When you hear news that a hurricane the likes of which your country has not seen for a long, long time is about to hit your shores with a very real possibility of widespread devastation, what do you do? Head to the supermarket to stock up on essentials and non-perishable foods, maybe? Or perhaps you make an escape plan and check in with your friends and family? It would probably be along those lines. Unless, of course, you're in charge of Gap's social media where it seems your thought process might go more like this, "Hmmm, everyone's going to be stuck at home today... Let's tell them to do loads of shopping with us to pass the time".
Gap was one of the US retailers, along with Urban Outfitters and American Apparel which decided to use the "opportunity" of massive numbers of people being stuck indoors to incentivise them to make some purchases to pass the time. Never mind that power outages were expected and people were filling their baths with water in case the supply failed. American Apparel even included a very helpful map with their e-mail to show shoppers the red danger zone where the storm was expected to hit. What's perhaps worse is that these offers are hardly special- I get Free Shipping and % off e-mails through all the time and for the likes of AA they don't really cost them that much if it means they shift more stock.
There has been plenty of disgust directed at these ploys via Twitter last night and this morning. The comments on Urban Outfitters' Instagram post fall into two camps. There are the horrified ones...
"This is disgusting, talk about being morally corrupt"
"This isn't cool"
But there are some too who don't see what the problem is....
"OMG just embrace free shipping people"
"I am now just ignoring the hurricane outside! Time to shop" (maybe that one's ironic?)
I suppose the difference is that where Gap used Sandy as an awkward, inappropriately timed conversation starter, thinly veiled as a push to purchase, Urban Outfitters and American Apparel showed mild levels of humour and compassion by giving their customers something- though free shipping is quite hilarious given that those most-affected by the storm (and therefore, most deserving of the offer?) will probably not receive their orders for days.
In times of crisis, should brands just steer clear of trying to tie in the trouble with their marketing strategy? Or do you appreciate these gestures?