Sunday, May 24, 2009

Old Navy's $1 Flip Flop Sale: Good Publicity Gone Bad?

Old Navy delighted customers- and potentially alienated others- yesterday when it held a $1 flip flop sale. As an employee of the company, I was able to witness consumer reactions firsthand.

During the summer months, Old Navy's flip flops, which normally sell for $3.50 each or two pairs for $5, are a top seller at the store. In fact, the company is renowned for its simple but affordable and reliable flip flops. So when the company decided to offer the sandals for just $1 in a one-day-only sale, it was not surprising that customers were thrilled at the idea of obtaining one of their favorite summer wardrobe staples at an unbelievably low price.

The idea behind the sale is to provide customers with affordable fashion while raising awareness and generating loyalty to the Old Navy brand. The company garnered awareness for its sale by running ads on television and distributing marketing materials in individual stores. Much of the publicity for the event was also generated through word-of-mouth. Some store employees and others who knew about the sale also posted information about the sale to Facebook and other social networking sites to raise awareness.

As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on whether or not this sale was a success in achieving the company's strategic objectives. On one hand, the event could enhance the brand image by generating loyalty through the low prices it offered while simultaneously raising awareness about the brand and its other products. The company also held a coloring contest, allowing kids to design their own pair of flip flops. The winner of the coloring contest will have their flip flop manufactured and sold during the 2010 summer season! The entry form also featured a coupon for families whose children participated in the contest. My specific store also hosted face painting and gave out temporary tattoos for kids. These aspects of the sale all worked to paint Old Navy in a positive light.

There were also some factors that likely detracted from the brand image and thus worked against the reputation of the store. Excitement about the sale produced excessive lines. In the specific store in which I work, we estimated there to be over 1,000 customers in line within an hour of the store opening. These long lines served as an aggravation for customers, and also posed other problems. Fire Marshalls were called to regulate against safety hazards, and police were called to curb violence that erupted as a result of line-cutting. The large crowd created a situation in which several children were separated from their parents and also enabled shop-lifters to go unnoticed. Additionally, the company instituted a limit of five pairs of flip flops per customers, which perturbed many shoppers-- especially when our store began to sell out of most sizes and colors of the sandals.

All of these factors of the sale detract from the integrity and reputation of the Old Navy brand. Many customers that came to my register voiced complaints, and several even said "this was not worth the wait." Comments and impressions like these only damage relationships between the company and its publics -- especially when such negative sentiments are later spread from person-to-person.

When a truck from the local news station showed up to cover the story for the evening news, I found myself wondering what angle the station would take for the story. Would they extol the company for its unbelievable sale, or would the company's sale be met with derision for the chaos it created? What do you think, was the sale a net benefit or net loss for the reputation of the Old Navy brand?


mgc said...

I went to the first store a half hour after it opened because my three girls begged me. We walked in, then walked out. I have never seen lines that long -- the store was crammed --almost claustrophobic -- with people just waiting in line. It was mayhem. As a marketing person I wondered how great a loss leader it was when I saw people have only flip flops in their hands -- no other merchandise. I went to a second store just because there was one in the mall we visited. By that time, they were all out of flip flops. As a consumer, I think the program flopped. As a marketing person, I'm anxious to see the results... or at least the spin Old Navy will flip.

Anonymous said...

I went to an Old Navy store less than an hour after it opened, and it was an absolute MAD HOUSE! The only colors left in women's sizes were black, brown, white and navy blue, and Old Navy was completely out of all the children's sizes. Supposedly, each customer could only purchase 5-6 pairs, but that wasn't stopping anyone. A woman in front of us had literally 30 pairs, so she had to be rung up 6 different times. Also, with such a big event, there was only 4 people on a register, and the line stretched all the way to the back of the store! Nice planning, Old Navy. I think this was a wonderful idea, but from a consumer's perspective, they should've either had more flip flops in stock or enforced the limit of how many each person could purchse. They spend so much on marketing the event, yet from what I've read online, most stores were sold out within an hour, if that! If you're going to have a mind-blowing sale, then prepare for it - overstock your inventory because you KNOW that there's going to be alot of traffic.