American Apparel Takes Heat for Storm Sale

Discussion
Nov 02, 2012

Hurricane Sandy passed by this way a few days ago. We won’t soon forget her, even those of us she let off easy. What are a few days or a week without electricity and heat when you stop to consider the losses that others suffered?

Yesterday was a turnaround day in some respects for my family. The refrigerator was emptied of its contents. Our children heard from friends who had heat and electric — a chance to get out to exchange storm stories and get warm for a few hours. A few even made it out to retail stores. Purchases at the food store were limited to what was needed for the next meal. One of the resident teens went store-hopping, but that was more for something to do than it was searching for something to buy.

It’s with this as a backdrop that I find myself divided between two camps on American Apparel’s decision to run a storm sale in nine states affected by Sandy. The first are those upset that anyone would callously profit, even indirectly, from the misfortune of others.

The second are those either numbed by the experience who believe there are more important issues than a retailer’s sale to worry about or others who think any step that gets people thinking about returning to normal life is a positive. The discussion on the morning sports radio station was whether it was appropriate to run the New York Marathon and other sporting events in the metro area this weekend.

As you would expect, American Apparel CEO Dov Charney stood by his company’s decision to run the sale with the appropriate response that it was doing its part to help those affected by the storm to get back to normal.

As numerous reports covering the story pointed out, American Apparel was not alone in running Sandy-connected sales. The difference between those stories and American Apparel appears to be Mr. Charney’s reaction to criticism leveled at his company.

"I don’t think the average person was offended," Mr. Charney told Bloomberg Businessweek. "There were 25 bloggers who blew up. That’s their right. The media is also interested in getting a rise out of readers. You have to look at your motivation in covering this, too. But it’s not a big deal. We don’t think it was offensive. We’re sorry if others thought it was."

What lessons are there to be learned from American Apparel’s storm sale and the company’s reaction to negative comments on social media sites and subsequent coverage of those posts by the press? Will the chain gain or lose business as a result?

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17 Comments on "American Apparel Takes Heat for Storm Sale"


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Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 6 months ago

There are people out there who have lost all but the clothing on their back. American Apparel is lowering prices on clothing and this is offensive? What is offensive, at least to me, is people who are offering nothing but opinions throwing metaphorical rocks at people who are trying to make it easier/less expensive to recover from this horror in a tangible way.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

First of all, if American Apparel REALLY wanted to help storm victims it would have distributed free clothes — not sold them. I’m sure somewhere there’s an AA warehouse full of clothing, (maybe in colors not found in nature,) that never sold but might be much appreciated by people whose entire wardrobes washed out into the Atlantic at low tide.

As to lessons learned, here we go:

(1) Don’t lead with your chin if you don’t like getting punched. If you don’t want to look like you are profiting on other people’s misery — don’t profit on other people’s misery
(2) Social media matters. Those “25 bloggers” have thousands of “friends”.
(3) People would probably shop a sale on their way to The Rapture
(4) If you want to run a sale during a crisis — do it quietly

I’m sure there are more lessons but the first is really the most important. Nothing quite says corporate callousness and insensitivity quite so well as exploiting a crisis.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Retailers need to tread carefully when dealing with disasters. What may be a well-meaning gesture can quickly turn into a PR black eye. American Apparel’s pitch for post-Sandy business is tasteless. AA could have showed more empathy for the victims or linked sales to local charities to help those affected by the storm.

I know that some retailers think that any publicity is good for business, but AA did little to help itself with this campaign.

David Livingston
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Sounds to me like they were being good corporate citizens by offering 20% off. Perhaps the bloggers were expecting a larger discount. I suppose if they offered 50% off or 75% off, the reaction would be different.

Marge Laney
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Discounting is a nicer idea than the price gouging that seems to be more prevalent at grocery stores and gas stations in the region. The east coast is going through a tough clean-up that is exposing a lot of problems and priorities that need change. If American Apparel running a storm sale upsets the applecart I would suggest that everyone needs to refocus their outrage.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

This is the 24 hr news cycle looking to feed the beast. American Apparel is hardly profiting from others’ misery. At the end of the day, if people are out shopping, why not tie it to the news of the moment? That said, maybe its degree. If someone had held a “9/11” or “Twin Towers” sale I think we could all agree it would have deserved negative comments. Here though, I think its a reach and – not coming from their customers but bloggers looking to increase their own readership.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
9 years 6 months ago

I don’t think it quite rises to the level of offensive, but it is in poor taste. Dozens of people died in the NY/NJ area, most are or have been without power for days (to weeks), a large number lost their homes and or possessions, and many can’t get to work. At a time when there are fist fights at gas stations because people are angry and panicked, I don’t think retailers need to chip in with “sales”.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 6 months ago

I don’t think a sale, any sale, is offensive, ever (since when is charging less offensive?). However labeling it after a natural disaster is in poor taste since it makes it look like commercial interests trump human suffering. Good idea, bad name.

Phil Rubin
Guest
Phil Rubin
9 years 6 months ago

The ad that American Apparel ran was consistent with its “brand” and its previous efforts in that their primary focus is to sell clothes. As a marketer and a consumer I have no problem with their intent on keeping their business going, but, the consistency in their brand is its general lack of good taste. This ad was no exception nor should it be a surprise.

There are a number of things they could have done differently to avoid appearing insensitive but judging from the interviews, they do not seem to be overly concerned with their sensitivity, or lack thereof.

Shep Hyken
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Having the sale, which offered 20% off everything in the store, was not what stirred up the negative comments for American Apparel. It was the first line of the advertisement: In case you are bored during the storm…

That line throws the sale from helpful to opportunistic. I think it is admirable to drop prices during catastrophic events. But one should be sensitive as to how they go about it.

Unfortunately, I also am aware that some retailers raise prices during catastrophic events.

Doug Fleener
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

As always, Dov Charney has a knack for getting free publicity. I’m sure the typical American Apparel customer was happy to take advantage of the sale, and to think American Apparel was able to get non-customers to promote it.

Debbie Hauss
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I have to believe that American Apparel had the best intentions in mind, regarding the “storm sale.” Of course it’s also a business and company executives always must keep an eye on the bottom line in order to survive.

And yes, many other companies currently are running similar promotions, offering extra discounts to shoppers as a result of the storm.

So in order to manage both aspects – goodwill during disasters and the bottom line – companies need smart public relations professionals to help them determine the best ways to communicate strategies during these types of disasters and other emergency situations. Personally, I don’t think they should have made a reference to shoppers being “bored” during the storm. That was in poor taste.

James Tenser
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Bad taste is not a crime. American Apparel will have to live with the negative reactions to its ad. It may also have helped its employees in affected areas lose fewer wages, and helped sustain its own cash flow.

Mr. Charney is no angel, but his matter-of-fact approach deserves some consideration. Shoppers who think the company is off the mark are free not to buy. Those who need to replace entire soggy closets may be grateful for the sale prices.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

I never thought I would be defending/agreeing with Mr. Charney, but…amen. And let’s pay particular attention to his 4th and 5th sentences: isn’t the media being every bit as culpable by furthering discussion of this non-issue?? (I am, of course, excluding RW because we do our work in the name of science:)) Now if the promo was “bring in a friend’s death certificate and get a free tank-top”, THAT would be tasteless; but the reality is that for the overwhelming percentage of people who “experienced” it, Sandy was at most an inconvenience, and George’s friend’s situation shows that “something to do” is exactly what was needed.

Mark Gardiner
Guest
Mark Gardiner
9 years 6 months ago

I think it would have been a disaster for Sears or Walmart — companies that essentially try to cater to all Americans. But notwithstanding the name ‘American Apparel’, it’s not a brand that tries (or should try) to please everyone. I think the Sandy sale is consistent with the kind of ironic brand image companies like American Apparel have been cultivating (for better or worse.)

Some brands (including Trader Joe’s, one I’ve studied in depth) have built incredible followings by holding true to the values of their fans, but *not* trying to be all things to all people.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
9 years 6 months ago

Distributing products or aid or finding a way to help people clean up would have been more appropriate!

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
9 years 6 months ago

While I agree that a monetary donation to the Red Cross, or distributing free clothing would have been wonderful and provided positive PR for AA, I disagree that their action was inappropriate. A discount on apparel is not a bad thing. Get over it and spend time debating things that are actually important.

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