Corporate Communication: Lilly Pulitzer Handles a Shopping Crisis


This week, Lilly Pulitzer held its online-only 2012 Summer Sale.  This wasn’t just any sale… Items were as much as $200 off.  If you’re a Southern girl, if you belong to a sorority, or if you attended a university in the SEC conference, Lilly Pulitzer is likely coded into your DNA at this point.  I salivate the second I see that pink and green and those preppy prints.  And while I obviously do value many things in life above materialism, fashion has always been my biggest guilty pleasure; I had subscriptions to Vogue and W magazines in the sixth grade!  When I heard about the Summer Sale, I could feel the surge of adrenaline coursing through my veins.  However, a true shopping crisis prevented me from getting my greedy hands on drastically-reduced Lilly the second the sale began…

The Summer Sale “brought in enough fashionista users to bring down” (Source).  Lilly’s enormous and rabid fanbase actually crashed the site.  The sale was originally slated to start on Tuesday; however, it took nearly 24 hours to resolve the website’s woes.  In “Crisis Management: How To Resolve A Customer Crisis,” Chris Mittelstaedt proposes a four-step guide to handling the types of issues Lilly Pulitzer saw earlier this week.

Step one, Mittelstaedt says, is to “address the problem as soon as possible” (Source).  Lilly did just that with humor, grace, and their signature style.  Mittelstaedt suggests in step one to “[s]ummarize and admit the big facts. Apologize and take responsibility for what happened” (Source).  The Lilly team designed this for customers when they logged onto the completely crashed site:


With this message, Lilly also followed Mittelstaedt’s second step: “State who you are and what you plan to do on a macro level” (Source).  Lilly used Facebook to help explain their efforts to correct the situation.  Here is what a customer would have seen on Tuesday’s Facebook feed:


The Digital Surgeons examined how and why this crisis navigation technique worked well for the Lilly Pulitzer brand:

“Lilly’s social media team will need a very long day off after their non-stop efforts throughout the process. Facebook posts went out at every step indicating the status of the sale, assuring users that the sale is down for everyone and providing the time of the next update. Some fans even started attacking the complaints and defending the Lilly brand in the comments (double win!)”  (Source).

Lilly certainly follows Mittelstaedt’s step two by continuously updating Facebook and Twitter.  Because Lilly’s hourly updates focused on the customer, shoppers understood LP’s efforts; knew when they would be able to begin shopping; and felt cherished as consumers.  This leads into the third step: “Get specific about your actions. Affirm your commitment to a long-term positive outcome” (Source).  Lilly Pulitzer follows Mittelstaedt’s third step perfectly.  Facebook updates used the signature LP “xx,” and check out what Tuesday’s Twitter feed looked like:


Not only did @LillyPulitzer update Twitter constantly, but the brand used social media to do three important things: 1) update customers on the status of the summer sale; 2) keep shoppers feeling positive and excited about their Lilly goodies; 3) personally reach out to frustrated followers to help them solve individual issues and problems.  This strategy ties into the fourth and fifth step suggested by Mittelstaedt.  He advises brands to “apologize again and offer contact information” (Source).  Lilly Pulitzer’s social media team certainly did just that.  My favorite example of Lilly’s communication can be seen below:


The brand showed that even in a crisis, Lilly Pulitzer was positive and fun, committed to excellent service, and dedicated to customers.  Seeing how Lilly handled the crisis made me, personally, love the brand even more.

The Digital Surgeons summarize how LP handled the shopping crisis in four steps.  First, they advise, “[s]tay calm and remain on brand.  Maintaining a consistent communication strategy is important in high and low times” (Source).  Lilly’s strategy was certainly consistent.  All corporate communication to customers through Facebook and Twitter seemed to come from one person: a hardworking, fun Lilly Pulitzer driven to best fulfill customer needs.

The second step was to “[b]e honest and acknowledge your mistakes.  Consumers hate snake-oil and spin tactics. Own your mistakes and your customers will respect and support you more for it. Directly engaging your user/fan-base will bring out your brand advocates from the shadows defending you and supporting you” (Source).  Have you ever seen such supportive Facebook fans and Twitter followers?  Check out LP’s Facebook and Twitter pages to see examples of fans actually supporting the brand to the disgruntled complainers.

Three, it’s important to “[k]eep it real.  It’s much easier to forgive a person than a brand, so add that human element to your correspondence” (Source).  The human element was certainly included in every Tweet or Facebook update.  Check out my favorite example of Lilly Pulitzer as human:


The fourth and final piece of advice from the Digital Surgeons is to “[h]onor your mistakes.  Going the extra mile for your customer might cost you a little more, but the karma points are like liquid gold in the social media era. In this case, Lilly extended the sale to accommodate customers who missed out during the outage” (Source).  That being said, Lilly Pulitzer’s Summer Sale is still going on, but today is the very last day.  You can shop until August 25, 2012, at 4:00 PM EST.  Click here to see what items remain!

Have you noticed any corporate communication teams triumph through crisis as well as Lilly Pulitzer?


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