Business Technology

The 5 big brands bitten by online retail and marketing mistakes

12 min read

16 July 2015

Former deputy editor

The internet can be a powerful weapon in the battle for brand awareness, but sometimes, in an almost Terminator: Judgement Day-style attack, the machines turn against companies – in some cases because of stupidity.

Social media has provided businesses of all shapes and sizes the means to reach an audience in an instant, but like Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben was fond of saying, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

For example, 1903-founded vehicle manufacturer Ford has been able to become a digital leader with its social media strategy that simply encourages common sense, honesty, kindness and a helpful reminder that the internet always remembers.

The latter is quite right. McDonald’s introduced a #McDStories hashtag back in 2012, using a paid promotional tactic to push it into users’ timelines and make them aware about how kind the company is when it comes to ethically sourcing ingredients. Naturally, this blew up in the fast food firm’s face as people shared their McDonald’s nightmares with the hashtag instead – a trend that still continues today.

As such, we’ve highlighted five online blunders you should be careful to avoid when selling and marketing on the web.

In particular, we recommend you keep an eye on the pricing of your products and also any campaigns that may require the use of acronyms.


In mid December 2014, prime shopping time ahead of Christmas, Amazon made something of a technical boo-boo.

The result meant that the thousands of items were reduced to just 1p each. Yep, everything from mattresses to headphones to clothing, notching up tens of thousands of pounds worth of losses for many of the site’s small and medium-sized business users.

Indeed, one seller of toys and games said the ecommerce error resulted in people buying up to 100 items at a time, generating some 1,600 orders in an hour. By the time he took his store offline, he had sold more than £30,000 worth of stock, which customers were allowed to retain.

Elsewhere, a merchant selling TVs and mobile phones saw one customer purchase 59 of the latter for a penny each.

Amazon achieved sales of $89bn in 2014, which was a growth on the $74bn and $61bn notched up respectively in 2013 and 2012, yet the company refused to compensate its business users who were sat on the brink of bankruptcy and denied liability.

The online retail giant passed the buck and blamed the third party payment software provider RepricerExpress, recommending the shortchanged sellers contact the company to be recompensed.

Adding insult to injury, Amazon signed email correspondence off with “have a nice day”.

More recently in July 2015, the company introduced a Prime Day shopping promotion that failed to surprise and delight its customers.


As one door closes another one opens, as the saying goes. Amazon may have been immovable when it came to paying its business users back after they lost thousands of pounds, but PayPal – which is owned by online retail marketplace eBay – was slightly more generous.

By slightly generous, what we really mean is the payments service mistakenly transferred $92 quadrillion to US-based Chris Reynolds, who briefly became the richest man in the world.

Explaining that he’d been a user of PayPal for ten years to buy and sell, generally spending around $100 a month, he discovered via an email statement that his account had been boosted with a total of $92,233,720,368,547,800.

Unfortunately for the 56 year-old, his account had been reduced back to zero by the time he logged on to soak up his newfound wealth.

“This was obviously an error and we appreciate that Mr Reynolds understands this was the case,” PayPal said in a statement, adding that it would make a charity donation of Reynolds’ choice.

Wonder if Amazon would still deny liability if it made the same mistake.

Continue reading on the next page to see where Warner Bros, Burger King and Krispy Kreme went wrong.

Image: Shutterstock

Warner Bros

Comic-Con, the world’s biggest convention for all things comics, superhero and sci-fi, took place on 9-12 July 2015 and brought with it a string of new trailer releases.

Some of the films to have been previewed include Batman vs Superman, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse and Fantastic Four.

Now, Warner Bros swiftly released the official trailer to Batman vs Superman, but for some bizarre reason decided to hold back on the teaser for its sister Suicide Squad film.

Naturally, the rise of smartphones meant that numerous Comic-Con guests had stealthily captured the trailer. It’s long been in high demand as it offers a look first official look at Jared Leto who plays Batman adversary The Joker in the film – the first person to portray the villain since the tragic death of Heath Ledger who played him previously.

Rather embarrassingly, the online circulation of the illegal versions of the trailer couldn’t be stopped by Warner Bros as too many had been released and it meant that the studio was forced to admit defeat with a statement on Facebook – which coincided with an official trailer release.

“Warner Bros. Pictures and our anti-piracy team have worked tirelessly over the last 48 hours to contain the Suicide Squad footage that was pirated from Hall H on Saturday. We have been unable to achieve that goal. Today we will release the same footage that has been illegally circulating on the web, in the form it was created and high quality with which it was intended to be enjoyed,” said Sue Kroll, president worldwide marketing and international distribution, Warner Bros. Pictures.

“We regret this decision as it was our intention to keep the footage as a unique experience for the Comic Con crowd, but we cannot continue to allow the film to be represented by the poor quality of the pirated footage stolen from our presentation.”

The aggravation could have been avoided by placing the trailer on YouTube from the start, as well as generating some juicy advertising revenue from avid fans.

Burger King

Hacking and security are often ignored by businesses, until it’s too late.

Remember that time McDonald’s bought Burger King? No? That’s because it didn’t actually happen – at least, not officially, although a Twitter account hack would have had you believing otherwise.

It happened abruptly back in February 2013 and suspicion was aroused when a tweet that said “We just got sold to McDonald’s! Look for McDonald’s in a hood near you” was posted by the hackers.

Not only was the Burger King display picture changed to a McDonald’s logo, the background was amended to a picture of Fish McBites. McDonald’s offered its condolences and denied any responsibility, probably while guzzling a very happy Happy Meal indeed.

It wasn’t just a few silly tweets that were posted, a number of derogatory remarks were also made.

Interestingly though, while the fast food chain started the day with 82,000 followers, it had secured over 30,000 newcomers during the hour-long online hijacking.

A spokesperson, said: “It has come to our attention that the Twitter account of the Burger King brand has been hacked. We have worked directly with administrators to suspend the account until we are able to re-establish our legitimate site and authentic postings.

“We apologise to our fans and followers who have been receiving erroneous tweets about other members of our industry and additional inappropriate topics.”

Having not learnt its lesson, the retailer launched an online PR campaign later that year in October to convince customers that it had changed its name to Fries King, which was met with nothing more than mass confusion.

It was done in a bid to promote its new selection of crinkled chips, but not everyone was impressed. One consumer said: “Burger King or Fries King. Doesn’t matter I had food poisoning from them twice and have not eaten there for the last 13 years”. Another got straight to the point and said “your fries are trash”.

Krispy Kreme

When it comes to Krispy Kreme, the brand has the power to awaken even the healthiest of consumers’ inner Homer Simpson by creating that feeling of “mmm… doughnuts”.

With such sweet omnipotence, the brand has a loyal social media following of more than five million across channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine.

But it was Facebook that got the doughnut seller into a sticky situation with its Krispy Kreme Klub promotion at its Hull branch, otherwise referred to as “KKK Wednesday”.

The invite was sent to more than 215,000 Brits and eagle-eyed customers were quick to spoke the event’s acronym was shared with the racial hatred group Ku Klux Klan.

“This was sent from head office so it has been advertised at all the outlets. But we have now taken down the sign from our point of sale. We don’t have a new name for the event yet but it is still going ahead,” a spokeswoman said.

Elsewhere, the Twitter account manager was inundated with tweets and force to apologise repeatedly for any upset caused.