There is an absolutely ridiculous thread over at Flyertalk about a pair of headphones that were recently available on the American Airlines Shopping site that would net you, supposedly, 83,871 miles with purchase. I say “supposedly” because the site did say that you would enjoy 83,871 miles with the purchase of a $60 pair of headphones, but also because everyone knew that there was some sort of mistake at play here.
If you have several days of free time available to you, you can read through the now 151 pages (yes, 151 pages) of discussion about suing somebody-or-other to get their damn miles that they deserve and should get and although it was plausibly a mistake there are lots of lucrative legit offers out there and this is just another one of them and how dare anyone screw me etc etc etc
I wanted to comment on two things:
1) Roughly 100% of the people who bought the headphones knew that there was something amiss. Yes, there have been lucrative offers in the past. But even so. Next to nobody tripped across the offer; they read about it on a blog, where no doubt the author of the post noted that it was a longshot that anyone would get the points, then they chose to go forward with the purchase, essentially gambling that the $60 would net them 83,000 points. I don’t begrudge them the choice to go forward with the purchase, but for the sake of this discussion I’d like us to stop kidding ourselves that anyone did not think this was a mistake.
2) My day job is running the e-commerce business for a large clothing company and in that capacity I have made some errors. Most of those errors (say, allowing the name of the company to be spelled incorrectly in an email) were caught before anyone outside the company saw them. Other times I was not so lucky. I once ran a contest with no official rules. That wasn’t a good day. During the busy Christmas period of 2009 we sold 3,000 more of a sweater than we had in inventory due to a glitch in our inventory system. Oops! In each of those cases I was horrified beyond words, but I was also lucky that a) I had a boss who was understanding and b) I worked for a company where rectifying those situations would not drown us financially.
There are two ways of looking at the headphone error. First, you can scream your head off that AA screwed you. Or second, you can think that someone – an actual person – at either AA, Verizon (who was selling the headphones), or at the AA shopping mall site made an error at work. Maybe they were half paying attention when they uploaded the spreadsheet. Maybe they were on the phone with their wife while they were working. Maybe they were trying to do 3 things at once. All of the things we all do during a day at work. And we all make mistakes. I’m thrilled for those of you who can mess up at work and not have that mistake become public. For those of us with roles where what we do is visible in some way to consumers, we can only hope that we work for a company that’s supportive of us when we do, inevitably, blow it.
Verizon responded by acknowledging the error and offering 2500 miles per person, more than they had to do – they certainly could have just sent an email apologizing for the error. Of course, there are 151 pages worth of people unsatisfied with that. But I have to ask: what if the original offer said you could get 830,000 miles for the headphones? Or 8,300,000 miles? Would you have expected the company to give you the miles? What about 83,000,000 miles? If the point is that the website said that consumers would receive 83,000 miles with purchase, and if people are saying that they can sue if Verizon doesn’t follow through on the Terms and Conditions, would they be this upset if it said 83,000,000 miles? Or 83,000,000,000 miles?
I’m not at all suggesting a Romney-esque “corporations are people” philosophy. I’m just saying that instead of freaking out about 83,000 (or 83 billion) miles you knew you weren’t going to get, perhaps you should just be happy that it wasn’t you who screwed up at work and caused 115 pages worth of people to complain about it on Flyertalk.