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Cosmetics company's social sale gets ugly

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If you're ever promoted an event - via social media or any other means - you've probably struggled with the classic worry: "What if I throw a party and nobody comes?" In the case of pro makeup company NYX Cosmetics, though, the opposite was true: They threw a big anniversary party sale and everyone came - to the point of bringing down their site. And while their site outage was certainly big news for frustrated makeup lovers, how they dealt with the damage via social media is something we can all learn from whether or not we've ever thrown a tube of lipstick into a shopping cart, real or virtual.

Here's what happened. On May 9, the company posted an image to their Facebook page announcing a "12 Hour Sale" in celebration of their 12th anniversary:

Big news for cosmetics aficionados, as evidenced by the 127 "likes" the photo earned. Note the fine print, though: "There will be a limited amount of products available, so we suggest you shop immediately!" Facebook fans picked it up right away, and the resulting dialogue - which to NYX's credit, was dialogue rather than unattended customer comments - began pretty much immediately. Is the sale 12 hours or until merchandise runs out? What about differences in time zones? What about shipping?

NYX responded to the comments (the majority of them, at least), most folks' questions were answered, buzz built up and everything looked pretty much in place for a highly successful (though perhaps not terribly organized) social campaign.

And then ... the sale started. With such a high volume of traffic, the NYX site went down, apparently, pretty much immediately. With angry consumer contents flooding in, backtracking on the company's Facebook news feed and Twitter posts over the course of the days post-sale starts looking less like an exercise in customer service and more like a four-alarm fire:

Disgruntled customers were promised a make-good, but the terms of that offer kept changing as well: Another 12-hour sale? A coupon code for free shipping or merchandise discounts? By Monday afternoon, customers were being asked to submit their email addresses to receive a half-off discount code with free shipping, but hundreds were still complaining about not receiving the code right away or, if they had, being unable to actually redeem it. And then there was the matter that, for most products, a half-off discount didn't come close to value promised by the original $1.20 sale.

At time of writing this - only four days after the incident - Twitter chatter on NYX is already starting to veer back toward generic comments and product reviews. But the effects, particularly in the blogsophere, will be lasting. One pro makeup artist posts in an open letter to NYX: "First of all, when you got an unestimated amount of traffic due to the large & faithful following of your products, your representatives should have stated that you were not prepared for this amount of a reaction. You do not post things implying that it is your customers fault for overloading the server on your social sites. This only makes your customers feel like you are insulting them for wanting to take part in your sale."

NYX itself hasn't reacted much since giving a brief interview to beauty blog Temptalia on Monday and posting an official statement Tuesday on its Facebook page. The issue remains, then: How long will it take for social discussion on the failed sale to die down, and how much lasting damage was done to the NYX brand? Only time will tell, but in the meantime: What would you have done differently had you been in a brand manager's shoes? Let us know in the comments.

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