A Tale of Two Dolls and the Race for Platinum
Ok..so I have been gone for about a month and this was really not how I wanted to get back into the blogging routine…with a sad tale. I didn’t want to do it but there was simply no other way. If you heard wailing and moaning yesterday morning, you most likely were in the vicinity of a Barbie collector or more specifically a Tokidoki Barbie collector. Here is a picture to start our journey.
The doll above is a Black Label Tokidoki doll that Mattel offered up for sale yesterday morning at 9AM to all collectors. It was an announced, anticipated, blogged about and hyped to within an inch of its life sale. This doll was in itself interesting and highly collectible and worthy of excitement and anticipation. Mattel, in an effort to relieve a system/server bottleneck instituted a high volume go-to solution called the “waiting room” where people, once they have selected to buy, are essentially put in a queue to wait for their turn to pay. The trick is getting to pay before the doll sells out. It is very civilized and diplomatic and used in many concert ticket sales sites as well as Comic-Con. It is not infallible or perfect but it is better than system-crashing gridlock.
That sale on its own would have been enough, but wait…there’s more. Mattel had to raise the ante a bit and also offer, at the same time, a platinum level doll.
Here is the platinum label Tokidoki Barbie also offered up by Mattel this morning at 9AM. This was again an announced sale and was open to all collectors not just BFC members. It was advertised, talked about, blogged about and anticipated since the day it was announced over a week ago. Mattel decided to spice things up a bit and held a treasure hunt to get the doll. This entailed finding one of two little icons (like the icon below) hidden somewhere on The Barbie Collection website.
Once you found the icon, you clicked on it and it would take you to a secret sales page through which you could purchase the exclusive doll. So, you have 1) a platinum doll up for sale which means there are only 999 or fewer of them, you have 2) a black label highly collectible doll up for sale, you have 3) a system that has failed before when it comes to platinum sales and 4) you are now going to ask people to not just go in and click on one page, you are going to ask them to click on many, many pages to find a little icon. Sounded like a recipe for misery and disaster to me. To be fair, Mattel has updated their website (my review of that is a whole other tome waiting to be written) and they gave cryptic clues as to which pages the icons could be found on. Ever the intrepid doll hunter, I said to myself “Well allrighty then, I’m hunting for it.” And with this decision, a new phrase entered my doll collecting vocabulary: Platinum Hunting. Let the race begin.
Runners on your Mark!! Per Mattel, We knew that they were offering “some” of the platinum label dolls for sale but not all. We knew that some would be offered through other retailers but did not know which ones or at what time. All we knew yesterday morning was that at 9AM PST some platinum label Tokidoki dolls would be available for purchase at $75 if we could find the icon that unlocked the secret sales page.
Runners Get Set!! I knew I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in…well you know where…of getting this one but I wanted to try. I wanted to take the clues they gave us and try out this new system. I expected the whole experience to end as it does in one of my favorite scenes from Shakespeare in Love: “How is this to end?” one character asks,“As all stories do when love is denied – with tears and a journey,” is the prophetic reply. I expected the frustration, I expected the tears, I expected the journey to end in disappointment and anger. Sadly, this indeed appears to have been the most common experience. My own race, however, did not go as expected.
Go! I went in with a few guesses about where the icons might be based on the clues in Mattel’s write-up. My plan was simple: I would try the “platinum label” page or “black label” page, see if the icons were on these pages and if they were not, that was that… no platinum for me. Something I had noticed earlier about the Barbie Collection website came in handy and was (in hindsight) instrumental for me in this race. I had realized that it was very difficult to find basic things using the site’s built-in search box with terms such as ”Black label”, “Platinum label”, or the names of designers like “Bill Greening” or “Robert Best”. The old Barbiecollector site would return the content I expected when I searched for these things. This new site?….not so much. Before the sale began, I had issued a search on Bing that returned links to the “platinum label” and “black label” pages within the Barbie Collection website. I had these links on hand for the big sale and it was these pages that came in handy and not the searches using the search box within the Barbie Collection site itself. When the 9am hour hit, I refreshed my “platinum label/Barbie Collection” Bing search, clicked on the first Barbie Collection link and got…
See the funny link on the bottom left? Yeah…I did too.
In programming terms, this is a syntax error. Most commonly it happens when a programmer introduces a typographical error. I saw the icons I was looking for and I also saw that they were attached to “Bill Greening”. I saw the icon and I clicked. Invalid syntax or not, the icon was still live/active and it took me to the hard-to-find sales page where I was able to purchase and check out successfully. I immediately tried to tell a couple of friends where the link was and I thought telling them “find Bill Greening” was the thing to do. It wasn’t…Here is why.
You could not search for “Bill Greening” on the current Barbie collector site and get the page you needed. That search functionality doesn’t work on the current site. WHAT?!!! The only way that I have seen to get to his page within the BC site was finding a doll that Bill designed and clicking on that product page, then clicking on his name in the product description under designer. Once you got to his page, there was the icon right next to his name. The easiest way for people to get there would have been clicking on the other black label Tokidoki doll that was for sale. But here’s the problem with that: Mattel had just spent the last couple of hours training people to think that if you clicked on the Tokidoki link, you got sent to the waiting room. I would venture to guess that many people were concerned they would be put into the “waiting room” for the black label doll, thereby missing their chance to get the platinum label doll. That left them trying to figure out which dolls Bill Greening designed while hearing the clock tick, tick, ticking away in the background. In retrospect, the most efficient way to get to the magic sales page was to abandon the website search functionality and search using an outside search engine such as Google or Bing.
So, the race is over…what did we learn? Here is one thing and I will relate this to fashion: there is a well-known rule that you don’t accentuate your flaws in fashion. For example, if you are wide in the hips you don’t wear horizontal stripes…especially around your hips, right? If you are short or petite, you don’t wear anything that accentuates the fact that you are vertically challenged. Well, if you have a website that does not have good search or even logical search functionality, then don’t ask people to search for something! This isn’t brain surgery people…it’s common sense. Now I know there will be people who will say “Well perhaps they didn’t know there were these problems until this sale showed them.” My answer: that excuse doesn’t hold water. There’s a well-known history of the site failing when stressed (see this about the last Platinum sale). Before re-opening a sales site (after having it closed for over a week I might add) the first thing many companies do is usability testing. One of the many things this kind of testing does is to check the functionality of the website. Was this done for the new site? I am left to wonder on that one because yesterday’s exercise in frustration showed many glaring issues with usability. If Mattel is looking for feedback, I have a couple of suggestions for The Barbie Collection website.
1) Fix the search functionality on the site pronto. Make sure that key logical searches are working like say…your designers, or your label categories, the actual names of products, etc.. Here are a few to help get you started..A) Bill Greening doesn’t work, Bill works but not the full name. Will Greening will pull up a few because apparently your search tool can “infer” accurately but not come up with results if you search the actual name. B) When I searched “Robert Best”, the site came up with exactly one Silkstone doll…one. You might want to check that one Mattel. C) A Lynda Kyaw search doesn’t do any better. It comes up with mighty Aphrodite but that’s all folks. D) Try typing “platinum label” into the search box and see what you get. I will tell you…nada…no hits which is why I went to an outside search engine to search the site and came up with better results. 2) Test your system!! When it comes time to test the completed system, you might want to get a few users who actually use the site to purchase something..oh like say your customers do…you might in fact want to hire a few customers to go in and actually take the site out for a test drive AHEAD of launch. 3) Check for errors!! When you launch something like this treasure hunt, you might want to check your site for blatant syntax errors. They were at the top of every Bill Greening product page during the treasure hunt on the website ( wish I had grabbed a screen capture but did not). Just saying…not a professional look. I will give the website this though, it appears that the “waiting room” did help with stress on the system. The website did not crash and people were able to check out with their black label Tokidoki dolls. For myself, once I had the platinum doll in my cart, I was able to check out without issue or inordinate delays. This was an improvement over past platinum label buying experiences.
I want to love and stay loyal to the Barbie brand…I really do. It is really hard to do when they appear to treat long standing and loyal customers the way they did yesterday. There appeared to be way too few dolls allotted for the sale. We have yet to hear how many were actually put up for sale yesterday. I am thinking out of the 999 that were made, only 100 or fewer were put up for sale yesterday. The Barbie Collection website’s lack of functionality in it’s search tool hindered many collectors attempt at finding the icon. Even if you knew the icon was on Bill Greening’s page, you were asking, “where is Bill Greening’s page?”. I happened upon the link by pure dumb luck and an outside search engine that just happened to pull up a page with the link on it. Here is the take away for me… Why hold a contest for clients and prospective clients but give them very little chance of succeeding? Do you garner good will that way? It’s like inviting a large group of hungry friends to a party and once they arrive you set down a can of coke and an airline bag of pretzels. I fail to see how Mattel or the Barbie brand added new buyers for their product on this one. The treasure hunt was a novel and cute idea for sure but did it bring in enough visibility and new business to make up for the loyal buyers you just royally pissed off? I am just not seeing it. I guess time will tell. Not a good business plan in my opinion. I think it will take a while for the bitter taste to leave collectors mouths on this one.
***UPDATE*** Per Mattel, the remaining platinum dolls will be sold at ToysRUs, Target and FAO. They will receive them randomly mixed in with black label TokiDoki Barbie’s. The hunt for many of this platinum doll continues…