How NOT to Run a Promotion

Running a promotion calls for more than just throwing an ad together and placing it in the newspaper.  It requires a little more thought than that.  Sometimes it seems that the national chains are the worst offenders.  Here’s a perfect example.

Last week Walgreen’s ran an ad for a free printer cartridge refill.  All you had to do was bring in your empty cartridge and they would refill it for you at no charge.  What the heck?  Free is free and I had an empty cartridge that I was planning to recycle so I took it to be refilled.  We have three printers at home and the cartridges always seem to go dry at the same time, so a freebie couldn’t hurt, right?

The printer in question has been giving me some trouble (ok, a lot of trouble).  If the refilled cartridge didn’t solve the problem, the printer was going to go wherever dead printers go.  So I was anxious to see if I was going to have to pony up for a new one. 

Did I mention that the free cartridge deal was for one day only, last Tuesday?  Apparently no one in Walgreen’s marketing department had any idea how many empty printer cartridges are actually out here in computer land.  The store had them stacked up like cord wood.  The lady behind the counter told me that mine would be ready Saturday evening.  Oh, well.  It was free.

Saturday Walgreen’s left a message on my answering machine that their cartridge-filler machine hadn’t been up to the task and had had some sort of breakdown.  They would call me when my cartridge was ready.  The call finally came Tuesday.  It seems that my cartridge is somehow defective and can’t be refilled.  Sorry.

OK, let’s review.  Obviously the idea behind the promotion was to show us how convenient and economical it is to recycle your old cartridges at Walgreen’s.  That’s a good idea.  I have three printers at home that take a total of ten cartridges.  Giving me one free one in exchange for future business would be a good investment.  Besides, every time I’d refill a cartridge meant two trips to the store.  One to drop it off, one to pick it up.  So far–so good.

So, what went wrong?  First, they obviously underestimated the demand.  "Free" is a powerful word, especially when there are no strings attached.  This wasn’t "buy one–get one free".  This was just "free".  As much as the chain advertises, they should have had some inkling (sorry) that they would be swamped with business.

Second, it’s fairly common knowledge that not all ink cartridges can be refilled.  The manufacturers go out of their way to discourage that kind of thing.  They want you to buy a $40.00 cartridge from them, not a $10.00 refill from someone else.  There should have been a plan B for cases like mine which must have numbered in the thousands. 

Actually, they did have a plan B.  They gave me a coupon for ten free photo prints in exchange for my empty cartridge.  Let’s see.  They promised me a $40.00 cartridge (or at least a $10.00 refill), made me wait a week, failed to deliver on their promise, then offered me $1.20 worth of photo processing for my trouble.  And, I have to go out and spend forty bucks to find out if my printer is worth saving.

Don’t get me wrong.  My family will continue to spend a ton of money at Walgreen’s.  They are literally the only pharmacy in town.  All the others are gone.  The big boxes and the grocery stores have pharmacy departments, but Wag’s the only stand-alone pharmacy in this market.  Besides, the store is a block from my house.  This incident won’t change my shopping habits.  No hard feelings.

But, this whole situation could have been avoided with a little better advanced planning.  Here’s a question:  If you were Mr. Walgreen, how would you have handled this differently?

One Response

  1. Checked ahead with the supplier as to the cost of a new or refilled one and sold it at my cost or if it was cheap enough just given you a refilled one.

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