Coles has placed itself in the middle of a social media shit-storm today following a pricing error which offered cases of popular beers James Squires Golden Ale and Coopers Pale Ale at the unbelievably (unbelievably) low price of $15.99 – a discount of almost $35.00!
The error was picked up at around 8pm Monday evening and within the hour was posted to deals website OzBargain. Twitter and Facebook took care of the rest and shortly thereafter Coles Online ground to a halt under the strain of thousands of bargain hunters attempting to order the beer-deal of a lifetime. Comments on OzBargain indicate stock of each beer sold out by midnight that night.
Predictably, the error was soon discovered and presumably the first members of Coles eCommerce team arrived then next morning found their inbox filled with panicked emails from the social media team, before realising exactly what had taken place.
To Coles credit, they were able to investigate the issue, fix the pricing error, decide on a resolution, and deliver communications to customer just before 10am this morning.
Sadly for tech-savy beer aficionados Coles did not opt to fulfill the orders, instead communicating their apology for the accidental pricing error, and providing all affected customers a $15.00 Coles Online credit as a token of apology. For the Twitterati, this just would not stand.
As much as I enjoyed trolling the outraged would-be Coles customers on Twitter today, 140 characters didn’t really cut it for a few of the responses I hoped to provide in response to arguments of why we should all receive half-off-wholesale beer, so now I’d like to take a few minutes to defend the indefensible and argue on behalf of Coles as to why you – yes you – really don’t deserve your cut-price beers.
You have not entered a legally binding contact until they have accepted your offer (payment of $15.99 a case). Lawyered indeed.
Finally, a few Tweeters have made the point that Coles must have been aware of the issue early on, so why didn’t they communicate the error in price immediately instead of waiting till the next morning. The basis for this argument is usually around the Coles social media team continuing to Tweet even while the website was collapsing under the pressure of orders.
I guess this is one of the perils of working in a 24/7 online world. Organisation the size of Coles work in silos. Yes, Coles social media team was obviously aware of the issue and would have worded-up the higher-ups before communication was sent the next morning, but crisis resolution to issues like this takes time. By midnight – four hours after the issue was discovered – customers were no longer able to purchase beer. Shortly after that, prices had updated to reflect the correct value. At that point (from Coles internal perspective) the damage was already done . Rushing out an email at 3am would not provide any benefit (and potentially deliver a great degree of risk). I imagine everyone at Coles was in very early this morning, working through an appropriate solution and signing-off comms before customers were communicated to today.
Rather than berating Coles for failing here, I have to commend them for such a speedy resolution. I’ve seen much worse from similarly scaled organisations.
Like you, I found out about the beer deal last night and attempted to purchase a couple of cases for myself, fully aware that this was a pricing screw up, but thinking “what the hell, even if it’s only a 1% chance, nothing ventured nothing gained”. Guess what: the 99% won out this time. This level of entitlement and moral outrage at Coles not honouring what you all knew was a screw up is beyond me.
From my perspective this wasn’t a nefarious bait-and-switch aimed at stress-testing their servers (lol, serious?), or a marketing ploy to swell their customer-base. Some idiot pressed the wrong button. It was resolved quickly, communicated well, and you even got $15.00 out of it.. Now. just think of what you could do with that!