With a bit of programming merchants can work all sorts of personalization magic with their eCommerce sites these days. As AirMiles has discovered though, it is best when your customers don’t even notice it.
In an article posted to CBC.ca several AirMiles collectors scrambling to redeem points before they expired logged in with their accounts and other family members accounts and saw very different offers. Collectors are accusing AirMiles of doing a bait and switch. Enticing people to collect more points with great incentives that are just out of reach, but as soon as they have enough for the products they want, not providing them.
If this was a retailer advertising to get people into the store and then not having products there would be fines.
AirMiles is claiming that the differences are because of personalization which in a traditional eCommerce environment is intended to increase sales by showing people items that they want to buy based on past purchases or site visits. In AirMiles case, it appears as if the personalization they are using is almost intended to prevent people from redeeming points.
If this was indeed JUST personalization, the people with adequate points to make a purchase would still be able to find the products and purchase them. Amazon might show you and I different prices on products (and there are no laws saying they can’t) but in both cases we can buy the products at the prices they offered us.
In the world of traditional retail and cash purchases it is illegal to advertise products at a price that you will not honour. We have all seen “door crasher” sales where they say “no rainchecks” and “limited inventory” and we understand that if we get there early and wait in line we MIGHT have a chance but the store has to have at least 1 unit available at that price. There are truth in advertising laws in place to ensure that.
I suspect that Air Miles makes special one-time purchases for merchandise. As items go out of stock they are no longer shown to collectors who actually have enough points to purchase them. The out of stock items though continue to be shown to collectors who do not have enough points to create the illusion that there is choice and to keep the collectors in the game.
In normal circumstances collectors just shop through their personal accounts. If I have my eye on a new BBQ and when I (finally) have enough points it is no longer available, then I assume that it must have just sold out since I last checked. What has happened with the points expiry deadline though is that loyal collectors are suddenly scrambling to redeem points. No one wants to see their points going to waste so friends and family are in a frenzy to get something for the time and effort they put into collecting. Suddenly you have users comparing notes.
I am sure that AirMiles has enough small print in their user agreement to get them out of this and it will eventually blow over, but in the meantime the brand damage from the expiry is only increasing as consumers find out that perhaps there is no pot of gold at the end of the points rainbow and if there is, it is a lot smaller than they thought.