Pottery Barn Kids – Email Program Lacks Common Sense

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Over the past six weeks, I designed and launched the new Open Stand website in association with IEEE, ISOC, ITEF, IAB and W3C in tandem with initiating two rounds of user testing with a national retailer (a very cool project and client I can’t talk about).  While I did this, I maintained regular client workload and moved to a new house with my family.  Needless to say, it’s been insane, hence the complete lack of posts.  Last week, I took a well-deserved break and battled with the boxes all over our house.

The boxes won.  However, in the context of my break, I did a little shopping for items for the home online and in-store.  I surfed Pottery Barn Kids for some things for my son’s new room.  Unfortunately, I also signed up for email (to get a coupon) and that’s when Pottery Barn began spamming me every three days.  Really?  Do people buy things at Pottery Barn every three days?  Talk about feeling their own importance.  Blargh.

However, the most annoying email I’ve been getting is what I will call “Big Brother Thanks You” emails.  I seem to get them after EVERY site visit, based on my browsing behavior.  They basically say this:

“Thanks for visiting our site and for your interest in (insert product of interest with link).  When shopping at potterybarnkids.com:  You can read product reviews by other customers and share you opinion;  Your satisfaction is guaranteed;  Exchange or return items for a refund or merchandise credit; If youhave questions, you can speak to one of our knowledgeable associates at 1.800.993.4923.” 

The email includes links to other products that may be of interest, but includes no incentive (such as a discount or free shipping) that would compel me to buy said object.  Here’s a sample:

Okay. It’s pretty and while it may seem innocent enough – to me, the experience is off putting.  Beyond that, I betcha it’s not real effective.  Here’s why:

  • First, Thanks for following me around the store and watching my every move, and recording it in your database.  I don’t really need to know you’re doing this – and trust you LESS now that it’s clear you do.  If an associate did this in a real store it would freak me out – so this isn’t so different.  The first one made me uneasy – the fourth one made me angry.  Creepy!
  • Second, I looked at MANY items during my visit. If you check, you’ll see a trend.  Why this one item was selected is beyond me.  I didn’t favorite it, put it in my cart, etc.  Perhaps I stopped to answer a call and my time on the page was longer than others.  However, I was looking at BEDDING – not BEDS.  So your picker is wayyyy off.   Irrelevant!
  • Third, your politeness seems ingenuine … because it’s basically an excuse to try and convince me to purchase something – anything!  Really. It makes me want to purchase. NOT.  Fake!
  • Finally, if you want to date me, you must get to know me first.  Then perhaps you’d make me an offer I can’t refuse.  Don’t grope me on a first date – it won’t get you what you want.  Ineffective!

Marketers at Pottery Barn Kids (and PB itself)… do a good job at pretty but a worse job at knowing the customer.  Based on my observations of late, they don’t seem to be looking at category trends, repeat product interest (they might – it’s not clear to me) and purchase history for online shoppers.  If they did, they’d have made a sale instead of turning me off.

A better formula would be to pick up on my category trend. I was interested in bedding.  You’d probably note that over the course of my visits, I repeatedly looked at 2-3 specific sheet sets. You’d also find that I never pay retail – so you could have sent me a coupon.

  • We noticed you seem to like this bedding, here’s $5 off, just for you!
  • We noticed you bought (insert product).  We hope you love it.  Here are some items that go with it!
  • We noticed your interest in (insert product). Just thought we’d let you know, it’s now on sale.  Go to it, you bargain shopper!
  • You decide. Take $5 off any (insert item name – e.g. sheet set) for one day only!
  • We noticed you once added (insert item) to your cart. Good news is, it’s now on sale. Come and get it!
  • Hey, Leigh.  We thought we’d let you know that all (insert product category) is now on sale!  

On the up-side at least PB Kids allows users to eliminate “content & information specific to my interest” emails.  I’d actually like emails like that if *I* it were based on volunteered information that I provide, rather than having PB Kids decide for me using data observed during my sessions.  Again – creepy.

Further, it’s wise to reconsider the 3 day rule and let people choose email frequency.  I do want to hear from PBKids — just not every 3 days.  With the equasion above,  my only choice is to unsubscribe to limit communications (I hope this works or I shall unsubscribe completely).

Really, this is a decent case in point:  Just because companies CAN do something (e.g. watch my every move and record everything) doesn’t mean they SHOULD use that power in a way that feels invasive.  It’s wise to think about what acceptable behavior is IN STORE and replicate THAT online rather than these kinds of tactics.  In the end – business hasn’t changed that much. People like service, handshakes, rewards, incentives and quality. Building relationship and affinity and trust is so much more effective than hard sell tactics.

Rant over.  Think anyone will listen?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Leigh Durst
Leigh (Duncan) Durst is the principal of Live Path. She is a 19 year veteran in business, operations and customer strategy, ecommerce, digital and social media. As an active consultant, writer, speaker and teacher, she is an advocate for creating remarkable customer experiences that harness digital media and improving business outcomes.

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