Online retailers get in on the fun on April Fools’ Day

April 1, 2015 04:52 PM

Online retailers attempted to capitalize on the whimsical nature of April 1 via e-mail marketing campaigns aimed at turning practical jokes into sales.

Apparel chain Gap Inc., No. 19 in the Internet Retailer 2014 Top 500 Guide, sent an e-mail with the subject line “Haha,” offering shoppers up to 35% off on April 1 when entering the promo code HAHA at checkout.

Online eyeglasses retailer EyeSave had some fun with customers, sending out an e-mail with April Fools! in blurry type, offering shoppers 10% off all purchases. Online costume retailer took a similar tack, sending out a coupon giving shoppers up to $20 off orders placed on April 1. Research and consulting firm IHL Group attempted to get customers’ attention with a fake announcement claiming that Amazon is buying more than 1,000 U.S. Postal Service locations.

At least one retailer faced social media backlash as a result of its April Fools’ e-mail prank.

West Elm, the home décor brand of Williams-Sonoma Inc., No. 21 in the Internet Retailer 2014 Top 500,  sent  an e-mail with the subject line “Thanks for your order!” with a “receipt from the future,” promoting up to 70% off a purchase. The combination wound up fooling some recipients, who took to the brand’s Facebook page to express their displeasure.

Facebook user Beverly Day wrote “I appreciate a ’good’ April Fool's joke just like most people, but when I saw the ‘Thanks for your order’ email from West Elm, after not having placed an order, my heart sank. I've been a victim of identity theft on two occasions, and it isn't funny. I'm sorry, but I didn't appreciate the ’joke.’”

Other customers took the prank in stride, with one customer saying she laughed, while another deemed it “brilliant.”

Chad White, lead research analyst at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, says what happened with West Elm is a classic case of why he’s seeing fewer retailers attempt to pull April Fools’ Day pranks.

“In the age of social media, the risks involved with your April Fools’ joke not hitting the mark are pretty high,” he says. “It has to be funny in just the right way, and definitely not at the expense of the subscriber. The bar is pretty high on April 1, whereas it’s much easier to be funny the other 364 days of the year.”

In West Elm’s case, the combination of the subject line and the fact that shoppers are more aware of identity theft led to a prank that may have proved more harmful to the brand’s image than whimsical.

“West Elm’s April Fools’ email is out of character for the home goods brand,” White says. “That makes it super surprising, because you’re really not expecting it, but the campaign also damages brand trust, which is precious.”

April Fools’ Day pranks weren’t limited to e-mail, however.

E-retailer ThinkGeek (No. 185 in the Internet Retailer 2014 Top 500 Guide) was offering a child-sized Power Wheels vehicle inspired by the 1979 action film Mad Max on its site retailing for $298.98. The vehicle appears to be real, but when shoppers click the “Buy Now” button, they’re taken to a page informing them that it is, in fact, an April Fools’ joke. ThinkGeek also offered a steam-powered gaming cabinet. Inc. (No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2014 Top 500 Guide) decided to go retro in honor of the day, changing its home page to its 1999 look.

Online storage company MakeSpace aimed to make Internet users feel better by unveiling an ad campaign for a fake product called MakeSpace emo. Visitors to a special site were greeted with a video promoting a product purporting to help customers upload their emotional baggage and bad feelings onto the Internet by using a special device designed to rid their brains of any and all bad memories. The video features customers talking about the emotional problems Makespace emo helped them overcome including a bad breakup and being passed over for a promotion. 




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