Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you and family had an amazing holiday. Now that the holidays are behind us, you may be reflecting on the stress of the last minute shopping in December and then the anxiety of returns in January.  You will realize that retail brands have not wasted a moment and have moved to the next event on their calendar, Valentine’s Day.  After Valentine’s Day it will be Easter, then Cinco De Mayo, then Mother’s Day also in May and then Father’s Day in June.  Retailers like to celebrate each of these days with a lot of energy, hoping it will bring them closer to us customers.  Not only the special days, but brands want to get closer to our personal life too, and some brands go the extra mile to try to include themselves in our birthday celebration.

A few years back, I started tallying all the nice gestures different brands were extending to me on my birthday.  Here are few examples:

  1. A free cookie from a restaurant. That was a nice gesture but come on. Just one cookie and you expect me to go all the way to your restaurant to get that cookie? I have a suspicion that you are trying to trick me as you think I will also buy some food at your restaurant when I go to get my cookie. Even if your intentions are honorable, I am sorry that I do not think I can make a trip to your restaurant just to get a cookie.
  2. Another restaurant offered me a Buy One Get One Free offer. Hmm, this was interesting. I felt this meant I have to find someone who would like to go to this restaurant with me, and if he/she pays for their own meal (at full price), I get a free meal. I am still not sure how this was a birthday gift. Why would I be excited about this? You are using me on my birthday to make me introduce my best friend to you.
  3. The local Regional Transportation Department sent me four free passes for the light rail. When I got it, I started searching for the disclaimers.  Do I have to use these passes at odd hours, say after 10 pm on weekends?  Or, do I need to get a friend of mine to travel with me and pay full price for me to be able to use the free passes?  I searched hard and realized that these passes were truly free; they were unconditional, and I could use them.  I felt good giving them to my daughter who was excited to use the free passes.  Thank you Regional Transportation Department for the nice gesture and useful gift.
  4. Then was the gift that totally startled me. A lingerie company sent me a personal letter with a classy printed card that said, “Happy Birthday Arjun. Here is a free sports bra for your birthday!”  When I got this, I could not believe it.  I thought it was a prank from one of my friends. But the more I thought about it, I realized that my daughter shops in that store and I had taken her there a few times. Here is my recreation of memory:
    • Every time my daughter and I went to the store, I felt quite embarrassed. I simply wanted to do my task, pay and leave. In fact, when we left the store, I wish I had a brown paper bag in which I could carry the stuff my daughter bought from the lingerie store.
    • On one occasion as I was getting ready to pay, my daughter discovered that the she gets a free product if we share our email address and other personal information with the store. I honestly did not care and was ready to do whatever it took to get out of the store. So I gave the email address and other personal information (like my birthday) and left the store.
    • I then realized that this was the input the store had used. Even though the “free sports bra” offer initially had shocked me, the more I thought about it, I felt there were quite a few good elements to this gesture. Here are few:
      1. They put in the effort to find out my birthday and to remember it.
      2. The document that they sent me on my birthday was a classy one and completely customized to me.
  • The gift, a free sports bra, was way more valuable than the free cookie or the buy one get one free offer.
  • But then what was wrong with the offer? They automated their offer and sent the same offer to every customer.  Did they not take the time to think that that teen daughters with dads (accompanying and paying) are a big segment?  Hence, it is not the value of the gift but the relevance that matters.

So I want to ask retailers around the world the following questions:

  1. We can be friends but why are you trying to force yourself into all aspects of my life? Can I not have my birthday celebration without you trying too hard to be included in the party?
  2. Why can’t some moments be left to the customer to enjoy? Offering a Valentine’s Day selection to help me is nice, but creating Valentine’s Day décor and having each employee dress up in the spirit of Valentine’s Day may make some of the customers uncomfortable.
  3. I know you may run all the numbers to “whoosh” my suggestions and keep doing all these promotions as I am sure some of them are profitable for your brand. But, can I please make one request to you? Can you please never ever send me a free sports bra again?  As a single dad with a daughter, it is really embarrassing.

Thank you.