Another horrific gaffe in retail marketing –  one which falls into the category of “grotesquely bad retail marketing decisions which will become a cautionary lesson in future marketing textbooks.” This spectacular gaffe involves a retailer of fashion-trendy and very colorful women’s athletic clothing, Fabletics – a company which started online in 2013 offering a subscription plan – somewhat controversial since the subscription charges were not always transparent, and branched out into brick and mortar locations. One of the founders is Kate Hudson, daughter of Goldie Hawn, so there probably has been some advantages to a celebrity connection; easy to get that one-on-one with Oprah Winfrey, I presume. The company appears to this point to have been pretty savvy in a competitive field, marketing-wise, so all props to them. I’m not a customer of theirs in any case; the gym and the jogging track are not places where I go to show off my fashion sense. I’m old-school in that I prefer to work out in grey sweatpants and a baggy tee shirt.

However – and this is an industrial-strength however – on this last Veterans’ Day, Fabletics made a big thing of offering a fifteen percent discount to veterans … male veterans. As a writer for the Military Times Observation Post blog acidly observed: That’s right. Fabletics offered a 15 percent discount applicable only to male veterans, who we all know live and breathe for the fresh feel of a brand new pair of ass-sculpting yoga pants. The marketing gaffe was reminiscent of 1947. You know, the year before President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law. Although Fabletics target demographic is women, they did recently launch a side-line aimed at men. Was this an attempt to appear veteran-friendly and patriotic without actually delivering?

Predictably, after indignant female veterans began asking Fabletics customer service reps about the so-called discount and getting the answer that the veteran discount was only for men, the whole issue blew up on their Facebook page. An apology has been offered, and a promise to do better with regard to verifying all customers veteran status … but female veterans are furious over this slight from a woman-popular retailer. It’s an unforced error; and honestly, it’s a mystery to me how such a relatively on-point retail organization could hope to get away with blithely appearing to assume that only men are military veterans. Look, there were at least 350,000 female veterans from World War II alone, 11,000 from Vietnam (mostly nurses), and post-9-11 female veterans of all services number something on the order of 700,000. A relatively small number in comparison with male veterans – but still quite far from entirely invisible. Being “vanished” by a retailer who purports to specialize in marketing to women is rightly seen as an insult – and women who have gone out and done a hitch or two, or served for a career in the military services tend to be feisty and to not accept a ‘diss’ with equanimity anyway. Fabletics really stepped in it, this time. Discuss as you wish.   

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