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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In yet another example of “promotions gone wrong”, Target just got robbed by it’s Facebook fans and a bunch of thieves opportunists.

Target had a promotion via its Facebook page for a coupon which gave a customer a $10 gift card for spending $50. The coupon could be printed only via coupon printing software and you could only print it a certain number of times, yet the coupons did not have unique barcodes. (Kinkos anyone?) It was a great deal for Christmas shoppers or even grocery shoppers (via a Super Target) but a bunch of people figured out how to game the system and abuse the promotion.

I became aware of it through SlickDeals, a forum for bargain hunters. As people used and experimented with this coupon, they found that they were able to purchase gift cards and get the corresponding free $10 gift card from the promotion even though the coupon stated that gift card purchases were ineligible. Also, seeing as the coupons were not unique, any photocopier skirted the whole printing limitations from the coupon printing software.

As you can see via this 37 page thread with almost 1500 posts, people found that they could effectively rob Target legally (At least I think its legal. I’m not an attorney.) What they found they could do was this:

They would buy a $50 Target gift card, use the coupon and get a $10 Target gift card free. They would then purchase another $50 Target gift card using the FIRST $50 Target gift card to pay for the SECOND Target gift card, use another coupon and get another $10 Target gift card. (Initial purchase: $50. Profit: $20. etc.) Rinse and repeat. (Since you’re not actually purchasing anything, you’ll always have your initial $50 in the form of a gift card and, since you’re using the gift card to buy more gift cards, each transaction just nets you $10.)

There are a number of people who claim to have netted as much as $5,000 in free Target gift cards off their initial $50 investment. This promotion started November 30, 2011 and ended December 3, 2011.

What was surely as a result of the “resounding success” of the first coupon (probably solely judged by redemption quantity), Target decided to bring back this promotion 4 days later (December 7, 2011 through December 10, 2011). I’m sure someone at the corporate office was so impressed by the results, they wanted to start giving people raises and handing out trophies to stores for having the most “loyal” fans in their area.

By re-starting the promotion, you can see via this second thread which is 51 pages longwith over 2000 posts, they effectively green lighted all of the original people who abused the promotion to do it again and also allowed those who missed out on the first opportunity to rob Target to join in the looting. This was a concerted effort by people who conspired to abuse this program on a national level. (Gotta love the internet!)

The thread is addicting to read. It’s like watching a train wreck reality show. It’s hard to believe that someone somewhere connected to Target isn’t watching this. In fact, based on statements made by the Slickdeals moderators, Target was aware (however minimally) of the thread since they asked SlickDeals not to post a PDF or image of the coupon. I’m sure they wanted the web traffic to their website versus to SlickDeals.

The dedication, time and effort invested by some of these people is impressive. I’m also astounded by the apparent lack of training or caring shown by the Target employees who allowed this coupon abuse as well as the failure of store management to recognize that it was happening in the first place. This failure and lack of training is obvious due to the inconsistency of success these people report experiencing. When you have to start disguising yourself, visiting multiple cashiers and you get rejected but still keep trying, an intelligent person would know that they are, at the very least, doing something wrong, even if their conscience hadn’t already told them that earlier.

Oh, and to put further emphasis on the failure of this promotion, many of the looterspeople, once they had collected as many free gift cards as they desired (or the promotion ended), then took all those free $10 gift cards and proceeded to buy Visa and Amex gift cards with them, thus negating them from even having to spend the free money theystole got from Target at Target. I’m other retailers appreciate Target’s monetary infusion into the economy and into their store’s Christmas bottom line. (Hey, I got a bunch of free Target gift cards, let’s go spend them at Wal-Mart!)

In my opinion, this tops the absurdity of the “Kindle Fire Deal That Wasn’t Supposed To Be” post I wrote a few weeks ago, and is another reason why social media promotions must be monitored and measured carefully. Just looking in your computer and seeing how many coupons were redeemed, at least in this case, isn’t an indicator of how effective the campaign was. It was an indicator of how screwed over Target got.


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