Wednesday, 2 September 2009

When free has strings attached

How would you interpret this recent Twitter promotion by cosmetics etailer ELF?

“Free shipping today ONLY! UK customers use FANK13UK and Europe customers use code FANK13EU”

Would you take it to mean that all orders for all UK or European customers are eligible for free delivery that day? Because I did; but I was wrong.

If you’re not familiar with ELF, the initials stand for Eyes, Lips, Face, and its USP is that each item from the core range costs just £1.50. Items from the new (deluxe) Studio collection cost £2 more. The standard delivery charge is £2.95—almost as much as the cost of two items. So, of course when I saw the tweet about free delivery, I headed online to replenish my stock of mascara.

At checkout I entered the code, but the delivery charge wasn’t deducted from the order. Nor was there a warning message that my code wasn’t applicable. I abandoned my basket and returned to Twitter to ask for help. A message came back: “For free shipping orders need to be £10.00 or over”.

I felt a bit of a cheapskate, but it’s the principle. At the very least ELF should have made Twitter followers aware that conditions applied or even warned me at checkout that to qualify for free delivery I had spend a little more (like Amazon does with its Super Saver Delivery). In any case it lost the sale, inspired a “Twitter Fail”-type tweet and this blog post, all generating negative feedback for the company for its lack of clarity.

Free delivery is a very popular promotion with customers, but it can be tricky for retailers to implement successfully (see our November 2008 article No such thing as “free” delivery for more on the topic). In this instance, ELF’s loss was The Body Shop’s gain. In complete contrast to my experience with ELF, shopping on The Body Shop’s website was a breeze. Not only did The Body Shop offer me free unconditional delivery all Bank Holiday weekend, it also gave me an extra 10 percent off AND a buy-one-get-one-half-price deal on the products I needed. And even though I only intended to make a purchase of £12 or so, I ended up spending more than £30 and qualified for the free gift; you’ve guessed it, mascara.

The moral of the story is that by not spelling out what it meant by free delivery, ELF risked upsetting customers. At best, they’d shrug it off and spend £10. At worst, they’ll spend three times that amount at a competing etailer.—MT

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