#GASP: When You Suck Offline, You Suck Online

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Bestselling Author, Global Business Celebrity & Sometime Cowboy

I believe this to be true in all cases, but especially with the Australian Retailer, GASP.

Not only did GASP handle their situation poorly, but it gives us a chance to learn and bring up a special topic that I like to call ROI – or Return on Ignoring.

Social media is happening with or without you—what’s the worst that can happen? Well today… let’s consider GASP. In the world of social media, the cost of “return on ignoring” could mean the success or failure of your business.  Listening to our social media traffic is about listening to what our customers are saying.  But beyond listening, responding—quickly and appropriately.

Companies who thought they once controlled their brand are realizing that social media is the new norm. It’s not about catchy slogans—it’s about listening and being radically transparent.  It’s about relationship.

No company will have 100% positive feedback all the time, but you must LISTEN 100% of the time.


Don’t ignore your customers and hope they will just go away — they won’t.  You may not think the customer is always right, but they are always in charge!

Ways to avoid making the same mistakes GASP made:

  1. Address a situation head on and right away.
  2. Don’t delete comments on your Facebook page unless they are factually incorrect, or threatening.  Respond to the comments, and then, if possible contact the angry customer in a more private way.
  3. Use social media as a valuable tool to build relationships with the community that surrounds your brand.  Your followers can be your harshest critics or the biggest evangelists for your brand. It all depends on being radically transparent. Your marketing will and should reflect the personality of your company, and if you are not genuine, you won’t last very long.
  4. Don’t be afraid to admit you made a mistake.  Quickly take responsibility.


GASP’s approach caused this story to go viral.  Most companies can’t put enough money into a positive story going viral – lucky you GASP!


Read the emails going viral below in full:

Email by Keara O’Neil to GASP:

I had the privilege of shopping at your brand new Chapel St store on Saturday 24th September with my three bridesmaids in tow. On the hunt for bridesmaids dresses and a hens dress for myself we walked into the store and were automatically pounced on by a male staff member, I understand that this is protocol for many retail outlets and ours is no different.

The staff member was initially funny and extremely helpful with sizes etc. I chose a bright pink dress to try on but was unable to do the zip up so asked for the size up, when I eventually got the correct size and came out of the change room I was unable to discuss the likes or dislikes of the dress with my bridesmaids as the sales assistant kept saying “you should just get it”, when I told him I would think about it, he pulled me aside and whispered “Is it the price your worried about”. By now I was extremely frustrated, and again told him I’d think about it, I walked back into the change room and closed the door behind me, only to have it pushed open with the sales assistant half standing in my change room, again whispering “I think you should just get it”, when I gave him attitude and said rudely, “I already told you I would think about it”, he then replied, “With your figure I really think you should buy it”.

I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that, but considering the attitude used to deliver such a statement I can only imagine that it was an immature dig in relation to my healthy size 12 frame. I got changed in a hurry and walked right out of the change rooms and out of the store, I could hear the sales assistant yelling out to me, but I just ignored him and continued to leave, assuming my bridesmaids would follow. After waiting down the road for my bridesmaids to come out of the store I was told by one of them that the sales assistant yelled out “Have fun finding something at Supre”, when one of them approached him in regards to his comments, he replied “I knew you girls were a joke the minute you walked in”. When my bridesmaids walked out of the store another two customers walked out with them, they too could not believe the immaturity of the sales assistant.

I have worked in retail for 12 years and have come across an array of customer complaints over the years, none of which come even close to what I encountered on Saturday at your store, I wish I was exaggerating but unfortunately for your company this person actually exists and is working in one of your stores. I am pretty laid back and was quite happy just leaving your store, it was my bridesmaids who felt the need to say something to him………I dread to think how many customers he has not only offended but how many customers have left your store due to the pressure placed on getting the sale, and then to be harassed when that sale hasn’t taken place.

Ring me, don’t ring, not fussed………I’m just one retailer notifying another of an extremely inappropriate sales assistant.

Keara O’Neil

Response by GASP area manager Matthew Chidgey:

Dear Keara O’Neil,

Having now had the privilege of having both version of events, I am now in a position to respond to your complaint.

From the very outset, one thing that you should be mindful of is; Our product offerings are very, very carefully selected, so to ensure that we do not appeal to a broad customer base. This is something which is always at the forefront of our minds when undertaking buying duties.

The reason for this is to ensure that we only carry products which appeal to a very fashion forward consumer. This by default means that the customer whom is acclimatised to buying from “clothing for the masses” type retailers, is almost frightened by our range, sometimes we have found that this type of customer, almost finds our dresses funny, and on occasion noted comments such as ‘it looks like a dead flamingo’. When we receive comments like this, we like to give ourselves and our buyers, a big pat on the back, because we know we are doing our job right, and modus operandi is being upheld.

Our range is worn by A list celebrities to the likes of Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry to name only a few. Now, as one might appreciate, the style counsel for these types of celebrities are not ones to pick “run of the mill” type clothing, and they do so on the basis to ensure that the styles are cutting edge, and only worn by a select few. Similarly these items are priced such that they remain inaccessible to the undesirable.

Insofar as our employee goes; Similar to our product offerings, our employees are selected with a similar approach. Chris whom served you is a qualified stylist whom has a sixth sense for fashion, and Chris’s only problem is that he is too good at what he does, and as I am sure you are aware, people whom are talented, generally do not tolerate having their time wasted, which is the reason you were provoked to leave the store.

Whilst I concede that you work for chain retailer, unfortunately that does not make us like for like. It is probably fair to assume, a lot of what I have said in this email, either doesn’t make sense to you, or you totally disagree with it all, which is what I would expect (unless of course I have you totally wrong – which I doubt).

Let me guess, you would never, ever hire Chris in the course of your duty, would you? This is the very reason, why your comment “from one retailer to another” is so disproportionate, it’s almost as though we are in a totally different industries. Chris is a retail superstar, who possess unparalleled ability, and I am sorry you feel upset by him, but he knew you were not going to buy anything before you even left your house.

So if you would like to do us any favours, please do not waste our retail staff’s time, because as you have already seen, they will not tolerate it. I am sure there are plenty of shops that appease your taste, so I respectfully ask that you side step our store during future window shopping expeditions.

Thank you for your enquiry.



  1. David Poulos  September 29, 2011

    All I can say is “Wow!” I’m not sure how this could have been handled worse than this – the response letter from the retailer is so far off base and defensively antagonistic, it’s almost beyond belief. It made me GASP! it was so badly thought out. Any PR professional or marketer worth a couple of beans would know better then to approach a customer complaint this way. They are basically blaming the customer for shopping in their store, and defending the boorish, rude and insensitive sales person for his behavior, in fact applauding it, for perpetuating their arrogance. If a male salesperson burst into the changing room in a bridal boutique in the US, they’d be fired and up on harassment charges in 15 minutes – outrageous!

    Jeff hits it on the head with his no-nonsense crisis communications tips, good advice under almost any circumstance in public awareness.

    Kudos for sharing this disaster as a cautionary tale for others.

  2. Melena  September 29, 2011

    Great article Jeff. The return on ignoring this situation is it that has now gone global! The Australian public has proven that they do not support this kind of treatment in-store or online. Nor does the rest of the world.


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