Preventing an #EpicFail

Hint: Leverage the Power of a Great Customer Experience

Epic Fail More TweetsRetailers have been forced into a state of hyper-competitiveness. Considering the fact that consumers are constantly connected – at work, at home, via mobile devices and desktops alike (11 hours per day with interactive media according to Mashable), it’s no surprise that brands are scrambling to reinvent the sales wheel with flash sales, social media and loyalty programs, email campaigns, retargeting ads, and more.

And with this speed, the understanding that product and service managers have about the need to create meaningful experiences just to keep pace, there comes a bit of trial and error. One such recent error was what Sephora (French cosmetics retailer/makeup church of the global masses) attempted with its #EpicRewards program. According to “Sephora Beauty Insider Points [1,000 to 10,000] could be redeemed for really, really good gifts.” The gist of the disaster that followed?

  • The online program launch time was incredibly vague. While the social media managers of @Sephora communicated with customers that the event would begin on August 10th, 2015, it wasn’t entirely clear when.
  • Program details weren’t explicitly outlined. Excited customers knew that certain point amounts could be exchanged for featured items and gift sets, but other terms and conditions weren’t expressly stated and posted to Sephora’s website.
  • When the program finally did go live, what was promised wasn’t delivered – in fact, it wasn’t even available. After users spent hours refreshing, an error message on Sephora’s website announced that the redeemable items were out of stock.
  • Now, almost three weeks later, and the brand is still trying to right its unfortunately viral wrong. At the time of this post, Sephora , and in addition to the blemish it can’t quite cover, those affected have taken it upon themselves to return their purchases en masse.

Sephora, and all other brands for that matter – have a great responsibility to not only maintain the relationships they have with those who’ve been loyal, but to foster ones with new customers in well-conceived, interactive ways. Learning from Sephora’s mistake, here’s what should have happened, and what needs to happen now to prevent further damage to its bottom line and reputation.

1. Retail Brands Should

Be clear about when an event (rewards program, flash sale, coupon promotion, or etc) will take place, how it will work, and what customers should do if they have questions throughout the duration and beyond. If the terms and conditions listed seem too complicated, they probably are.

How to Recover

regularly, and consider creating a dedicated email address (Sephora has done so) to specifically address the issue. Outline the ways in which the problem will be rectified, and stick to your time frame. Additionally, in-store representatives, call center workers, and social media managers should be briefed and instructed on how follow-ups will be processed. Sephora’s announcement was buried within its online forum, but a misstep of this magnitude might require a more formal apology – customers appreciate transparency.

2. Retail Brands Should

Be innovative, but be thoughtful. Contests in which customers are encouraged to share content via social media can be a great way to engage, and loyalty or reward point systems are wonderful incentives. However, there is a fine line between good deals and gimmicks. Customers shouldn’t be made to feel that they’ve been taken advantage of or tricked. Additionally, be wary of the questions your brand asks; your audiences will be very candid, and their responses will very public.

How to Recover

Because of the deep level of engagement that can be achieved thanks to social media, brands and their customers are connected like never before – it’s truly a two-way conversation. If a brand finds that its contest or engagement program goes awry, it needs to addressed timely and appropriately. Don’t bury your heads in the sand and wait for it to blow over, instead, use it as an opportunity to recommit to your customers’ needs and concerns. Reevaluate your products, processes, and (perhaps in some instances) personnel. We’ve seen brands such as Hootsuite do a great job in acknowledging poor performance in a light-hearted way that said “not only did we hear you, but we listened, and we’re making improvements”.

3. Retail Brands Should

Under-promise and over-deliver. If you’re having a sale or event, hosting a giveaway or contest, ensure you have enough in stock, that you time to deliver, that your customers cannot ask for more than what’s being offered and that they won’t need to once the event has concluded. Your customer service teams – both online and in store, should also be properly trained on the specifics of what any given customer is entitled to or offered.

How to Recover

With regard to Sephora’s case – some users have claimed the brand is offering more (free) points, but customers were quick to note that they didn’t want more of what they couldn’t use. If you run out of something, replenish your stocks and include a bonus gift. A brand might also consider vouchers for free shipping, discounts, or other alternatives. Only a brand will know exactly what to give its customers in terms of making up for a gaffe, but it needs to be done quickly and with respect for users’ time, information, and money.


Mistakes happen – but quickly addressing problems and great customer service can be the difference between dedicated customers and those who defect to your competitor. For more on creating better brand experiences with technology, strategy, campaigns, and design, contact us.