Is “Relationship Marketing” Killing The Body Shop?


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Is The Body Shop’s Relationship Marketing effort slowly killing the brand’s equity? It is for me.

See, I want to believe that The Body Shop has great products that are special and worth every bit of what I pay. It’s why I started buying their products in the first place. I suppose in some way I want to feed my own sense of self-indulgence and self-worth. I enjoy discovering products that are unique and really work for me. I know I feel good about supporting a company that has earth-friendly, people-friendly, animal-friendly practices. And whenever I think of adding “The Body Shop” to my errand list for more Body Butter, more Hemp Hand Protector for my husband, or new make-up for my daughter, I don’t want to worry about whether I remembered the coupons, or if it’s going to be on sale.

However, being a member of the Love Your Body Rewards Club enhances very few of these feelings.

Instead, I’m bombarded by promotionally-based, time-sensitive emails pushing featured products. While I receive the member 10% price discount, I am rewarded with additional “prizes” only if I play their Loyalty game right. When I forgot my card (which I paid $10 for) the sales clerk made it sound like such an inconvenience to call for my member number that I abandoned the idea of accumulating my points. In store, clerks initiate their conversations with discount talk like, “Did you come in to see what was on sale?” and try to convince me to spend a more to get “a second valuable bonus gift” that anyone could get.

Regrettably, The Body Shop’s relationship marketing, e-commerce, and in-store practices leave me questioning the validity of their prices, the value of their products, and have me feeling like they’re any run-of-the-mill health and beauty brand. What a disappointment.

Here are 5 Brand Killing Observations about The Body Shop’s recent marketing and in-store experiences:

  • Death by Manipulation

    “Limited time only!”, “Get 20% off all gifts from May 5th – 7th”, “Offer ends at 11:59 pm ET” are all examples of time-sensitive offers designed to initiate immediate response. But they train me to wait to buy my favorites until the next limited time offer is available for that item (which might be never?). Can you see why I’m getting really tired of feeling manipulated to buy their choices on their timetable, not mine?

  • Death by Value Confusion

    “Buy 2, Get 1 Free”, “$10 Off any purchase of $35 or more”, “Sale – Save up to 50% OFF” are the offers flowing through my inbox at all times. The “On Sale” impression of The Body Shop windows at the mall has never seemed higher to me. If so much merchandise is on sale so often, and they can afford to offer 50% discounts, well, maybe it’s not as good as I thought it was. And now, I would feel foolish and ripped-off ever paying full price.

  • Death by Lack of Differentiation

    The Body Shop current marketing is largely devoid of good brand-deepening stories. Emails provide very shallow product descriptions. The website only scratches the surface about unique ingredients. Salespeople aren’t telling me snippets of the “Made with Passion” story – not at the brand or the product level. I used to learn something new about The Body Shop at every visit – something that stuck with me and validated my choice to pay more for this way to smooth skin or clean hair. Not any more.

  • Death by Harassment

    How many times in one month do you want to receive special offers from a retailer? I received 7 from The Body Shop one month this spring. Each one featured a different product or offer. I don’t want to revisit making a decision in this category that frequently. So why does The Body Shop assume I want to consider 7 different special offers in the same month? Are they desperate?

  • Death by Unsatisfying Experiences

    In the store the other day, my whole impression was of marked-down merchandise just waiting to be purchased by people looking for a good deal – not by people highly motivated to enjoy the unique effectiveness of The Body Shop products. I felt older than I wanted, blasted by loud music my teenage daughter would more appreciate. And there was nothing done to make me feel special as a Love Your Body Club member.

So, if you’re a retailer, or someone running a consumer brand, how can you do better than The Body Shop? Start out by writing yourself a list of questions like:

  • What is the overall branding effect of the relationship, e-business, and in-store programs that I want to create? Separately, and together?
  • Do I have functional silo-ization in my team that ends up causing consumer experience disconnects?
  • If I have direct-response or database experts in charge of running a relationship-building program, how do I guide them better to build the brand?
  • What should my relationship program really be trying to achieve? Short-term sales steering via discounts at a lower margin, or longer-term building of deep belief in the products to drive higher margin?
  • Should I be thinking about programs that reward members with exclusive added-values, not just monetary offers?
  • How do I avoid discount schemes that drive price-value confusion and erosion?
  • How special can I make the in-store and e-business experiences for my program members?

When you focus your programs on continually deepening the essential reason your brand exists, you will keep your initiatives working much harder to build the brand. The reward? A core of appreciated customers who are highly committed to using your products more exclusively – and probably with much less margin and brand eroding discounting. Isn’t that what you are after?

Deb Rapacz
Deb Rapacz helps brands and non profit organizations build a solid core of highly-committed buyers or donors. She is a highly-rated marketing instructor at St. Xavier University and conducts research on the psychology of brand commitment and consumer engagement.


  1. Is “Relationship Marketing” Killing The Body Shop?
    Deb Rapacz, Reilly and Rapacz
    Many a times, I feel the same when there is a slight hitch in my buying.
    This is very common as the salespeople force you to buy or they fail to give you the response you seek.
    I guess the oil at 148 has gone up the head of all and the house mortgages failing are playing trick with brains of all.
    Try other days and you will be surprised with the response you get. Alternatively try other sales rep and this too will surprise you.
    I deduce all have the short of cash feeling and lose our temper faster then before.
    I have had the same experience in the heat in the Dubai when the temperature goes to 45 degrees.
    The sale force at 1pm wants to go home and the reply you get is amazing. At times, you real wonder if you were if the right place.
    The external force is killing the sale at times.
    Firozali A Mulla MBA PhD
    P.O.Box 6044
    East Africa

  2. Deb,

    It doesn’t sound much like a relationship to me! Moreover, I don’t see the relationship marketing. What you are describing in hardcore product pushing through an exising customer list.

    I have a relationship with St. Supery Winery. They let me know when new releases become available – I like their wine so I appreciate the heads-up. They invite me to wine related events where I can meet the winemaker and the CEO. We sip wine, admire art and get to know each other. Occassionally, they invite me to participate in a wine blending experience that heightens my appreciation of wine. I invite them to functions they might find interesting. Along the way I buy wine and recommend it to friends and associates. I even hold business events in their facility. Why? Because I trust them to treat my customers the way they treat me.


    John I. Todor, Ph.D.
    Author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.


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