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Dissuasion Marketing: OMG, RH.com, What Were You Thinking?

  |  May 1, 2013   |  Comments

How Restoration Hardware is killing trees...and its customer service at the same time.

Omni-channel marketing is not too tough to understand: inform people in a variety of appropriate channels about available products and make it easy to buy them. What's so hard about that?

I have only tweeted my displeasure with any given company a few times. It has to be seriously egregious for me to subject the Twittersphere to something that is All About Me and not fun, interesting, or useful. But this time, it was egregious and educational.

mailbox-fullOn Saturday morning, I stopped at the bottom of the drive to pick up my mail and was gobsmacked to find a plastic bag filled with six catalogs from Restoration Hardware.

It wasn't the quantity of sleek, high-gloss, perfect-bound, cardstock-covered booklets that made my mouth open as wide as a hungry basking shark. It was the sheer weight.

I freely admit that I like paper catalogs. Thumbing through a large pile of them in November with a trusty cube of yellow stickies by my side makes Christmas shopping a joy and online buying a breeze.

But this was a rainforest too far. And it's only April.

My initial intent was to pick up the phone and make it very clear that I never wanted to be subjected to this sort of upper-body-strength-enhancing, postal-service-enriching attempt to separate me from my hard-earned disposable income ever again. But the clever people at Restoration Hardware had put my local store's phone number on the mailing card that held my address. I knew calling that number wouldn't bear fruit.

Now I was gobsmacked and annoyed.

I turned the card over, in hopes of a call center number to dial and beg them to stop the insanity. No joy. Instead, in barely discernible white, all-caps lettering on a light grey background was the following:

WE SUPPORT AND PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE FOREST MANAGEMENT WITH OUR USE OF PAPER SOURCED FROM PEFC-CERTIFIED FORESTS FOR ALL OF OUR SOURCE BOOKS. THESE BOOKS ARE MAILED TWICE A YEAR RATHER THAN MONTHLY. WE ENCOURAGE CONSUMERS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE RECYCLING PROGRAMS IN THEIR COMMUNITIES ACROSS THE COUNTRY. SHOULD YOU NO LONGER WISH TO RECEIVE OUR MAILINGS, LET US KNOW AND WE'LL REMOVE YOU FROM OUR LIST.

Terrific. But how??sterne-rh-tweet

So I tweeted: "For the love of Earth @restorhardware take me off your postal list - 8 pounds of catalogs today. #really?" along with a photo of their munificence.

This was no longer a battle for the planet, my sanity, or to lower my recycling bills. (Yes, Restoration Hardware, where I live, we pay for each recycling garbage can we require each week.)

I wanted to publically name and shame and, oh, by the way, test the company's Twitter skills. You may recall my previous humiliation of UPS and veneration of FedEx in "Where's My Freakin' Data You B@stards?"

Would Restoration Hardware redeem itself or would @CrateandBarrel or @PotteryBarn offer me solace first?

Having gotten that off my chest, I sat quietly, sipping my morning tea, flipping through a few of the 1,610 pages and shaking my head in amazement.

During this reverie, I was brought up short by the inevitable.

My eyes were riveted to the artful depiction of something that would be just perfect for a friend of mine. Something so right, yet so unusual and at just the right price point that I was certain he would never buy it for himself and would be very unlikely to peruse a Restoration Hardware catalog.

I was abashed. I was schooled. I was undone.

The retailer's marketing had worked. I wanted to give Restoration Hardware money and reward it for filling my mailbox with catalogs so heavy that last year, one kindred soul was compelled to tweet:

Accidentally dropped the new Restoration Hardware catalog, knocking the earth off of its axis so winter is going to be longer this year (http://business.time.com/2012/09/19/what-was-restoration-hardware-thinking-putting-out-a-992-page-catalog/#ixzz2Rlv6JSJJ)

Realizing that I would be seeing this friend in short order, I mentally praised the catalog-intoxicated Restoration Hardware team for making my local store's phone number so handy.

I picked up the phone.

"I'm not sure if we have one. Let me check."

"Well, I..."

"And if we don't, I'd be happy to order it for you."

"Yes, well, I can do that myself, thanks. But if you do have one, I'll pop right down to pick it up."

"Oh, no. I'm sorry but if we do have one, it's just to look at."

"You mean, 'for display purposes only'?"

"Yes."

"Ah. Thank you anyway."

Next, a call to the toll free number on the bottom of most of those 1,610 pages.

"Hello, I'm looking at this item in your catalog and wondering..."

"Certainly. May I put you on hold for just a minute while I look it up on our website?"

"Um...sure..."

So I looked it up myself while I was waiting.

"Yes sir, I've found it. How can I help you?"

"Yes, I've found it too and am wondering about shipping charges. If I had the store order it for me, would shipping charges still apply?"

"Oh, well, that would be at the store's discretion."

"Ah...oh! And I see here it says, 'Expect Delivery on or before 7/26/13.' Can that be right? This isn't available for three months?"

"Yes, sir."

"Ah. Thank you anyway."

I redialed the local store.

"Yes sir, if we order it for you, the shipping charges would apply and no, we're not allowed to sell you the display item."

Could it be that Restoration Hardware has just invented null-channel marketing?

At this point, I climbed up on my roof and shouted at the top of my lungs:

"THEN WHY DID YOU MAIL ME 8 POUNDS OF PAPER??"

I'm still waiting for a reply.

Mailbox image via Shutterstock.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne is an international consultant who focuses on measuring the value of the Web as a medium for creating and strengthening customer relationships. Sterne has written eight books on using the Internet for marketing, is the founding president and current chairman of the Digital Analytics Association and produces the eMetrics Summit and the Media Analytics Summit.

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