriate.

There are many lessons to be learned here. First and foremost, regardless of how many followers someone has, they still have the power to make an impact on your brand. Warren Buffet said it best, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” It’s really hard to build a positive reputation, but one small mistake can cost you your entire business. Never underestimate the power of one angry customer.

Whether 437 Swimwear survives through this or not, they could definitely take a lesson out of Nordstrom’s book of refund policies. If the customer insists, let them have it. Your reputation is a lot more expensive.

What’s your take on 437 Swimwear’s fate at this point? Comment below!


 

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6 thoughts on “A Public Relations Disaster “How To” Right Here In Toronto

  1. Gemma Fox says:

    That email is so disgraceful and disgusting. I had to read it multiple times to absorb the shock of what was written. We all make mistakes, but this one sits funny with me. I am an optimist that hopes the best for people, and small businesses….ambitious filled, self starter passionate people…..but this is just too dirty to me….and I have to admit my heart says I hope they don’t recover. Cheers to that in Mexico Hyla.

    • Ella says:

      I agree – we all make mistakes, I’m even sure we’ve all been in a work situation where a client was made fun of behind their back, but something about this particular incident was too harsh. Maybe it was the donation sponsoring boujee drinks part!

  2. Alena says:

    I’m not standing up for them, what they did was wrong, but for every company to take a lesson out of Nordstrom’s return policy is dumb. I think 437 is a small and fairly new business, they are no way making Nordstrom money and for them to allow customers to abuse their return and exchange policy is a very bad business move, they would not make any money, plus we don’t know the whole context of the story. What was the customer asking? Were they being rude and demanding? Nordstrom’s return and exchange policy to me is very dumb and if I were a business owner, I wouldn’t want them to take advantage of me. But to each their own.

    • Gabrielle says:

      In response to Alena’s comment, I don’t think it matters what the context was or what 437’s means are to uphold a return policy that puts consumers first. Clearly their co-founder is doing ok (re: boujee drinks in Mexico) and clearly she doesn’t respect her customers (those who fund her boujee drinks in Mexico) as she feels it’s ok to refer to them as bitches who grant them “donations”. I’m not even sure of the legality of calling a price someone paid a “donation”. The bottom line of this is that a huge mistake was made by the co-founder and the company handled it in a way that was deceitful. Perhaps not every company can afford to have a policy like Nordstrom’s, but every company can afford to invest in their company’s PR so that their company doesn’t get publically humiliated like this.

    • Ashley McBirney says:

      Well I think we’re all fairly smart enough to know that “Alena” here is actually someone who works for or owns 437. Because why else would you be coming to the defence of such a deplorable email?

      Even if she HADN’T sent this email to “Amanda” is this how you speak to your coworkers / employees about the customers keeping your business alive? Is a nasty 13 year old running this “company”? Give me a break.

      As the author of the article said, “rules” are meant to be broken and you’re right Nordstrom’s policies certainly wouldn’t help a small business but being totally rude and bitchy (which is clear this is the behaviour in the company also) won’t either.

  3. Alena says:

    Hi, Gabrielle in response to your comment, I 100% agree! I don’t agree that every company should let their customers return/exchange everything they bought (similar to Nordstrom’s policy, but I 10000000000% agree every company should invest in their PR/marketing etc. I don’t know if they will recover from this, but based off the other co-owner’s IG story, they left China and are now back in Toronto(?) and were partying last night so I don’t think they’re bothered or worried. I believe they were supposed to be in China for at least a month, but were only there for less than two weeks. I agree with a statement made earlier that they will probably wait until this dies down and they reactive the brand and co-founder’s IG accounts. I don’t think deactivating their brand IG was smart, it just shows how unprofessional they are and clearly don’t know how to handle their brand’s reputation. I noticed on their website that they removed the about page, again very unprofessional.

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