Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Target’s Got Trouble a Brewin’

This can be filed under reasons for companies to start blogging. It seems that Target has begun selling some less than mainstream products including:


Anal Massage for $35.96 [image via Eric’s Archived Thoughts] and


Marijuana for $25.25 [image via Adam Kalsey].

There is a lot of buzz bubbling up about this (Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion, InsideGoogle, Adam Kalsey and Eric’s Archived Thoughts have all talked about it). According to Adam Kalsey, this is not just some silly kid messing around, it’s a problem with the way Amazon runs the Target website:

Apparently this isn’t a test data problem. It’s a problem with not enough product details and the way the ecommerce system’s back end works. The item in question is a book that Amazon carries, but Amazon has no details on the book. Since Target.com is managed by Amazon, many of the products sold by Amazon can be forced to show in the Target.com design; just tack the ASIN from Amazon onto the Target URL. For instance, you buy Isaac Mizrahi cashmere gloves from Target.com even though your local Target isn’t going to carry this item.

When the book is shown on Amazon, it’s obvious that Amazon is selling a book entitled “Marijuana,” but when shown through Target’s interface it just looks like they’re selling pot.

Where is Target to fix this problem? I talked about Robert Scoble at Microsoft yesterday, and you could be damn sure that if this were a Microsoft problem he would be online talking about it. Target, however, is a big company without a real face or voice (at least to my knowledge). There’s no one out there to talk about the problem and all they can do is pull these pages offline (as they did with the anal massage page). However, it’s only a matter of time before someone finds another product that makes Target look bad. Things move incredibly quickly online (and especially in the blogosphere) and if companies don’t step up to the plate and join the conversation they leave themselves wide open to these kinds of PR disasters. Take, for example, the video of a Bic pen opening a Kryptonite lock. This video was so widely linked to and distributed that if when you do a Google search for “Kryptonite lock,” a link to the Engadget video is the first result. What was Kryptonite’s response? They chose to put up an “urgent update” with a short FAQ (the site is down at the moment so I can’t link to it). Why wasn’t Kryptonite prepared for such a crisis? Imagine how easy it would have been to start a blog and talk to the public directly instead of including this in the FAQ:

Q. I’ve e-mailed several times asking questions and all I’ve got back were auto-responses. When can I expect to have some answers?

A. We understand that you are anxious to receive additional information about the lock exchange program and we are working to answer each inquiry personally. Due to the unusually heavy volume of inquiries at this time, it is taking a bit longer than normal. Hopefully, you will find the answers to some of your questions in this FAQ section.

Companies like Kryptonite didn’t (and still don’t) understand what’s going on online. That lack of understanding bubbled up and bit them in the ass (and it bit them hard). Target needs to address their problem before it gets out of hand (imagine what happens if a television station picks this up?). Other companies need to look at what’s going on in both these cases and understand how they can better prepare themselves for the problems that the internet can pose.

November 28, 2004