The Customer is Always Wrong
Is the customer always right? Apparently for Gasp, an Australian fashion boutique, she isn’t when she’s the wrong customer.
In a scene reminiscent of Julia Roberts’ failed shopping trip in “Pretty Woman,” a bride-to-be shopping at Gasp on Sept. 24 was both pressured into buying a dress and then insulted about her weight when she said she would think about buying it. According to the Herald Sun, the customer, who also works in retail, wrote a letter to Gasp saying that “Chris,” the salesman, ridiculed her figure [U.S. size 8] and then told her and her friends that they “were a joke” after being questioned on his attitude.
“I dread to think how many customers he has not only offended but how many customers have left your store due to the pressure placed on getting the sale and then to be harassed when that sale hasn’t taken place,” she wrote to the company.
Far from an apology, an area manager in an e-mail on Sept. 28 defended the sales associate, calling Chris “a qualified stylist whom has a sixth sense for fashion.” According to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, he added, “I am sorry you feel upset by him, but he knew you were not going to buy anything before you even left your house.’
The manager went on to tout that style icons like Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry shop the store and that “the customer whom is acclimated to buying from ‘clothing for the masses’ type retailers, is almost frightened by our range.”
A seemingly-devastating firestorm for Gasp erupted as the snide letter went viral, leading to a flood of disparaging articles in the press and negative comments across blogs, Twitter and Gasp’s own Facebook page. The retailer deleted the negative Facebook comments and soon pulled down its Facebook page.
Still, an official statement from Gasp after the viral episode remained unapologetic. The statement read, “We respect and welcome all customers whom wish to visit our store, even though the intention to buy may not exist. But we ask that their opinions be expressed through blogs, social media or around a warm latte, but certainly not inside our stores.”
The area manager, later talking to the Herald Sun, also thanked the customer for “unprecedented sales volume” caused after she publicly-released his e-mail.
Writing about the incident on his blog, Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doc and a RetailWire BrainTrust panelist, said Gasp may find a short-term benefit from the publicity, but may regret its actions in the long term. He wrote, “There are a lot of moving parts in this story, from the edge they want their clothes to have, their edge with who they hire, the edge with which they serve customers and respond to complaints. Unfortunately, edges can cut you. Deeply. Especially when no apology was offered or communicated.”
Indeed, news surfaced on Wednesday that Gasp was shutting down the store just ten days after the incident.
- Customer Complaint Letter – Retail Doc
- Area Manager E-mail – Retail Doc
- Customer complaint email and response by GASP clothing goes viral – Herald Sun
- ‘I knew you were a joke the minute you walked in’: Designer clothing store’s shocking treatment of customer shopping for bridesmaid dresses – Daily Mail
- Gasp boutique complaint response letter goes viral, manager says shop was too ‘glamorous’ for her – New York Daily News
- GASP gloats amid viral customer feud – Herald Sun
- Should Retailers Care About #Gaspfail in Australia? Yes – Retail Doc
- Gasp Jeans To Shut Down Site Of Shameful Customer Service Incident – Stylesite
Discussion Questions: Are the rules guiding customer service at retail different for high-end fashion and luxury than other retailers? Is it possible that snobbiness works? What do you think of how Gasp handled the incident portrayed in the article?