Target's 10 percent offer was 100 percent wrong

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After compromising the security of millions of customers' credit card information, Target offered Christmas shoppers 10 percent discounts during the weekend preceding the holiday.

The message: “We goofed, so here's a small token to get you to mosey on down to make us even more profitable.”

Target's pretentious apology is a smack in the face of so many customers who stand to lose far more money and time as they fight their way through the difficult task of getting credit bureaus to remove black marks made by identity theft.

Target said it is doing its part by providing customers free credit reports so they can monitor any suspicious activity. Other than that, the consumers are on their own to defend themselves as the retail giant washes its hands of all guilt.

Target's superficial and self-serving apology does not go far enough to make whole those potentially affected by the retail giant's carelessness. The mere 10 percent discount and a free credit report will do nothing to compensate those who may end up spending hours, weeks, months or even years to fix their credit ratings — in the meantime paying high interest mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other fees.

Days after the breach, a New Jersey-headquartered law firm filed a class action lawsuit against Target — an indication of just how serious the matter is. Several weeks later, the bad news continued to pour in as now it appears that PIN numbers were compromised in the breach.

The age of the 24-hour news cycle and proliferation of self-labeled social media “gurus” have led to a misconception that companies in crisis must chug a pint of Transparency Kool-Aid and “tell it early, tell it all and tell it yourself.” Or, at least, “get out there and do something that resembles an apology.”

But, the theories of these purveyors of peace, love and all-things-social-media demonstrate no conception of real world cause and effect and should not be mistaken for sound advice.

And hitting the social media venues is where Target compounded the problem. Since the data breach, the company loaded its Facebook page with posts espousing the virtues of data security, directing customers to research their data breach concerns online rather than call customer service, and to read a heartfelt message from the CEO.

While this is better approach than Exxon's do-nothing strategy in dealing with the Valdez oil spill, it has the same tone of a hollow apology issued via a written statement by a public relations agency on behalf of a celebrity who got caught making a racist remark.

Here's where I would agree with the social media pundits: Target is clueless about engagement. Target for the most part failed to answer questions posted by desperate shoppers, but did, however, respond to those inquiring about who qualifies for the discount and which exclusions apply.

Excuse me?

Exclusions?

While I am not familiar with the behind-the-scenes details of the case, I am confident there are too many cooks in the kitchen who are involved in Target's public responses. There is no question that somewhere along that fragmented chain of command, a good corporation with good intentions got bad advice.

Regardless, good companies that exercise bad advice will pay a price.

Rather than heading to FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter guided by a kneejerk strategy, Target would have done well to manage the situation the old-fashioned way through press briefings and one-on-one interviews with select reporters.

Because the situation was continuing to unfold, working through the media would have afforded the company the opportunity it needed to think through its strategy and make adjustments as facts were revealed. The well-thought and strategic messaging conveyed in press briefings should then be reflected through Target's social media venues (before, during and after the briefings).

Yes, Target had a very real issue to worry about over the weekend before Christmas: losing sales because of customer fear. But that, too, could have been managed and mitigated through media messaging.

Rather, Target's “come on down and save another 10 percent” sent a very clear message: Target was concerned about Target — not about the customers it might have exposed to harm.

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