Monday, 23 May 2016

Worse Than Avenue’s Coupon Debacle

facepalmA number of readers have asked me to explain what the sam hill is going on with The Avenue (a brick and mortar and online plus size clothing store) and all of their coupon drama. In doing my research I found that the coupon situation is truly a debacle, mishandled by Avenue start to finish. But I also found something that I think is even more disturbing.  Still, let’s start with the coupon thing:

A few days ago, a coupon code started circulating for $90 off a $90 purchase with the following terms and conditions:

Cannot be combined with any other coupon.  Not valid on Celebrate Collection, clearance, outlet, shapewear, prior purchases, or gift cards.  Offer expires 11:59pm PC on 7/31/16. Order must total $90 before tax and shipping and after other discounts.  Promotion may end without notice. Terms may change at any time.  Limit on per customer.

According to people who used it, the coupon appeared on Avenue’s site, and on coupon sites that vet coupons for accuracy including RetailMeNot. A couple days later everyone who had used the coupon code got an e-mail from Avenue saying that their order had been canceled. The e-mail stated:

This letter is regarding your recent order.  It has come to our attention that one of our exclusive rewards coupons has been distributed for use in an unauthorized manner on our website. This coupon stated it was valid specifically for in-store use and in-store orders only.  Therefore, the coupon was incorrectly used as a promotional code for online orders.

The issue has been resolved and all orders associated with this coupon code have been canceled.We apologize for this inconvenience. Thank you for shopping at Avenue

Best Regards,

Nancy J. Warwick, Director of Customer Service

People were upset that the coupon wasn’t valid, but were more upset about the way Avenue was handling things, starting with the claim that the coupon was meant for use in stores which they found questionable because:

  • It was an alphanumeric code (which is how Avenue does their online coupon codes) not a barcode (which is how Avenue does their in-store coupons.)
  • The terms and conditions mentioned shipping which wouldn’t make sense if it was for use in-store
  • The coupon code worked online and there would be no reason for that to be the case if it was an in-store only coupon
  • When the orders were being held for processing, people e-mailed customer service and were sent promises that the orders would be shipped
  • People who are over a size 26/28 pointed that an in-store coupon would have left them out since their local stores only offer “extended sizes” online.

Here’s where the wheels came off.  Avenue corporate and their  customer service agents and corporate went with an approach that was some combination of “everything but the kitchen sink” and “blame the customer.” They claimed in various places and at various points in the situation:

  • The coupon was sent to a “very specific set of customers who earned these specific rewards to use in-store only”
  • The coupon was posted on RetailMeNot with the wrong terms of service.  People then said that they saw the comments on Avenue’s site.
  • Avenue then claimed that when they said shipping they meant if someone came to the store and made an online order from the store
  • Some people were told by customer service that the coupon code would be cancelled and that their payment method would be automatically charged full price. (Thankfully that turned out not to be true.)
  • A customer service agent told a customer that Avenue is “disappointed that our customers took advantage of this mistake”
  • Customer service agents used language like “those customers who used the fraudulent coupon” in a way that led some customers to believe that Avenue was suggesting that they had purposely perpetrated a fraud, rather than just using a coupon code.

Things got worse when people found out that Avenue had taken the money from their payment methods immediately, but would not be issuing an immediate refund. Some people were told that it would take 3-5 days, some were told 4-6 weeks, as of this post many people are saying that they haven’t received their refunds and that customer service is not ignoring them.

A number of theories about this have been floated – from those who think that it was an attempt to increase their mailing list (everyone who made the order had to create an account with e-mail and mailing address and people are reporting already receiving promo e-mails from Avenue) to those who thought that it was a method to get a quick cash infusion (since people had to have a cart balance and also pay shipping and Avenue took the money immediately but isn’t refunding it yet,) to those who think Avenue was hacked but they don’t want to admit it (since the coupon code worked, repeatedly, online and people are saying that they can’t find anyone from the “very specific set of customers who earned these specific rewards to use in-store only” who actually received the coupon to use in store – I didn’t see anyone during my research who claimed to be part of this group.)

Regardless of why it happened, the argument that most people made was that even if this was a mistake, a lot of the fault lies with Avenue since, despite the technology that could have prevented this (for example, by creating individual one-time use coupon codes) they created a code that could be used online (and  it turns out it could be used over and over again with some customers placing 20 orders, which was obviously against the terms and conditions as written.)  They were disappointed that Avenue seemed to be blaming and shaming customers, that Avenue’s apology came all the way at the end of the e-mail, that Avenue didn’t even offer some kind of discount or coupon in consolation, and that they would not be getting an immediate refund despite the fact that they had paid in good faith for clothes that weren’t coming.

Regardless of why this happened, I think that Avenue mishandled this mightily as evidenced by the fact that their social media has now been completely taken over by people complaining about the situation and posting places to shop for plus size clothes other than Avenue, and the hashtag #boycottavenue is gaining popularity.  And Avenue customer service seems to be curled up under their desks because according to those trying to contact them they don’t seem to be responding by e-mail or on social media to the outpouring of customer dissatisfaction. I’m no Olivia Pope, but I would think that some damage control (preferably with everyone giving the same message) is in order here.

When I went to the website to research this I found something that I think is more disturbing than the coupon debacle.  First, they sell a thing called “Tummy Tamers” and then I saw this on their dress page:

Avenue body shaming dress descriptions

Grey shapes describing dress shapes with benefits of each shape underneath. Diamond a flattering jacket dress conceals your waist. Hourglass a sheath highlights your classic curves with a proportionate silhouette, triangle a wrap dress draws attention upwards & enhances your bust, Bell a fit n’ flare dress slims your hips and thighs by showing off your waist.

I wish that companies that sell clothing to fat people would do so with out engaging in body shaming language. I understand that not everyone is a card carrying member of the f*ck flattering club like I am, and of course that’s totally cool. But selling clothes to fat people by telling us that our bodies aren’t good enough unless they are being changed into some other shape either by optical illusion or actual body-smushing clothes, or concealed in some way is just not cool. I talked about this before in an open letter to stores that sell shapewear, and it all applies to this situation. I wish the people who wanted my money also wanted me to feel great about my body just as it is.  I wish they told me to celebrate my body – not to hide it or squish it.

So, as far as I’m concerned, Avenue has a lot to work on.

Here are some pictures to illustrate the coupon issue:

Coupon on Avenue's site Promise to ship, sent hours before the cancellation e-mail was sent The official cancellation e-amil Customer service says they are disappointed in customers Avenue suggests that customers come to the store to make online orders

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