Gasping for Air – GASP Jeans Tries to Spin its PR Blunder

It took less than 24 hours for Keara O’Neil’s email exchange with Gasp management to go viral.

On Monday, she emailed Gasp after an encounter with a sales assistant at the brand’s Chapel Street store.

In her email, Ms O’Neil explains that she entered the store on Saturday with friends to look for bridesmaid dresses and a hen’s night outfit. She claims that the male sales assistant kept pressuring her to buy the dress and then made inappropriate comments about her size and whether she was worried about the price. Feeling uncomfortable in the store, O’Neil left. The comments that followed her? “Have fun finding something at Supre” and “I knew you girls were a joke the minute you walked in.”

Attitude by sales staff is unfortunately quite common place. What is shocking is the response that followed, which has led to a social media explosion of epic proportions.

Rather than an apology, O’Neil received a typo-ridden response (laden with cringe-worthy misuse of the word “whom”), justifying the employee’s behaviour.

Gasp Facebook

“Our range is worn by A list celebrities to the likes of Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Katy Perry to name only a few… Similarly these items are priced such that they remain inaccessible to the undesirable.

“Insofar as our employee goes; Similar to our product offerings, our employees are selected with a similar approach. Chris whom served you is a qualified stylist whom has a sixth sense for fashion, and Chris’s only problem is that he is too good at what he does, and as I am sure you are aware, people whom are talented, generally do not tolerate having their time wasted, which is the reason you were provoked to leave the store.

“Chris is a retail superstar, who possess unparalleled ability, and I am sorry you feel upset by him, but he knew you were not going to buy anything before you even left your house.

“So if you would like to do us any favours, please do not waste our retail staff’s time, because as you have already seen, they will not tolerate it. I am sure there are plenty of shops that appease your taste, so I respectfully ask that you side step our store during future window shopping expeditions.”

Gasp is now promoting their PR faux-pas with mixed reactions.

Roots FacebookThe Gasp response is in sharp contrast to the values expressed by James Connell, VP, E-Commerce and Marketing of Roots Canada at the recent Online Retailer Conference in Sydney. His talk “Delivering for our customers” last Wednesday outlined the importance of positive communications with customers in a world where social media is so prevalent. Roots has a team ready to pounce when a customer experience has turned sour.

Mark Rowland, Managing Director of StyleTread, agrees. StyleTread is known for engaging social media like Facebook to communicate with their consumers. The consensus from the experts at Online Retailer was that when you turn around a negative customer experience with positive customer relations, you may very well end up with your most loyal consumers.

Gasp seems to be taking the view that any publicity is good publicity. But in a difficult economic climate where retailers are feeling the pressure, perhaps encouraging consumers to “side step” your store is not the best marketing strategy. With experiences like Keara O’Neil’s, it’s no wonder that more and more shoppers are turning online to avoid encounters with judgmental sales staff.