For a few days, I’ve been obsessed with finding the Prada Fairy Bag on Bluefly. Bluefly keeps sending me emails advertising the bag, and each time I immediately scour the site for it, only to find neither fairy hide nor fairy hair. I emailed Bluefly to inquire about the situation, and received this reply:
Thank you for your email. We are sorry for any difficulty you may have experienced in looking for an advertised item. Generally our ads are photographed in advance of the sale, and cannot easily be changed during the sale. On some occasions, items that are advertised sell out almost immediately after being introduced on the website. This is the case with many of our products, as our site is visited day and night by hundreds of thousands of internet users.
The condescending explanation of how a large retail website works annoyed me, especially after I got yet another email from Bluefly with the Fairy Bag on it. I scoured the site again, then sent them a follow-up email asking them to prove that they ever had it with a screen shot. I also said that I was going to blog about it. The latest reply from a “Fly-shionista” (seriously, that’s what they call themselves) came without a screen shot.
Thank you for your email. The Prada bag was so popular, it sold out immediately. We only received a small quantity of the bag. Often, when a bag is featured in an ad, it does sell quickly.We understand your disappointment and hope that will not deter you from shopping with us in the future.
Meanwhile, this banner is on Bluefly at THIS VERY SECOND:
I already have a Fairy Bag so I’m not in the market for one, but I was curious to see this supposedly limited-edition bag on Bluefly. I’ll accept the Fly-shionista’s statement that Bluefly did have the bag at one point, but if it’s sold out, I think it is wrong to keep using the image in promotional emails and on the site. I know it’s not that hard to switch out the images on a homepage; I’m sure they have quite a few generic banners to throw up there. That was my experience back when I was in the corporate world and used to work on websites that had some money behind them. Of course, if Bluefly stopped advertising the sold-out bag, people who really want it wouldn’t be all over their site, hopefully doing some collateral damage to their credit cards out of frustration, right?
Official verdict: Kinda sleazy. I doubt this meets the Federal Trade Commission’s standards for false advertising, but it meets mine!
UPDATED TO ADD: I sent the link to this post to Bluefly and Fly-shionista (BWAH! I love saying that) Cindy got back to me with some more details. She said they had four Fairy Bags, and that they all sold out within the first hour. In a patient, psychiatrist-like way, she said, “However, as I understand it, you feel that it is not fair for us to display a picture of the product if we don’t currently have it available on the site.” She said she’d pass that message onto the corporate office, as well as a link to this blog and a copy of our email exchange. Just in case the corporate office people don’t automatically delete the email while stroking their Fairy Bags and laughing in an evil way, I’d like to say: Hello, corporate office people! I think it would have been better if you made it clear in the first promotional email that your inventory of Fairy Bags was extremely limited. Then, after they were sold, you should have stopped promoting them so aggressively. If you continue to send out emails advertising these bags, and also advertise them on the site, and you do NOT have the bags — yeah, I think that could reasonably be considered false advertising. This isn’t some image campaign for the Prada brand. Your site is about selling items that really exist. It would have been better to leave the bags on the site with the message “sold out” so people know that they missed out on it instead of suspecting you of nefarious behavior. You could easily have put “Bluefly also recommends …” links on the page to steer would-be purchasers to other Prada items. Feel free to use my recommendations in future, similar situations. I’ll be keeping an eye on you!
UPDATED AGAIN TO ADD: This isn’t the first time I’ve been disgruntled with Bluefly.
UPDATED JUNE 2010 TO ADD: Bluefly finally took my advice. I noticed they’re tagging some products with counts a la Overstock.com or QVC…”only three left” and so on.