Hundreds of outraged customers have kicked up a storm on social media over allegations a Target store was “price gouging” in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.
News.com.au reports Target customer Natalie Maher took to Facebook with a photo of a 24-pack of Cool Ridge water bottles with a $72 price tag displayed at a Target store in Queensland’s Bowen this week.
“Talk about price gaugeing [sic] us while we are in need. Disgusting mongrels,” Maher wrote on Facebook.
“I had only just left the disaster recovery people with lifeline there who gave me 12 bottles of water to bring home so we have clean drinking water and Target are pulling this stunt. I will refuse to shop at Target from now on.”
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Target’s parent company Wesfarmers sells 24-packs of water for $6.00 through Coles, and the same 24-pack of Cool Ridge brand of water can be bought from other retailers for around $37.
According to a Target spokesperson contacted by SmartCompany this morning, the bottles are usually sold individually for $3 each, and the retailer does not sell water in 24-pack “slabs”.
“The $72 sign was a misunderstanding at the Bowen store where a team member thought they were helping the community by selling the water by the slab,” the spokesperson said.
Target has since reduced water bottle prices to $1 each, but despite the misunderstanding, customers have not relented in leaving hundreds of scathing comments on social media.
“Hey target, how about you donate water to cyclone devasted [sic] people instead of bleeding them. Support your customers when they need you,” one customer wrote.
Target now has to “start a dialogue” with customers
Target has begun to respond to individual customers on its Facebook page, stating “We apologise for any misunderstanding and the team at our Bowen store will continue to support the local community during these difficult times”. However, no statement has been made so far to the community as a whole about the issue.
Communications expert at CP Communications Catriona Pollard says while the company doesn’t need to reply to users individually, a general statement is “definitely needed”.
“Target needs to take immediate action to minimise their brand damage in this situation,” Pollard told SmartCompany.
“Natural disasters can lead to heightened emotions from customers, especially when brands are being seen to be taking advantage of people in these situations.”
Although a statement might not calm the situation immediately, Pollard believes more communication to customers is necessary, and that the current situation was having a “negative impact” on Target’s long-term brand image.
Target has provided responses to multiple media outlets covering the story, which Pollard thinks shows the company has general statements ready.
“I don’t know why they haven’t put anything out yet, as it seems like they don’t need to wait for [a statement] to get approved,” she says.
“You can’t rely on the media to disseminate information, you have to start a dialogue with your customers.”
Director of InsideOut PR Nicole Reaney told SmartCompany if Target simply let customers know the pricing was a mistake, the furore of complaints may cease.
“If a single employee has made an error, consumers are likely to have more empathy towards a brand, particularly if the organisation sets the situation straight via communication and internal processes,” Reaney says.
Reaney also believes businesses often ignore crisis communications plans when it comes to social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Having a crisis and issues management plan in place is a critical element that often gets ignored when companies embark on social platforms,” she says.
“By having set processes in place that anticipate the myriad of potential issues, organisations can be assured that they are taking measured approaches to handling issues that arise.”