There is Grey and There is Black and White
No this isn’t an April Fools’ joke. I wish it were.
I was all ready to share a quick blog post about the new Camel Coat Silkstone Barbie that became available on the Barbie Collection website yesterday for BFC members (a day ahead of general public distribution). I was all ready…and then…something happened that sank me and many collectors into a state of complete and total disbelief. It was a situation where something was so clearly black and white that I could not stay on the sidelines and watch it happen without comment. Our story begins with a Sneak Peek on the BFC.
I can’t show you the sneak peek because that would violate my agreement with the BFC but I can tell you that pictures of the doll were shown last week (3/24/16 to be specific) and a release date of March 31st was given. The big surprise — and a pleasant one at that — was the $50.00 list price. This doll had a full outfit with accessories (yes she has earrings and a purse!!) and the price was more than reasonable. The verbiage in the sneak peek was general…name, label, designer and…price. It was not listed with suggested price, not estimated price, just price: $50. For the entire week after the sneak was posted, member after member commented how this price seemed low. There were questions as to its validity but no correction or retraction was submitted or offered by Mattel. As of this morning, $50 was the set price.
Fast forward to yesterday. Gates open in the morning at Barbiecollection.com and many collectors were able to purchase Miss Camel Coat at $50. Somewhere after the first hours of happy purchasing, the price jumped to $75. To say collectors were surprised is a gross understatement. When people questioned this, the response back from the official Mattel channels was, “We are having issues with the price and that she was really $75.” Hmmmmm…what issues change a doll with an “advertised” price of $50 to $75? Look, I understand that mistakes are made and if Mattel had explained after say…a couple of days in the sneak peek forum that “oops we goofed, we put the price down wrong.” , I think it is fair to say that most of us would have understood. Stuff happens.
When you hike the price up 50% mid-sale while people are purchasing (yes, collectors have stories of seeing the dolls price change while still in their cart) then you have a bigger problem I think. You not only have a problem of epic customer service proportions, you also have a potential legal issue. Let me explain.
I need to state up front that I am not a lawyer. I have never been one. My background is in business and finance. While studying for my bachelor of science in this field, one of the main areas of study was business law. The first lesson we learned…and I mean the first lesson, day one… had to do with unfair and illegal marketing practices. One of the most common ones is called “Bait and Switch”. It is illegal in the United States. Here is a brief description of what it means:
"Bait and switch advertising is a violation of consumer laws. It is a type of fraudulent business practice where one party, such as a manufacturer or business, will offer the "bait". This could be a product that is advertised at a very low cost and is designed to lure in a customer. Once the customer is attracted, the manufacturer will pull the "switch". The proposed product will no longer be available at the advertised price, but instead it will be offered at a much higher price or an altogether different product will be offered." **
Simply put, you can’t advertise something for a price then hike the price when people come to buy it. You just can’t. Now, here is where things can get a little grey. Do you consider the sneak peeks we receive in the BFC “advertising”? I will admit, kind of grey because this is information shared only with BFC members and it could be considered preliminary. If that had been the only place where Mattel had mentioned a price, then perhaps categorizing this as bait and switch could be debated. However, it’s not the only place they advertised the price.
This was what you found when you went to the BFC tab of the website all day yesterday. This is not a grey area. This is advertising space on their public website.
While I sat at my computer and saw this story unfurl I was shocked that Mattel was not coming forth and 1) apologizing for their error, and 2) honoring the $50 price for BFC members. To me, this was so black and white. They advertised it at $50 for BFC members, some BFC members had already purchased dolls at that price, and I assumed they would simply have to honor the price for other BFC members. No brainer, fair, legally and ethically right. But for a time, Mattel was silent and calls to the customer service center in Wisconsin just gave the response of, “The price is $75.” Holy cow! When I called the customer service center, I explained that if that doll was $75, then they needed to yank the ad that stated she was $50 or they could get slapped with false advertising. The ad remained up all day.
By late afternoon, Mattel did respond stating that the $50 price would be honored if you called customer service but it was a one day only deal. For those who had purchased the doll at the $75 price, they could email customer service and their account would be adjusted. On my third call to customer service, I finally was able to purchase this doll for the price she was advertised for: $50.00 This was half my day people, to try to accomplish something that should never have been set up this way. And this was half a day in which I had to argue with two customer service reps that their website and company were in violation of consumer law. Not something I do every day…every year or frankly every decade. It has left me repeating one phrase over and over again…”What in the Sam Hill is going on over at Mattel?”
For those unfortunate collectors who come late to the party tomorrow hoping to use their brand new quarterly reward on a $50 Camel Coat Silkstone, good luck. I hope Mattel will do the right thing here and honor the $50 price to the BFC members they advertised it to. I am hoping but I don’t expect it. I am left with a lingering sense of mistrust in this company I have supported for years with many compliments, time and dollars. What a sad way to show their appreciation. #customerfail.
I’m not even showing the doll or giving the link. Caveat Emptor people! Now, as they say over at Flickr when a disturbing or alarming picture is about to be shown, “Take me to the Kitties”. I have such a bad taste in my mouth on this one, I need a whole box of Altoids and hours of cute animal videos.
** – http://consumer.laws.com/deceptive-advertising/bait-and-switch-advertising