Summit 7 Blogs

What can toilet paper teach us about customer loyalty?

What would you do with a case of toilet paper, if you could buy it for $0.01?  That may sound like a crazy question, but if you were on social media anytime during the week of January 25th, you may have seen some conversations about the Office Depot $0.01 blunder that has made rolls of angry consumers across the globe.  Here’s the story… 

Someone on Office Depot's web team mistyped the price of their new Seventh Generation 2-ply Bathroom Tissue.  As with most news, social media can spread things faster than DNS servers can refresh IP changes, and that’s exactly what happened.  It didn't take long for the twittersphere to show tweet and retweeted links and images of the $0.01 blunder, and you can bet people were flocking to the Office Depot website to buy tissue for its cheapest ever price.



You may think this is funny, but we are talking tissue paper, and who can't use more of that fluffy white stuff? Talk about TP’ing someone’s house, building TP forts, giving away TP for Christmas, and the imagination can keep going on and on.  If you haven’t heard about it, you should jump on twitter and follow the rolls of tweets: #tissuegate, #officedepot.


What caused the big fuss?
I can only imagine the number of people who logged on and in good faith, bought a case of tissue.  I must say in the back of my mind, I was wondering if this was some kind of hoax that was stealing everyone’s information, but just in case, I had to try and buy some for myself to see if this was really too good to be true. If it were true, I was going to donate 10 cases to several homeless shelters in my community.  So keep reading to see what happened.


The way it went down
On Monday, things were rather quiet and no one had heard a peep out of Office Depot acknowledging the mistake.  It was quite eerie as people waited to see just what may come from their orders.  I was told mine were on back order, so I assumed I would be notified when my shipment would be ready. That evening, I checked the website and sure enough the price was fixed, but still no news on whether my orders were being processed.


Then it happened, and late Monday night, Office Depot started CANCELLING all the orders placed by customers that had the Seventh Generation tissue as part of the order.  After performing the massive cancellations, they sent out a notice that the orders were canceled due to an error on their part, but their cancellation was in line with their Terms of Use.  Man… I call that a bad case of the Mondays for real and I actually wanted to do something good with my cases of tissue.





Why customer loyalty shouldn't be a bartering piece.
As I’ve seen and understand, when it comes to dealing with damage control and mitigating issues such as this one, executives are taught to ensure the bottom line, keep the company and shareholders first, and try to move the company ahead. However, companies are often socially crucified by consumers, not on quarterly profit highs or lows, but for how well they did or did not respond in control damage done to the brand.  This theme seems to be consistent with the ideology that consumers are loyal to those that simply do right by the consumer.


I understand, as should many of us consumers, that canceling the orders helped Office Depot keep profits manageable, and didn't force a huge loss of tissue paper.  After all, we are talking about 2-ply tissue paper here.  It was probably a cheaper gamble to lose those orders over the weekend that included tissue rather than shipping those cases of tissue at a loss to the company.  However, to further damage the brand and risk losing customers for life because they responded poorly on social media, is not something I think they considered, but let’s put all this into perspective.


Selling and shipping rolls of tissue is costly for any company, including Office Depot, and tissue paper isn't even in their staple product category.  Actually, I'm not sure how they got to selling tissue, but that’s another subject.  Seriously though, no one will really care that they were ordering tissue paper for a penny per case from Office Depot and didn’t get it.  Its Seventh Generation tissue and it's at Office Depot.  However, a lot of people will remember that Office Depot did not honor the listing price on its website for some cheap item and it did not communicate well with customers who made purchases of the items.

How Office Depot should have used Toilet Paper to build more customer loyalty
While the pricing mistake was indeed a bad one and one that may have cost the company money, it could have gained them more loyal customers in the end. If I were an executive there, I would have put more money (faith) on the customers and tried to capitalize on the mistake in a humorous/positive light for both sales and the brand.  (Guess that’s why I'm not an executive there.)


Many people knew that Office Depot was not going to honor that price, it was too bad of a screw up for any company in their right mind to honor, but what no one expected was a cancellation with no warning and no attempt to rectify it.


What if this happened?
What if upper management took the entire day on Monday and dedicated it to “TP’ing Office Depot Style.” Then the CEO or VP of Sales, and the person who made the mistake could have created a short video with an official apology and posted it on their website.



During the day, the management could have made fun of it by individually wrapping rolls of tissue to ship along with a signed letter from the president apologizing for the mistake and a 20% off coupon good for anything including tissue paper. This would have taken a while, but it would have made for an interesting news story.


Looking at the mishap as an opportunity not a problem
Both my what if example above and the actual account of what happened, would have put Office Depot into the lime light for a few days, but only one would have left such a bad taste in consumers’ mouths.


The what if example, in my opinion, would have pushed Office Depot into the headlines positively, brought more attention and still would have cost the company money.  The funny thing about all of this is that it is over tissue paper and it doesn't look like the executives could see the irony of that fact.  The Office Depot website probably even had a spike in traffic, saw an increase in orders and new customers registering.  All of that from people trying to buy Seventh Generation 2-ply tissue paper, I mean it was something like Charmin.


The amount of money it would have cost them to do the TP’ing Office Depot Style is minimal compared to the damage they created in canceled orders, flooding social media post with apologetic retweets, and the bad social publicity by upset customers who didn’t actually care about the tissue paper in the first place.


Brand impact of poor damage control
It is true that people shop where they want, and brand loyalty is not what it used to be.  However, companies have to be willing to think differently about their mistakes.  Damage control should be thought of before it is needed, and social media doesn't help this factor at all. It is true that companies cannot please everyone, and no one should never try, but companies should always be willing to own their mistakes and do right by the consumer in some capacity.  By doing this, companies communicate real value to consumers, they let consumers know they are real and  are more than a sales number at the end of the day.


Of course, this is in no way the end to Office Depot, and many people who never shopped at Office Depot will forget that they even tried to buy tissue paper from them. However, let it be known that the times have changed and loyalty is to be earned, not bought.  Office Depot's brand may have taken a nice slap in the face and its going to leave a mark for a few days to come, but I've seen this with others as well.  Hopefully companies start shifting how they do damage control on their brand and the true price for loyalty rises beyond just the one sale even if it is just 2-ply tissue paper.  But who knows?


What would you do with a case of tissue for $0.01?  Guess we will never know. #sosad