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Vitamin Shoppe

The Vitamin Shoppe is coming under fire for apparently trying to pull a Jedi mind trick on its customers. That coupon we emailed to you, they’re saying, is not an actual coupon. In fact, it never actually existed at all! But many irate customers aren’t buying it – and they’re vowing not to buy anything from the Vitamin Shoppe again.

It started this past Sunday, when email subscribers to the nutritional supplement chain received a note from the Vitamin Shoppe. “Time is running out to use your 20% coupon,” it read. And inside, sure enough, was an offer for 20% off your entire purchase, in store or online, good through the end of the day Monday.

But those who tried to use the coupon immediately ran into trouble. Clicking on the link to redeem the coupon online, resulted in a “page not found” error. And anyone who tried to use the coupon in the store, discovered the unusual fine print, instructing employees to “use coupon code TBD.”

Shortly thereafter, a followup email went out, with the subject heading “Oops!” In what looked to be a hurriedly composed message that omitted most capital letters, the note read:

“oops! everybody makes mistakes, and this morning we made a big one.

this morning we sent you an email with an offer. the email was sent in error and as a result the coupon did not work. we are truly sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused you.”

A “sorry for the inconvenience” apology, without a full explanation, never goes over very well. Was it another case of someone discovering a loophole and making a killing with a poorly-worded coupon? (Just look what happened to Best Buy last week). But how much damage could anyone do with a mere 20% off coupon?

As it turns out, it wasn’t a poorly-worded coupon – it was a mirage. Nothing to see here, please move along. “The coupon never actually existed,” the company explained meekly on its Facebook page, as customer complaints began building. It “was the result of a database error.” It seems the coupon was a “draft” and was not meant to have been sent out at all.

Customers were, to say the least, less than satisfied with that explanation. “I have a digital copy of the coupon and I even printed it out. I am quite sure that it actually exists,” wrote one Facebook commenter. Others called on the Vitamin Shoppe to own up to its mistake and honor the “draft” coupon. “You will lose FAR more money from lost customers than you ever would from honoring the 20%,” said another commenter. But the store wouldn’t budge, repeating its “apology for this unfortunate error” and saying it was taking steps to ensure it never happened again.

Some customers are questioning whether they have a case, and can report or even sue the Vitamin Shoppe for false advertising. In reality, for the most part, coupons are issued – and can be revoked – at a retailer’s discretion (check out some other tales of companies that cancelled their coupons). Authorities can step in when a coupon is intentionally deceptive. But while the Vitamin Shoppe’s handling of the incident seems inept, it doesn’t appear to be willfully misleading.

Besides, the bad press, and the promises from angry customers never to buy from the Vitamin Shoppe again, may turn out to be punishment enough. To quote the Vitamin Shoppe itself: “Oops.”

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