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retail and social media: taking it up to country road

Image: Country Road

Image: Country Road

Australian middle-market clothing and home wares retailer, Country Road has come under fire from an indignant customer via social media due to its startling lack of ethnically diverse models in its catalogue. Just having a quick look through the brand’s webpage it is clear to see that the only models utilised in its campaign are stereotypical Caucasians.

The source of the complaint was Richard Misso, a loyal Country Road customer for over 25 years, who is also of Sri Lankan, Dutch and German descent. In response to the Country Road catalogue, Misso stated that ‘there were no models of ethnic diversity, which makes people like me feel invisible.’

As a result, he took to the company’s Facebook page to voice his complaint. It was estimated in the first thirty minutes of his posting the complaint that the post received over 70 comments, likes and shares. Subsequently, the post was removed by Country Road administration (which they have admitted to doing – this highlights the fraught nature of social media interactions, particularly those between individuals and companies). The post on the Facebook page was following Misso’s two emails to Country Road HQ asking why the brand chose only white models, despite the wide ethnic diversity of its customer base. These two emails went unanswered after two days.

This, however, is only the beginning of the saga between Misso and the Country Road administration. Following the deletion of his comments on their Facebook page, the company contacted Misso directly, denying ethnic discrimination, and requesting Misso’s mobile contact number to take the conversation offline. Misso replied that he would like to keep the conversation online, only to find that the conversation had been deleted.

When contacted by Fairfax Media in relation to the models, Country Road denied ethnic discrimination, saying that they used a wide variety of diverse models in their campaigns, and denied that they had removed Misso’s post, stating instead that it had been caught in the spam filter. However, in a second statement, the company admitted that Misso’s post may have been ‘erroneously deleted’ and that they had apologised. ‘Our policy is not to remove any posts on social media, including negative ones, unless we are required to by law,’ the later statement said.

This latest social media bungle between customers and retailers follows in the recent history of Coles recalling its Dry Fit nappies after a mother’s post about her baby choking on them went viral on Facebook, with over 35,000 people sharing the post. Similarly, an open letter to Target last year protesting the sale of clothes to girls aged seven to fourteen to ‘look like tramps’ attracted over 60,000 likes within twenty-four hours.

The relationship between customers, retailers and social media is clearly a fraught one, with issues of company censorship, customer satisfaction and brand maintenance at issue whenever any of the parties takes to Facebook, Twitter or any other social media webpage. Social media expert Ryan Shelley stated that companies have a responsibility to customers to engage with them on these types of websites:

‘Companies that fail to have an active social media presence appear to lack authenticity and an open channel to their customers…If a person has a complaint or a compliment, they need to know that someone is there to answer their queries. Like any public presence, [social media] is a public forum, so the people that are in charge of that presence need to be briefed very clearly with an understanding of the company’s beliefs and goals in order to communicate those values with customers.’

Customer service is clearly of paramount importance to retailers, and there is a necessity to both balance the complaints being issued towards them in terms of their public perceptions, as well as maintain their customer base. When these types of interactions are taken to social media, this is made to be even more fraught due to the public nature of these interactions.

As for Country Road and its lack of ethnic diversity in its models, it will be interesting to see whether or not Mr. Misso’s complaint and subsequent quasi-censorship will make any difference to the way in which the brand advertises its products. Here’s hoping that at least now many more people have had their attention drawn to the issue, and it aids in creating a more ethnically rounded campaign to not just Country Road, but for other brands paying attention to the social media saga to whom this complaint may also be applicable.

[Image Credit]

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