March 25, 2010, 12:00 AM

E-mailed coupon snafu leaves some Kmart consumers complaining on Facebook

Kmart learned the hard way last week that the power of e-mail marketing combined with social media, if not carefully managed, can lead to disgruntled consumers who publicly air their grievances.

Paul Demery

Managing Editor, B2B E-commerce

Kmart learned the hard way last week that the power of e-mail marketing combined with social media, if not carefully managed, can lead to disgruntled consumers who publicly air their grievances in social networks.

Kmart, a subsidiary of Sears Holdings Corp., No. 7 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, caused a stir when it offered a coupon through e-mail and Kmart.com that left consumers complaining on the retailer’s Facebook page, after shoppers across the country tried to redeem a coupon meant only for customers in three metropolitan areas.

Kmart officials last week realized that the e-mailed coupon, which was good for a price discount of up to 50% but meant only for shoppers in Baltimore, Chicago and New York, didn’t explain that the offer was only valid in those three markets, a spokeswoman says. As a result, some consumers became disgruntled as they tried to redeem the coupons at Kmart stores across the country, according to several postings by consumers on Kmart’s Facebook page. The coupon offered $10 off a purchase of at least $20.

“It was just an error on our part,” the spokeswoman says. She declines to say how many coupons were downloaded or redeemed, or when the coupon was first offered. Although Kmart has stopped offering the coupon in new promotions, it is still accepting those that have already been received by consumers in the three intended markets, she adds.

Some consumers on Kmart’s Facebook page this week said they were able to redeem the coupon at stores outside the three intended markets. Other consumers complained about what they called rude treatment and accusations of fraud attempts from store employees when the coupons were rejected at checkout. A third segment seemed to shrug its shoulders, stating that mistakes happen.

Kmart, meanwhile, has learned an important lesson about mixing e-mail and social media. “We take all customer comments very seriously,” the spokeswoman says.

Imram Jooma, senior vice president and general manager of e-commerce at Sears Holdings, will give the keynote address at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition, June 8-11 in Chicago.

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