Worse Than Avenue’s Coupon Debacle

facepalmA number of readers have asked me to explain what the sam hill is going on with The Avenue (a brick and mortar and online plus size clothing store) and all of their coupon drama. In doing my research I found that the coupon situation is truly a debacle, mishandled by Avenue start to finish. But I also found something that I think is even more disturbing.  Still, let’s start with the coupon thing:

A few days ago, a coupon code started circulating for $90 off a $90 purchase with the following terms and conditions:

Cannot be combined with any other coupon.  Not valid on Celebrate Collection, clearance, outlet, shapewear, prior purchases, or gift cards.  Offer expires 11:59pm PC on 7/31/16. Order must total $90 before tax and shipping and after other discounts.  Promotion may end without notice. Terms may change at any time.  Limit on per customer.

According to people who used it, the coupon appeared on Avenue’s site, and on coupon sites that vet coupons for accuracy including RetailMeNot. A couple days later everyone who had used the coupon code got an e-mail from Avenue saying that their order had been canceled. The e-mail stated:

This letter is regarding your recent Avenue.com order.  It has come to our attention that one of our exclusive rewards coupons has been distributed for use in an unauthorized manner on our website. This coupon stated it was valid specifically for in-store use and in-store orders only.  Therefore, the coupon was incorrectly used as a promotional code for online orders.

The issue has been resolved and all orders associated with this coupon code have been canceled.We apologize for this inconvenience. Thank you for shopping at Avenue

Best Regards,

Nancy J. Warwick, Director of Customer Service

People were upset that the coupon wasn’t valid, but were more upset about the way Avenue was handling things, starting with the claim that the coupon was meant for use in stores which they found questionable because:

  • It was an alphanumeric code (which is how Avenue does their online coupon codes) not a barcode (which is how Avenue does their in-store coupons.)
  • The terms and conditions mentioned shipping which wouldn’t make sense if it was for use in-store
  • The coupon code worked online and there would be no reason for that to be the case if it was an in-store only coupon
  • When the orders were being held for processing, people e-mailed customer service and were sent promises that the orders would be shipped
  • People who are over a size 26/28 pointed that an in-store coupon would have left them out since their local stores only offer “extended sizes” online.

Here’s where the wheels came off.  Avenue corporate and their  customer service agents and corporate went with an approach that was some combination of “everything but the kitchen sink” and “blame the customer.” They claimed in various places and at various points in the situation:

  • The coupon was sent to a “very specific set of customers who earned these specific rewards to use in-store only”
  • The coupon was posted on RetailMeNot with the wrong terms of service.  People then said that they saw the comments on Avenue’s site.
  • Avenue then claimed that when they said shipping they meant if someone came to the store and made an online order from the store
  • Some people were told by customer service that the coupon code would be cancelled and that their payment method would be automatically charged full price. (Thankfully that turned out not to be true.)
  • A customer service agent told a customer that Avenue is “disappointed that our customers took advantage of this mistake”
  • Customer service agents used language like “those customers who used the fraudulent coupon” in a way that led some customers to believe that Avenue was suggesting that they had purposely perpetrated a fraud, rather than just using a coupon code.

Things got worse when people found out that Avenue had taken the money from their payment methods immediately, but would not be issuing an immediate refund. Some people were told that it would take 3-5 days, some were told 4-6 weeks, as of this post many people are saying that they haven’t received their refunds and that customer service is not ignoring them.

A number of theories about this have been floated – from those who think that it was an attempt to increase their mailing list (everyone who made the order had to create an account with e-mail and mailing address and people are reporting already receiving promo e-mails from Avenue) to those who thought that it was a method to get a quick cash infusion (since people had to have a cart balance and also pay shipping and Avenue took the money immediately but isn’t refunding it yet,) to those who think Avenue was hacked but they don’t want to admit it (since the coupon code worked, repeatedly, online and people are saying that they can’t find anyone from the “very specific set of customers who earned these specific rewards to use in-store only” who actually received the coupon to use in store – I didn’t see anyone during my research who claimed to be part of this group.)

Regardless of why it happened, the argument that most people made was that even if this was a mistake, a lot of the fault lies with Avenue since, despite the technology that could have prevented this (for example, by creating individual one-time use coupon codes) they created a code that could be used online (and  it turns out it could be used over and over again with some customers placing 20 orders, which was obviously against the terms and conditions as written.)  They were disappointed that Avenue seemed to be blaming and shaming customers, that Avenue’s apology came all the way at the end of the e-mail, that Avenue didn’t even offer some kind of discount or coupon in consolation, and that they would not be getting an immediate refund despite the fact that they had paid in good faith for clothes that weren’t coming.

Regardless of why this happened, I think that Avenue mishandled this mightily as evidenced by the fact that their social media has now been completely taken over by people complaining about the situation and posting places to shop for plus size clothes other than Avenue, and the hashtag #boycottavenue is gaining popularity.  And Avenue customer service seems to be curled up under their desks because according to those trying to contact them they don’t seem to be responding by e-mail or on social media to the outpouring of customer dissatisfaction. I’m no Olivia Pope, but I would think that some damage control (preferably with everyone giving the same message) is in order here.

When I went to the website to research this I found something that I think is more disturbing than the coupon debacle.  First, they sell a thing called “Tummy Tamers” and then I saw this on their dress page:

Avenue body shaming dress descriptions
Grey shapes describing dress shapes with benefits of each shape underneath. Diamond a flattering jacket dress conceals your waist. Hourglass a sheath highlights your classic curves with a proportionate silhouette, triangle a wrap dress draws attention upwards & enhances your bust, Bell a fit n’ flare dress slims your hips and thighs by showing off your waist.

I wish that companies that sell clothing to fat people would do so with out engaging in body shaming language. I understand that not everyone is a card carrying member of the f*ck flattering club like I am, and of course that’s totally cool. But selling clothes to fat people by telling us that our bodies aren’t good enough unless they are being changed into some other shape either by optical illusion or actual body-smushing clothes, or concealed in some way is just not cool. I talked about this before in an open letter to stores that sell shapewear, and it all applies to this situation. I wish the people who wanted my money also wanted me to feel great about my body just as it is.  I wish they told me to celebrate my body – not to hide it or squish it.

So, as far as I’m concerned, Avenue has a lot to work on.

Here are some pictures to illustrate the coupon issue:

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17 thoughts on “Worse Than Avenue’s Coupon Debacle

  1. For everyone having issues with refunds– don’t bother with Avenue. Get the biggest bullies out there on your side our credit card company or bank directly and ask them specifically for a *charge back*.

    You have rights as a consumer. Avenue has no intention of sending the merchandise, and that is *exactly* what charge backs are for. Just explain to the credit card company that you placed the order, they cancelled it, and you contacted them, but they won’t issue the refund.

    Avenue *does not* want you to do this, because this will be horrible for them, because it’s all their fault, and credit card companies are vicious.

    1. From someone who does Trust & Safety (aka, credit card and mail fraud prevention, and deals with all the bank disputes we get) for an online merchant – yes. If you want to punish Avenue (and I think you may have every right to do so!), then initiate a chargeback. Not only will this get you your money back, but it will cost Avenue a fee for each chargeback they receive.

  2. All the coupon issues aside (which are bad enough, IMHO), this “tummy tamer” crap has GOT TO go. Geez. I am over 60 y/o. I have not had a “tummy” since I was about 4 years old. I am grossed out by the terminology, and yes I have a gut, a stomach, an abdomen, a big fat pooch in front, whatever you want to call it EXCEPT a tummy .And it does not need taming. GAH. I may have ripped my gastroenterologist a new one when he came in the room and cheerfully asked me how my tummy was feeling.

    1. Agreed to infinity and beyond. I am a fifty-one year old nurse. Do not talk to me as if you are talking to a four year old, using dumbed down words like “tummy.” Women’s magazines seem to be notorious for doing this.
      The only “taming” my “tummy” needs has to do with my sometimes unruly digestive processes. The pudge on my abdomen causes me no actual distress.

  3. This is so weird to me. I though the Avenue was gone gone, as in permanently shut down after the bankruptcy. I could’ve sworn there was a time when I went looking for the website and couldn’t find it anymore. I didn’t even know there were still B&M stores. I haven’t heard of them at all, since they shut down the bulk of the B&M store, back when they did carry all the way to 30/32 in store.

    And it sucks to realize they do still exist but have taken to treating their customers so poorly. I spent a lot of money in that store over the years, since it was the only place that carried my size in a 200 mile radius for several years. In fact the year my house burned down, they made huge bank off of me, because I had to replace large sections of my wardrobe all at once, and online shopping wasn’t as convenient and function then as it is today.

    There will always be a fine line, between making a store stand behind an advertised price and being reasonable that a simple printing mistake shouldn’t kill a company’s profits long term (like a run on $3000 TVs accidentally listed at $30). But acting as if every person who thought the deal was legit knew it was bullshit and were trying to rip the company off? Please. We all know how these stores operate, and bizarre coupons (which end up demonstrating just how the markup is on this stuff) do occasionally offer a 100% discount with the assumption you’ll spend more than just what the coupon covers – hence crap like a coupon off a $50 purchase screws you when the blouse you want is $49.99. It’s like going to a carnival – we know the games are rigged, but we also know somewhat how to work around their tricks and traps.

    So to act like the customers should’ve known better and were trying to take advantage – especially when customer service didn’t flag the mistake when customer’s asked about it – is childish and highly unprofessional.

    1. Last year or the year before, there was an event in the airline industry, where Air Canada had mistakenly offered flights for $10 or something small (instead of $800). They caught it a couple hours after it started, but honoured all the tickets sold for the super cheap price.

  4. If they accidentally posted the coupon online, they should admit that and call it a mistake. If they sent it to select customers and those customers posted it online, then they should admit that and call it a mistake that they don’t validate coupon codes. I get special coupons from a retailer I spend a lot of money with, and they validate my coupon codes with my login account.

    That being said, I’m always a little grumpy when people take the comments of customer service people as indicative of a company’s position or attitude. Yes, they should be, but the fact of the matter is that you’re talking to someone making minimum wage or a little better. Retail customer service is basically at the bottom of the call center barrel, whether that is fair or not. I promise your favorite retailer has customer service reps who would stick their feet just as deeply into their mouths as these guys did. It’s not a function of Avenue being particularly bad at customer service. It’s a function of the customer service industry being particularly devalued, underpaid, and under-trained in general, and for retail specifically.

    Also, it really is the actual true fact case that retailers can’t release holds on your money or refund you any faster than your bank can handle it. And depending on your bank, it really can take weeks. Especially if your bank isn’t a bank at all but rather a pre-paid debit card or some other screw-the-poor scheme.

    I think it’s fair that they cancelled the orders. This is definitely a too-good-to-be-true coupon and honoring it for all and sundry (as opposed to the few customers they meant it for) would likely have cost them a great deal more than they can afford. But they didn’t need to do the “the terms clearly state” dance. The terms clearly state they can change the terms whenever they want. They didn’t want that coupon to go to the general public, they can’t afford to give everybody $90 worth of free clothes, they’re cancelling the orders, the end.

    1. Totally agreed with your point about customer service. It’s getting harder and harder to provide good CS, especially when they’re the lowest tier of the company, getting paid minimum wage, and are getting screamed at over and over and over again for something which is in no way their fault.

      In theory, the company should get a statement out to their reps ASAP with details about what happened, why, and what steps are being taken to make it right. In reality, that often happens way too late, if at all, and those reps who already underpaid and under-appreciated aren’t given much to pacify customers who are upset.

      I like the suggestion above about filing a chargeback – make Avenue (the company) pay for the mistake. Don’t take it out on the reps who are probably as angry as you are, because they’re dealing with the fallout.

  5. Hmmm… I quit buying from Avenue several years ago, when I found that every time I went in, the clothes I wanted either didn’t come in 30/32 or they had “only gotten one or two in that size” and it was already gone. When I asked why they didn’t get more if they were always selling out of those sizes, they said they asked, and corporate said no. They said they always had lots of people who came in looking for the largest sizes and leaving empty-handed because they were already sold out, but corporate wouldn’t let them order more.

    And then it got to the point where things that had fit me before (and still did) in the 30/32 no longer did in new stuff in the store, because they had completely changed the way they were cut. Oh, and then only a very few things actually came in that size any more. I would go through racks and racks of stuff, finding things I liked, only to find out that none of it was even made in a 30/32. Only the ugliest, basic pieces with very little styling (think plain t-shirts and such) came in the larger sizes anymore.

    I evidently quit shopping there before they quit carrying the 30/32s in store, because I didn’t know until now that that was the case. And why? Oh, they’d claim because they just didn’t do enough sales of those in the stores. Of course, they refused to put those sizes in the stores, and refused to provide those sizes in the nicer stuff, so there was really nothing to buy, so of course those of us needing those sizes quit shopping there.

    Idiots. I didn’t quit spending. I just found better places to spend my money. As far as I’m concerned, this kind of thing is well-deserved by a company like this.

  6. Wow. I never even heard of this store, and I can see I wasn’t missing out on anything.

    This reminds me of a time, long ago, when I saw a coupon in a newspaper, for a movie rental place. “Rent one at full price and rent a second one for free,” or something like that. What was important to the story was that it said, “Good until two weeks from today.” With no actual date printed on the coupon.

    Just out of curiosity, and because I’m warped and twisted, I cut out the coupon, and saved it for a month. Then, I went to the store, and tried to use the coupon. The clerk said it had expired, but I said, “But wait! It says, ‘good until two weeks from today.’ It’s TODAY, right now!” The manager came out, laughed about it, and said he’d be sure to always have a real date printed in all future coupons (he did, and they were from then on), and he honored the coupon, without fuss. I think he was grateful to me for pointing out the issue, because had that continued as part of their coupon boilerplate, it could have become a real problem, especially when they had a similar coupon, which was different only in the words, “Buy one, get one free,’ for their used tapes.

    The point is – if they make a mistake with the coupon, it’s their job to honor it and fix it, not blame the customer, and certainly not back out of the deal. ESPECIALLY not when the money has already exchanged hands. It’s bad enough to say, “No, we won’t honor that coupon,” but to take the money and cancel the order? NOOOOOO!

    Well, I won’t be shopping with Avenue, regardless of what sizes they carry, in-store or on-line.

    This is another example of how hard it is to be both poor and fat, though. Poor people can’t afford to have their money tied up for weeks at a time, like this. Rich people are inconvenienced, but poor people, who need clothes to get work, might be in a really tight bind, now, because of this. And they are so limited in how many stores actually sell to them, in the first place, that they are really stuck.

    1. Yes, so many coupons have an open ended terminus. We went to KFC once, and they had their current flier out on the counter. We picked a couple things from there, and turns out over half the flier had expired, but wasn’t listed in it. The manager came out and after some fenagaling, we got an order done. But while this was happening, a small line up of people gathered. This was a store by itself, not in a mall, so if you went inside you intended to shop there.

      Several people left after overhearing what was going on with our order. It was mostly that experience and their crappy wilted salads that has kept us from going back there.

  7. As for the shape wear – in my opinion, it’s fine to make and sell it, but advertise it as – “Your body is fine just the way it is, so buy the clothes to fit your body! But when you just HAVE to fit into THAT particular dress, this range of body-shapers will temporarily change your shape to fit the clothes. Not recommended for long-term use, and don’t expect to feel comfortable.”

    I’m all for honesty, and sometimes, yeah, I have sacrificed comfort to fit into a particular piece of clothing for a special occasion. That’s what shape wear is for, as far as I’m concerned. NOT for everyday wear, and not to make you feel as if your body is wrong. It’s just different from certain items of clothing, that’s all.

    Support-wear, such as compression stockings or something to support the back, should be labeled as such, rather than “shaping,” because that’s just something helpful to wear, to improve your health, and if it winds up causing you to have to buy clothes in a different shape or size, then it’s an inconvenience.

    1. I was looking at pants at the store last week. One particular line had slimwear, and promised to “get rid of that muffin top”. I have a muffin top while naked. If I wear these clothes, I would probably look like a mushroom.

      My mom said many clothes squished her top, and make her look like a candy apple on a stick.

      1. Exactly – they don’t change your size or make you smaller. They just squish the bits and pieces into other areas.

        Also, they generally interfere with blood flow and deep breathing.

        And going to the bathroom.

  8. Unsurprised…Disappointed, but unsurprised. Any reasonably priced places for a 5’10”, size 30 woman to shop, that don’t only sell patterns nobody under 70 would wear? I never had trouble getting their size 30s, and I even found their normal length pants are good on me, but I only shop online.

  9. Fat women have such limited places to shop (physical brick stores AND online), it’s a shame to see one of the only options we have treating it’s customers in this way.

  10. Are people making complaints on their facebook page being banned from the facebook page? I’m just curious because it’s been a couple of years since my last ever purchase with Avenue. We have one of their credit cards and hadn’t been using it so they cancelled it. We had to re-apply in store and go through all the paperwork again which was annoying. Then they started sending catalogues to our home with no prices listed. Essentially a useless waste of paper and time and effort. I went to the facebook page to ask them not to send any more catalogues if they weren’t going to be including the prices of the items but my comment was deleted and I was banned from commenting on their page. We’ve since cut up the credit card. I’m not surprised to hear that they’re behaving badly with other customers. They’re not a very good company. I won’t buy from them ever again. I’m sorry to hear this latest debacle. People don’t need this kind of treatment from a business. It’s wrong.

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