Corporations are still playing catch up to the speed at which life happens online. Some are doing it well and have this social media thing down. They understand what “online brand identity” means. Others have no clue and think placating with “We thank concerned customers like you for bringing this to our attention” when something incredibly offensive happens will suffice. It does not.
Some companies make no effort to make a pro-active public statement about an issue until absolutely forced to following a social media shit storm. Some apologize, but in a way that leaves you responsible for the offense you took (“I’m sorry you were offended” is not an apology). Or worse, they completely ignore it and/or delete our voices on their social media sites.
Today’s consumers are different, and that doesn’t work anymore. We are different because we are all connected online, every minute, in every place. Corporations are not dealing with one voice here and one voice there calling into their customer service lines, they are dealing with thousands and thousands by the second. And this shouldn’t be a problem, if you know your brand identity and stick to it online. But when you forsake that to gain a few sales, you get trouble.
One of our Pigtail Pal parents did an excellent job of explaining how Sears got into this mess:
“This is not quite as simple as I’d like to think. There are two general categories of an online store hosting forum: The “Common Carrier” and the “Curated Content”.
A Common Carrier style provider doesn’t (definitionally *cannot*) discriminate between the content offered. It’s a ‘dumb pipe’ that carries anything, whether pure fresh water or toxic sludge. It’s blind to the content, even when it shoves its own stuff through its own ‘dumb pipe’.
This is not to say that there aren’t legal/moral requirements for common carrier style providers. YouTube, for instance, offers a forum for anyone to post a video. It prohibits some things (drug use, nudity, etc) and is legally required to honor DMCA takedown requests (for copyrighted material posted without permission). Many internet forums are completely wide open–they don’t discriminate or take a post down if it is pro-Nazi or some other horrible thing. The users try to self-police and shun/ostracize/whatever the offenders to keep the environment up to the self-imposed standard.
So… YouTube falls here. Amazon Marketplace falls here. Etsy falls here. A bunch of forums fall here. Pinterest falls here. eBay falls here.
A Curated Content style provider says, “I’m going to actively take a look at Every. Single. Thing. that gets posted/included on this.” That means I cannot open up my marketplace to 3rd parties without hiring a ton of labor to examine every new thing. That means that comments are moderated and approved before they post. It places a strong limit on the ability of a site to welcome new users or increase user base or facilitate free flow of speech.
It’s way more labor intensive, but also much more personal and, well, curated.
My personal blog falls under this category. Ikea’s website falls here. Most Tumblr’s fall here.
Sears is trying to get the best of both worlds. They want to open their sales platform up to everyone (as a ‘dumb pipe’) so that they can take a cut of every sale. Essentially, they’re leveraging their existing customer base as a way to justify a cut of 3rd party sales revenue. (“I’ll exchange my customers’ eyeballs for 5% of every sale you make” sort of thing.) But…they still want things to *appear* like they’re curated, in hopes of duping their existing customer base. (“All of the stuff offered at Sears.com’s e-retail site carries with it the notion that Sears has approved its presence” sort of thing, even if it isn’t true.) What’s really happening is that Sears approves a 3rd party marketer with a contract, and that 3rd party marketer can then carry whichever products it deems meets the rules of that contract.
It takes the notion of the ‘curated’ site and shoves the ‘toxic sludge’ of the other vendors down the pipes.
So who is to blame? Well, if Sears wants us to believe that they stand behind every product sold (aka that Sears.com is a “curated” site), then they have to take the FULL blame. (And they can pass along whatever penalties they want to their 3rd party retailer, it’s irrelevant to the customer-facing portion of the operation.)
If Sears wants us to believe that they are a ‘dumb pipe’, then they have to accept that their brand is about to lose a ton of its value. “Sears” no longer means “providing quality services, products and solutions that earn their trust and build lifetime relationships”. It means ‘we’ll sell anything to make a buck’. And that loses customers, which means they can’t make the eyeballs-for-a-cut-of-revenues exchange anymore.
Personally, I think Sears *ought* to be in the Curated Content category. It makes better sense for them as a brand, as a retail company, and as a future strategy. But it also means they’ll have to swallow the bitter pill of owning up to this idiotic product being placed in their store. And it means they’ll have to do a better job of, you know, CURATING the stuff they sell in their store. Which means more labor, which means higher costs for Sears, which means less profitability, which means less likelihood of keeping the open market in the first place. (Which is fine by me!)” – Pigtail Pals Parent, Josh S.
These quotes were taken from savvy Pigtail Pals Parent Adocates from our facebook page. When you are dealing with Pigtail Pals Parents, this is what you are getting:
“???????If your mission is to improve the lives of your customers “by providing quality services, products and solutions that earn their trust and build lifetime relationships” it is your responsibility to make sure that everything sold on your site reflects that. http://searsholdings.com/about/” – Julie K.
“I would hold you accountable to an extent. I would be understanding about someone else selling something offensive so long as you remove it and prohibit that seller from selling through your site as soon as you become aware of the offensive products. It is a reflection on you.” -Christina T.?
“?The host business is accountable. It ruins their good name if a bad product is sold through them. As such, they should have it in the contract and provide their employees time to screen other people’s products to make sure they fit with the company’s values. If Sears doesn’t want to be held responsible for such things happening again, they need to stop that practice and let vendors sell on their own or in a marketplace like eBay or Etsy where people set up their own online shop with the tools provided by the site. But even there, the site owners have the ability to shut down a vendor selling offensive products because they also want to preserve their good name.
“How about people stop trying to pass off offensive as cute? Then it won’t be an issue” -Meghan H.
“This is tricky, becuase Sears is a store, and I associate their website with their brick and mortar store. I feel differently about websites like Amazon and eBay. Sears is clearly making money off this venture and doing so despite customer’s feedback about what they expect from Sears. In this case, I hold Sears responsible. I also did some checking on this third party, and most of what they have is just ridiculous. They are selling shirts in Junior size Small that say things like “Hucci” and “Kiss Me, Spank Me, Do Me” and much worse. The fact that they aren’t selling those particular tops on Sears website tells me they knew there was a standard and they chose to push the envelope.” -Joanna McL
“Free speech ends when it promotes violence against others. That’s where the line is drawn.” -Ryan S.
“The nonsense is apparently endless. I am stunned. These slogans are in no way funny or clever, even tongue-in-cheek, on adult clothes. (I could possibly ignore the butt plug one if it were sold in an ‘adult’ store, but it is clearly not suitable for general retail.” -Joanna P.
“Where are the marketing people on these things? Is there nobody clever and socially savvy employed at these massive corporations? Somebody who can say, “Hey, y’all! Even if you choose to overlook the appalling and indefensible nature of the content, there is no sense doing this from a business perspective: we will have to pull all these damn shirts pronto.” -Michelle S.