Could Dick Smith Have Handled Yesterday's Sale Differently?

Yesterday's Dick Smith Games sale was something of an object lesson in how not to manage social media or sales. There's definitely a case for better control of your information channels, but could the sale have been handled better? As I sat on the train heading into work yesterday, the thought crossed my mind that the yes-it's-on-no-it-isn't Dick Smith sale was meant to kick off early that morning. I'm as much of a fan of cheap gadgets as the next man — probably more, if the contents of my gadget cupboard* are anything to go by — as such I figured I might just pop along and have a look. I'm not lacking in portables, but my daughter's recently nabbed my DSi (because her own DS met an untimely fate), and the collection felt like it had a hole in it without one.

This was the sight I saw, and I quickly worked out that if I wanted to get into work that day, I'd better abandon my plans for a cheap portable console. I did check the website — but it was down — and discovered along the way that the mobile web site was up, but didn't take orders; I'd have to call the stores in question that said they still had stock. Except that the stores weren't doing phone reservations, making the whole exercise a little pointless.

Based on the comments that flowed through the article during the day, there was a lot of outrage amongst those that had queued, those that had tried to order online and those that felt "ripped off" in one form or another. I can sympathise to an extent — I wouldn't have minded a bargain myself — but it does make me wonder: what could Dick Smith have done to please everyone?

The answer seems to be "nothing". There was never a suggestion that they'd have unlimited stock — sales are always like that, and even if they had huge numbers, human behaviour being what it is, people would have snapped up multiple bargains they didn't need to then sell on. Ultimately, it's not like the stores were selling the necessities of life; merely cheap (and in many cases, largely obsolete or old) stock.

The same is true of the on floor sales staff. There were numerous reports of staff buying up the bargains for themselves; that's an obvious black eye for Dick Smith at a corporate level and certainly not something I'd condone, but I'm not in the least bit surprised, either.

Put simply, this kind of thing happens at retail all the time, because by and large, the cash register can't tell who's buying a gadget; simply that there's money coming in for it. The cases where staff allegedly appear to have been quite brazen about it are pretty stupid in terms of managing the Dick Smith "brand", but that then falls into a spiral of managers watching staff and then needing a manager to watch the manager, who themselves need a manager — it's endless! I doubt that there are too many folks on the floor at Dick Smith pulling down exceptional wages, so again, it's pretty inevitable that there'd be some bargain buying going on.

What then, of the calls that the whole thing was a scam, and that there never was stock? Here Dick Smith would have had to tread carefully — there's the example of what happened to Harvey Norman over misleading sales catalogues as a very recent example — but then again, Dick Smith Electronics never went to those kinds of lengths; there were no catalogues promoting the sale, only a banner that ran on its web site yesterday, which linked quite closely to stock estimates in each store. It's not impossible that the ACCC might get involved — but I'd doubt it.

The one area where Dick Smith very clearly could have handled communications better was in in the original handling of the leak and its confirmation on social media channels. I solidly doubt the original leak was intentional, but the confirmation of the sale on social media should have been handled much better. If, as some stores reported, the sale was due to take place on the 11th rather than the 2nd, then a simple edict NOT to confirm it on Facebook would have killed the story — and surrounding hype — stone dead.

Instead, it was the match to the kindling that set the whole thing ablaze. Short of coming out and stating some kind of hack, Dick Smith was in a bind from then on, and honestly, a bit more communication would have helped rather than hindered, whether it was putting up messages on Saturday indicating that no sales would take place on Monday, or declaring it an Internet-only sale, or whatever. By staying quiet, they did more to engage both speculation and make customers hopeful than coming out and being transparent, and at that stage, it may have been the wisest course.

*It's not actually a cupboard. More like a tangled, bleeping mess that seems to grow with every passing year.

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