Real-Time Fail (Or How I Abandoned Patagonia, Almost)

Welcome to today’s edition of Fail-Time Daily.

Normally, I don’t like basing articles on personal anecdotes, but this is a blog, right, so what the heck. Plus it’s topical (it happened this morning) and it’s on message, because it’s definitely about real-time marketing, or rather, the lack thereof. But first, let me tell you how much I love Patagonia. Everything about it. The company, its brand -- and everything it stands for -- and especially its products, which perform as well as they are priced. That said, after shelling out plenty of synchillas in my time, I like a good deal as well as the next Patagonian, so I was eagerly awaiting their annual winter sale. So much so, that I began bookmarking items in my virtual Patagonia.com shopping cart months ago when they started discounting some items post-holiday retail season. And sure enough, they were cookied so that every time I revisited Patagonia’s site with my trusty Chrome browser, there they were, safely tucked on some server somewhere up in the sky (though I tend to imagine Patagonia’s actually on a mountain peak, or hanging from a rock outcropping the way its founder Yvon Chouinard might). 

It was comforting to see my potential pair of expedition weight undies, or my Nano Puff jacket waiting there for me when the time and budget came for me to buy them. That time came this morning when the Winter Sale began. I rose early, before daylight, much the way I would for an actual summit, and began scrambling through the outdoorsy retailer’s webpages, adding this item and that one, until I had my shopping cart fill. And that’s when I abandoned Patagonia. Or should I say, when Patagonia abandoned me. Pffft! Not only was my shopping cart empty and inaccessible, but there was no way to check out.

A few online bot chats, and one actual human conversation later, I learned that Patagonia was experiencing an epic website failure due to both a surge in both traffic, as well as an “upgrade” its tech team made a couple of days prior to the sale to help prepare for it. Whatever they did, my human customer assistant told me, “your cookies are gone.”

Never, in this age of hyper-vigilant consumer privacy, did I imagine those words would invoke such anger in me. But they did. Patagonia had violated something I had come to trust in real-time marketing technology -- that my intent, my purchase path, and all my big-headed data would actually be there when I needed it. Nope, zilch, not a strip of code to be gleaned.

But fear not, because this real-time marketing story actually has a happy ending, just not the machine-time kind. Instead of processing my order online, I did it over the phone, in human time. And bless my customer rep’s little head, because she put up with a fair amount of real-time media editor grousing. “You know, I’m a journalist who covers this stuff regularly, and it’s just unacceptable for a brand I’ve trusted so long,” I stammered. “I completely understand,” she replied. “You know, my magazinerecently recognized Patagonia as an exceptional one of the best online marketers,” I continued. “I’m sorry we’re having this trouble now, but I’d be happy to place your order myself,” she offered.

And that’s when I was reminded that great brands may be great (or not) at using technology, but it’s still the people behind those brands that make them great. In this case, it was a patient customer rep operating in human time when the machines timed out.
Recommend (3) Print RSS
1 comment about "Real-Time Fail (Or How I Abandoned Patagonia, Almost)".
  1. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions , February 8, 2013 at 5:12 p.m.
    Thanks for sharing this, Joe. This speaks well for Patagonia that you were able to reach a live person and get your order in with an apology. It is such a problem these days because too many retailers (and ONE is too many) make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach a live person. Having someone available saved your business for a long time to come. Then again, Patagonia shouldn't be considered in such a good light because they actually did what EVERY business should by having a back-up plan in action.