Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre McIvor: Lesson in ethics for retail giants

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Countdown's advertised $8.99 Christmas ham was actually $8.99 a kilo. Photo / Dean Purcell
Countdown's advertised $8.99 Christmas ham was actually $8.99 a kilo. Photo / Dean Purcell

When I worked on Fair Go as a reporter almost 30 years ago, we had an adage we used when talking to aggrieved callers: if something seems too good to be true, chances are it is.

As in, beware the deal that you simply cannot believe because, in all likelihood, there'll be something wrong with it.

Such was the case when happy shoppers ventured on to Click Monday. Click Monday is a website based on a phenomenally successful American model that offers shoppers 24 hours of bargains and specials across a wide range of retailers.

More than 80 big-name retailers took part in New Zealand's first Click Monday - among them Hallenstein Brothers, Rebel Sport, Briscoes and Countdown.

Over the 24 hours the website was live, more than 300,000 people visited the site. Some retailers reported a 10-fold increase in business.

Many customers were especially pleased with an $8.99 Christmas ham that featured on the Countdown supermarket page. What a bargain! That's Christmas sorted, with money left over to get some special treats.

So they clicked on "buy" and then found out, to their dismay, that Countdown had got it wrong. Their $8.99 ham was actually $8.99 per kilo, but "human error" had left out the all-important per kilo part.

Oops, we got it wrong, said Countdown in a breezy sort of a way. Soz. Tell you what, if you pay the real price, we'll chuck in free delivery. Gee, thanks. Way to make things right, Countdown.

According to a spokeswoman, most people were understanding of the stuff-up but quite a few customers were very grumpy indeed. And I can understand why.

Sure, there were some who said it was a genuine mistake and that anyone with half a brain could see it was simply not possible to sell a ham for $8.99, but supermarkets loss-lead all the time to get punters in the doors.

And besides, this offer was on a website promoted as offering extraordinary deals. It wasn't in the supermarket where you could ask somebody if this price really was too good to be true. It was listed on a website that promised visitors amazing specials - and a $9 ham would surely count as that.

I think Countdown needs to offer a whole lot more than free delivery on a ham the customer had paid full price for to make things right with the people they've let down.

Small business owners get the LV Martin principle - "It's the putting right that counts".

We were talking about this on talkback on Wednesday night and I heard from several businesspeople, some of whom were responsible for their own errors, others who were taking the can for suppliers who had let them down.

In each and every case, they wore the cost of the mistakes themselves. Catherine owns a small organic baby-wear business, Pureborn Organics.

She said she made an error on a giveaway on the company's Facebook page and wound up having to give out $1800 of vouchers when the royal baby was born. It hurt like hell, she said.

Like most businesses, big and small, she doesn't have huge profit margins. But, as Catherine said, protecting her brand and doing right by her customers was the only option.

She said she would always take the hit because it is her responsibility to make sure things are correct.

Throughout the night, I heard numerous stories of businesspeople who put things right when they made mistakes - even costly mistakes.

It might be a good idea for big, foreign-owned companies to spend some time studying the ethics and ethos of the small business owners in this country.

But then again, pigs might fly.

- Herald on Sunday

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