Just a Few Steps Above Mystery Meat

Contrary to what some might say, I don’t like kicking a company when it’s down. And goodness knows Harry & David is down. But after ordering a Father’s Day gift from the food mailer, I can see why its top and bottom lines have been on the decline.

Harry & David has always tried to set itself apart by, among other things, promoting its Create-Your-Own gifts. My father, like most 80-somethings, has his share of dietary restrictions, so this seemed the safest way to go.

The product page for the Create-Your-Own 4-Pack Snacks & Pretzels Sampler has a pop-up menu listing the snacks you can select. What it doesn’t have are descriptions of those snacks. What exactly is the Super Party Mix? How many grams of fat are in the Sesame Sticks? Clicking each option should have called up details about each, but didn’t.

I ended up opening another tab so that I could search for each option’s product page on HarryandDavid.com to determine which products would be best for Dad. Unfortunately, the on-site search couldn’t locate product pages for all of the items, such as the Honey Wheat Dipping Pretzels. Does Harry & David not sell them as a stand-alone item? Am I supposed to take it on faith that this option meets my father’s dietary requirements?

If Harry & David wants consumers to view the company as a standout in the ever-more-crowded field of food gifts, it needs to prove its credentials by serving shoppers an abundance, if not an overabundance, of information. In its heyday, when people had fewer options and were less knowledgeable about nutrition, less anxious about allergies, and less concerned about their diets, Harry & David could have gotten away with providing less in the way of facts. But those days are gone, along with Harry & David’s reign as the master of the food gifts category.

(And it’s not as if Harry & David is even resting on its laurels of serving sizzling creative in lieu of meat-and-potatoes information and usability, as anyone who has watched the evolution—or devolution—of its catalogs and website over the past few years can tell you. And in fact I did tell you, in this blog post last October.)

Omaha Steaks does a somewhat better job. Its Create-Your-Combo packages works on the old Chinese-menu model: Pick one item from group A, one from group B, and two from Group C. Within each group it includes a thumbnail photo of each option and a link to a pop-up product description. Granted, the descriptions don't include calorie counts, nutrition information, or lists of ingredients. But they do provide the serving sizes of the entrees and a general idea of what to expect. Here’s the description of the 4 oz. Italian Breaded Veal Patties: “You’re halfway to a terrific Veal Parmesan! Delicious ground veal in the seasonings of Old Italy coated with bread crumbs, Romano cheese, garlic and cornmeal ready to saut√© and serve.” So if, say, cheese is a deal-breaker, you at least know enough not to order this option.

What’s more, I was able to find the product pages for Omaha Steaks' various options by using the on-site search, and those product pages include not only nutritional and ingredient information but also preparation instructions. Ideally the pop-up descriptions on the Create-Your-Combo pages would link to these pages as well, but at least Omaha Steaks shows that it’s aware of the importance of this information to shoppers.

Regardless, I ordered from Harry & David, primarily because I’d done so the previous year and my father hadn’t complained about it. A few days later, Harry & David emailed me: “We are concerned with the summertime temperatures that the yogurt pretzels that you ordered may not arrive in perfect condition. If that is the case, please call our customer service department and we would be happy to replace them with a non-yogurt variety…”

Well, that’s pretty sporting of the company, was my first thought. But my second thought was, Harry & David would have been better off not offering the yogurt pretzels as an option to begin with. Having to replace the item would cost the company money that it certainly can’t afford. And seeing as the order was a gift, a package containing soggy pretzels would leave a bad taste in both the recipient’s and the customer’s mouths; who wants to go to the hassle of calling customer service to make good on a present?

While the proactive measure on the part of customer service is worthy of kudos, the fact that it needed to be done at all is one more sign that Harry & David isn’t as knowledgeable about its product range as it should be. And with consumers becoming more and more knowledgeable, that doesn’t bode well for its turnaround efforts.

And Now, a Word from Zappos

Getting your point across is difficult enough. Getting it across in a memorable, beguiling manner certain to please the recipients of your message is a feat that many of us don’t even attempt, let alone master. Which is why I salute the writers of Zappos.com’s email copy.

Most welcome emails have fairly pedestrian prose: Thanks for opting in to receive emails from us; we look forward to your shopping with us. Simple and serviceable. Indeed, the fact that these companies send any sort of welcome email at all is impressive enough.  

Here’s what Zappos wrote: “Woohoo! We’re so excited you registered with Zappos.com. We look forward to providing you with many amazing shopping experiences!”

“Woohoo!” I warranted a “woohoo!” And Zappos isn’t merely happy that I’ve opted in; the company is downright “excited.”

As is best practice with a welcome email, Zappos proceeded to remind me of the benefits of shopping with the company: “As a Zappos.com customer, you will experience these awesome benefits: a 365-day money-back guarantee; super-easy returns; our fabulous customer service; and our ginormous selection of stuff.”

Granted, not every brand could or should use terms such as “awesome” and “ginormous”  and "selection of stuff" in its email copy. But the choice of such youthful, casual, colloquial words supports Zappos’s image as a fun, rule-breaking brand.

Zappos’s order confirmation email demonstrated the same focus on tone: “We are delighted to inform you that your order with Zappos.com has been received successfully and is in the process of being carefully plucked from our shelves.” What a fabulous visual “carefully plucked” conjures up; I can imagine whistling sprites standing on tiptoe to retrieve the pair of sneakers I ordered from a shelf of impeccably organized boxes.

Perhaps my favorite email was the shipping confirmation: “Your order with Zappos.com has shipped. YAY! We’ve enclosed some tracking information, so you can follow your order to its final destination. It’s almost like being a superspy! Mission Control advises that you take a look at the top-secret information below.”

Okay, your mileage may vary regarding that final sentence. But you can’t deny that the prose builds a greater sense of anticipation regarding the package than the usual “Your order has shipped. Below is your tracking number so that you can check on the status of your shipment.”

Stylish verbiage alone won’t lead a shopper to choose one merchant over another. (Hell, it won’t even lead a consumer to choose a skillful author over a barely literate one, as is clear from the success of Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer.) But it helps solidify a brand’s image in the customer’s mind and sets that brand apart, even slightly, from its myriad competitors.

Even more subtly, it shows the consumer that this is a brand that pays attention to even the smallest, most mundane details. If Zappos lavishes enough care on its word choice for an automated order confirmation message, I’m going to assume it focuses just as obsessively on providing me with the best product selection and ensuring that I receive my order on time and in pristine condition.

Which, as it happens, I did.

Cross-Channel Mixed Messages from 77Kids

Unless you regularly shop for or with a child or a tween, you probably aren’t aware of 77Kids. It’s a children’s line extension of the American Eagle apparel brand, akin to GapKids, P.S. from A√©ropostale, and Abercrombie Kids. And to the nondiscerning—read: adult—eye, its offering is remarkably similar to those of the above-cited brands.

The in-store 77Kids experience, however, is surprisingly different from those of the other stores—or at least our recent experience in the Danbury, CT, store was.

For starters, my 11-year-old daughter was handed a scratch-off promotion card as soon as we entered. Is there a kid alive who doesn’t like scratch-off cards? Several seconds of furious scratching revealed that we’d “won” 15% off our day’s purchase. Probably all the cards were good for a 15% discount, and of course 77Kids could simply have advertised a 15%-off sale, but there’s no element of fun in that. The cards were a great way to engage the kids, which is especially important when it’s the parent rather than the offspring who initiated the shopping trip.

Then there were the dressing rooms. My daughter loves shopping but hates trying things on. (I think it stems from when she got stuck in a loo while we were visiting Clovelly in England, and she had to climb up and over the divider to get out… but that’s a story for another time.) The doors in the 77Kids dressing rooms, however, had nifty little porthole windows that charmed her so much (and reassured her that were she to get stuck, help was easily at hand), she agreed to try on before she bought. This may seem like a little difference to you, but when you’re shopping with youngsters, little things are often pretty big deals.

When we reached the register to pay for our purchases, the cashier chatted with my daughter, complimenting her choice of swimsuit and asking if she wanted to become a member of 77Kids' loyalty club, before writing her name in bouncy script on the outside of the bag just below the store logo, giving her a couple of branded stickers and a temporary tattoo, and then escorting her to a candy counter on the other side of the store and allowing her to select a few goodies.

As we made our way through the rest of the mall, my daughter put the bag holding an earlier purchase from another store within the 77Kids bag “because it’s prettier, and has my name on it,” adding, “You know, this bag is pretty good advertising for them.” Yes, my daughter was well aware that she was being marketed too (she’s her mother’s daughter!), but because she’d received something that she considered of value, she didn’t mind. And the logoed stickers, which are now part of a collection on her bedroom mirror, serve as a continuing reminder of the brand. 

While ringing us up, the cashier asked if we’d like to receive emails from 77Kids. I said yes and gave her my email address. Here’s where the fabulous brand experience begins to flag. Because 10 days have passed since our visit, and I've yet to receive an email.

A welcome email—or better yet, a welcome email series—is a relatively simple way to make someone who has opted in feel, yes, welcome. It's also an easy way to reinforce the goodwill that had led the person to opt in to begin with. By failing to continue our burgeoning relationship, 77Kids squandered all the effort it had gone to during our fabulous in-store visit. 

It's as if 77Kids were a somewhat geeky boy your pushy aunt Helen fixed you up with. Despite misgivings, you went out with him and had a wonderful time. At the end of the night, he asked for your number, and you gladly gave it to him. He promised to call... but never did. If you ever do run into him again, you're hardly likely to give him more than a cursory nod. (Unless you decide to give him a hell of a lot more, such as a very loud and obscenity-laden piece of your mind.) And that's assuming you even remember him and haven't since been swept off your feet by another brand—oops, boy.

Along similar lines, 77Kids also failed to use the positive in-store experience to promote its Facebook page or Twitter feed. If a sticker mentioning the Facebook page had been included in the bag with our purchase, I’m certain my daughter would have logged on and “liked” it as soon as she got home.

I'm willing to bet that 77Kids' retail marketing team works independently from its online marketing team. And as a parent, I’m somewhat relieved that its cross-channeling marketing efforts were so weak. But if I were an American Eagle shareholder, “relieved” isn't the sentiment I’d be feeling.