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I did not expect to be writing a Missing the Mark post so soon after I had such good things to say about the Sephora Epic Rewards in this Brand Experience post. I, like Sephora, grossly underestimated the fervor for the epic rewards, because when I went back the day after they launched, hoping to get the Dior eye kit that I saw for 1,000 points, ALL of the epic rewards at the 1,000-point level were gone. I did some poking around and found out that all of the Epic Rewards had been scooped up almost immediately after launch.

Soon enough, lots of stories popped up online about angry customers. One particularly angry customer decided to take advantage of Sephora’s wonderful return policy (you can take back items even after you have used them, if the item isn’t working for you), and return everything she had purchased within the last 60 days. Lots of other customers joined in for good measure.

It took a while for me to find an official statement from Sephora on my own. I finally got a link in the comments on their Facebook page. I could not find an actual post from them with this information, which is a big miss. If they are owning up to the fact that this wasn’t handled well, they should go all out and share. There should also be something about this on the Epic Rewards link, but there is not. Here’s the message they posted:

I find the “despite our best efforts to predict the response” pretty suspect. I am absolutely certain that Sephora is utilizing any and all tracking methods to see performance on their email campaigns, and they can easily pull customer data and segment customers by the amount of points they have in total, as well as what they have earned in the past 3 months, 6 months, etc. (I am assuming they have this power, given the volume of their online business.) Many blogs other than mine were talking about the Epic Rewards and how exciting it was, which I’m sure only led to more people making more purchases. I can only imagine the response rate on the email regarding the points multiplier, especially given the suggestion that “you should load up on points now, because we are about to launch these amazing rewards!” There were a few moving pieces in this scenario, and they did not line up very well.

I’ve been trying to come up with other options that Sephora could have explored to avoid this sort of scenario.

My favorite idea is to create giveaways for the rewards, and limit entry to only those with a certain amount of points. At 1,087 points, I could have a small entry widget on my Beauty Insider account page, allowing me to enter to win one of the 1,000-point prizes. (Since the resulting rush for the tiny number of available reward items was like a giveaway, this isn’t that different than what actually happened – just a lot more fair and balanced.) Telling people up front that having 10,000 points would simply make you eligible to win one of these fantasy trips might have culled those sales a bit, but the backlash happening now (not to mention the mass returns taking place) is likely not the preferred outcome.

Sephora is supposed to get in touch with everyone who submitted a complaint about this by September 1st. I’m sure we will see follow-up stories to see how they intend on addressing the unhappy customers they now have, and how they will amend future programs to avoid such issues.

If you were part of the Sephora team, how would you have gone about this? What would you do in the aftermath?