Walmart Halloween: All Tricks, No Treats

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This October, Walmart reached out to the plus size community in the absolute most wrong way. They had a plus size section called “Fat Girl Costumes.” The section offered costumes that were also offered in Walmart’s Women’s Plus Size Adult section, suggesting that someone created this offensive section as some kind of cruel joke and forgot to change it (Merlan 2014). Others believe it could have been some third-party metadata issue that was automatically generating groupings since this category was related to “Plus Size” and “Adult Plus” (Griner 2014).

By 11:15am, costumes were removed from the “Fat Girl Costumes” section, however the title of the section still showed up on the website. By 1:30pm, the category finally disappeared and Walmart started to auto reply to angry customers on Twitter (Merlan 2014).

It was noted on AdWeek, that alongside the article was a “related link” to the category on walmart.com (Griner 2014). A woman named Krystyn Washburn was one of the first people to tweet at Walmart after she saw the category on October 21. (Prisco 2014). Walmart’s semi-apolopy was “Your comments and suggestions are important to us and help make Wal-Mart even better. Thank you,” which angered customers because it sounded the least sympathetic. A company spokesperson said to People Magazine’s website that “this never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable and we apologize,” while ensuring it would never happen again (Shandrow 2014). Buzzfeed reported that a reader pointed out that around 4:10pm, even though Walmart updated their webpage, an offensive banner ad appeared at the top of the page for “Women’s Plus Size Halloween Costumes” saying, “make it a monstrously big Halloween for less” (Zarrell and Maheshwari 2014).

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Walmart had not even apologized before large news sources began to publish the story on the Times, People, CNN, and more. Customers began to notice the insensitive category around 10:30am and then nothing was even done about it until 45 minutes later, and not even fully removed until 3 hours later (“Walmart in hot water over ‘fat girl’ Halloween costume section” 2014). Apparently the category reappeared on the site 6 days later also for a short period of time (Prisco 2014).

It’s not even the first time the store has has offensive products. Also available were racist American Indian parody outfits, gypsy costumes, “Fat Tinkerbell” costume for men, and a Marie Antoinette costume with a description with bizarre symbols as apostrophes and beheading jokes (Merlan 2014).

Walmart is a prime example of the statistic that 50% of communications professionals think that organizations are not adequately prepared to handle crisis situations. Crisis management is so important because “the reputation of a brand can easily be tarnished in mere moments because an active public now has the ability to take a stance, make a statement, and judge that brand based on how the company chooses to address (or not address) the crisis at hand” (Luttrell 2014). In order for Walmart to have successfully handled this Halloween costume crisis, they should have a crisis management team and website to go live when there is an emergency in which they can sincerely apology, take full responsibility, have a plan of how they are dealing with the situation, and be able to answer all questions the customers may have. Walmart should have posted an apology on all social media and their main website. They also should have responded quicker and taken the offensive category down right away. The company waited too long for that, and waited too long for a spokesperson to address the public. If Walmart wanted to provide good customer service, they would have responded to each and every complaint or response from the public and had been sympathetic, apologetic, and comforting, instead of sounding like an automatic machine.

Questions:

1. What suggestions would you have for Walmart in this situation?

2. Are there any other examples you have found the similar situation occurred, but handled better than this?

Works Cited

Griner, David. “Whoa, Walmart.com. Why Do You Have a Section Called ‘Fat Girl Costumes’? Not a Good Look for the Retailer.” AdWeek. N.p., 27 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fwww.adweek.com%2Fadfreak%2Fwhoa-walmartcom-why-do-you-have-section-called-fat-girl-costumes-161025>.

Luttrell, Regina. “Chapter 9: Crisis Management on the Social Sphere.” Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect. N.p.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. N. pag. Print.

Merlan, Anna. “Walmart’s Website Features a Section of ‘Fat Girl Costumes'” Jezebel. N.p., 27 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://jezebel.com/walmarts-website-features-a-section-of-fat-girl-costum-1651125569&gt;.

Prisco, Joanna. “Are ‘Fat Girl Costumes’ on Walmart Site a Halloween Trick?” ABC News. ABC News Network, 27 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/fat-girl-costumes-walmart-site-halloween-trick/story?id=26485549&gt;.

Shandrow, Kim Lachance. “Wal-Mart Eats Humble Pie After Publishing ‘Fat Girl’ Halloween Costumes.” Entrepreneur. N.p., 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/239084&gt;.

“Walmart in Hot Water over ‘fat Girl’ Halloween Costume Section.” RT USA. N.p., 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://rt.com/usa/200239-warlmart-fat-girl-costume/&gt;.

Zarrell, Rachel, and Sapna Maheshwari. “Walmart Apologizes For “Fat Girl Costumes” Section on Website.” BuzzFeed. N.p., 27 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Nov. 2014. <http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/walmart-is-offering-a-selection-of-fat-girl-costumes-on-thei&gt;.

A Blessing or a Curse?

In 2013, a survey reported that more than 28 percent of communication crises spread internationally just during an hour and two thirds of crises spread within twenty-four hours. Half of communication professionals think that organizations are not prepared to handle these crises. Social media has proven itself to be a useful and popular tool among businesses and organizations when dealing with spreading brand messages and reputation, however there are new problems that arise with this new media. “Social media is immediate, pervasive, and widely available, and it appeals to hundreds of millions of people” (Luttrell 159). Because of this there are entirely different strategies and tactics professionals must use in order to address responses to crises.

Stop the issue before it turns into a bigger crisis.

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According to Konrad Palubicki from Edelman Digital in Seattle, Washington, there are five stages professionals should go through when dealing with crisis communication. These include the following:

1. Prepare in advance – Come up with a plan. Develop key messages, objectives, procedures, guidelines and a crisis audit that can be used when a crisis occurs. This information can be released quickly if a crisis ever occurs. A website could even be created to launch specifically when a crisis occurs. Being prepared also means monitoring media coverage of a company or brand and tracking conversations to plan for a crisis.

2. Isolate the origin – Know the cause of the crisis, where it was initiated, and what media platforms conversations are taking place in order to know how to respond to it.

3. Evaluate the impact – Determine whether those directly affected by the crisis is impacted more or those whose attitudes would be influenced by the company or organization is, and then respond fast and impose tactics needed to address the specific situation.Just waiting a few hours to respond could be extremely detrimental to the company’s reputation (Luttrell 159-161).

They want to hear:

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(Neumann 2012)

4. Mitigate the crisis – Continue sending messages through all channels after initial response and provide real-time updates. Be honest and straightforward and establish an in-house crisis management center (Luttrell 162). Show transparency:

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(Neumann 2012)

5. Learn from the crisis – Hold a post-crisis meeting and analyze all messages through all channels that occurred in order to prevent the crisis from happening again in the future or coming up with a better way to manage the crisis or similar ones if were to occur again (Luttrell 162).

Things to keep track of:

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(Neumann 2012)

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JetBlue Airlines is experiencing the negative side of social media in crisis management as of late. A passenger named Lisa Carter-Knight was banned from the flight after she tweeted about an incident between the pilot and passengers. In response, a representative of the company said that if they feel a customer is not complying with safety regulations or causes some kind of conflict, boarding can be denied and the customer would get a refund and have to take another airline. However, Knight was not exhibiting unruly behavior. She tweeted about the pilot accusing passengers of accusing the pilot being intoxicated. More than 1,300 tweets were shared about the situation, which led to thousands of retweets, comments, shares, and more than 190 articles written by publishers like CNN and USA Today (Winchel 2014). Lesson learned: companies do not benefit from taking action against customers who complain about the company.

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The CDC on the Ebola outbreak situation, however, is a good example of the right way to handle crisis communication. They initiated a plan fast and held a press conference where the director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, addressed the case calmly and supportively. They have used social media like Twitter to answer questions and put out information to keep the public calm. Communication is monitored by using the hashtag #ebola every time. On their homepage, they have a huge banner that announces updates about ebola and the first diagnosis, and on their website they have a page that included lots of information about ebola. This is such a serious case in crisis communication and the CDC must meet the goals of keeping the public from fear and panic by educating them and constantly communicating, and by preventing the pandemic (Agnes 2014).

Questions to consider:

1. How could the JetBlue representative have handled the situation differently? Should a media expert have addressed the situation? Was it fair that the woman was banned from the flight just for sharing information on a social media site?

2. How should companies treat customer service differently with the use of social media?

3. How else can the CDC keep the public calm besides the initiatives they have already taken?

4. Is social media more useful for companies and businesses or is it more harmful when dealing with crisis communication?

Works Cited

Agnes, Melissa. “Analyzing the CDC’s Crisis Communication In U.S. Ebola Outbreak.” Agnes + Day. Agnes + Day Inc, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. <http%3A%2F%2Fagnesday.com%2Fanalyzing-cdc-crisis-communication-us-ebola-outbreak%2F>.

Luttrell, Regina. “Chapter 9: Crisis Management on the Social Sphere.”Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect. N.p.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. N. pag. Print.

Neumann, Amy. “5 Steps for Crisis Management Using Social Media.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Aug. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/amy-neumann/5-steps-for-crisis-manage_b_1791673.html&gt;.

Winchel, Beki. “JetBlue and Comcast Show the Downside of Quashing Customer Complaints.” Ragan.com. Ragan Communications, 10 Oct. 2014. Web. 19 Oct. 2014. <http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/48860.aspx?utm_medium=email&utm_source=Savicom&utm_campaign=JetBlue%27s%20bad%20publicity;%20New%20app%20for%20writers;%20Adored%20co-workers;%206%20books%20for%20speakers;%20and%20much%20more&utm_term=http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/48860.aspx&utm_content=jmorales@cmasolutions.com&gt;.