An Obvious Bug or a Deliberate Strategy?

What first may appear to be an obvious bug, may not be after all. Closely looking at a recent experience shopping online revealed what first seemed like a bug, but could also have very well been a cleverly placed, well-executed sales strategy.

A friend of mine wanted a new ski jacket. He decided to order several jackets online, pick the one he liked best, and return the rest.

He ordered four jackets from Store #1 and two jackets from Store #2. The total came to four figures.

When he received the six jackets, he picked out the one he liked best. It was from Store #2. He returned all four jackets to Store #1 and the second jacket to Store #2, and received refunds.

A month later, he received in the mail a leather-bound catalog from Store #1. It was the size of a coffee table book. And with it came a letter that referred to him as “Our Special Customer.”

Our special customer? For returning everything he purchased????

Clearly, this is a store that wants to acknowledge its big-spending customers, but does so by tallying merchandise purchased and ignoring merchandise returned.

My first reaction was that this was a bug, and a really obvious one at that. How could management not take returns into account in identifying special customers?

Then I started to wonder: might this be a deliberate strategy? Maybe management feels that any customer who makes a purchase of a certain size is a special customer, even if that customer ships it all back. In fact, maybe the purpose of the catalog is to encourage future purchases among the big spenders in hopes that over time, they’ll keep more than they return.

And just maybe, management sees the potential public relations value of sending out the catalog. After all, my friend told several people this story and we’ve each told others, boosting awareness of the store as a source of high-quality products. This potential might be worth more than the cost of producing and shipping the catalog.

Still, it strikes me as interesting that the way the store acknowledges one of its (presumed) best customers isn’t with a tangible gift or a credit again a future purchase, but by sending a gargantuan catalog with the implicit hint: Buy more from us! Is this any way to acknowledge one’s best customers?

Obvious bug or clever strategy: what do you think?

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