The fashion jewelry retailer waited two days to respond to a blog post charging it with using an independent U.K. company's designs.
The blog post came Wednesday. Tatty Devine, a handmade jewelry
company in England, posted photos of its own designs next to designs sold at international affordable jewelry retailer Claire's. The response was
explosive. More than 200 people commented before Tatty Devine closed the comments, and more than 2,000 tweets linking the post went out.
It wasn't until Friday that Claire's said anything about the matter, when the company posted this to its Facebook page: "Claire's Stores, Inc. is a
responsible company that employs designers, product developers and buyers, and works with many suppliers to provide innovative collections that bring
customers all the latest fashion trends. As such, we take any allegations of wrong doing seriously. We are looking into the matters raised." A
shortened version went up on Twitter as well.
The messages weren't received well, and Jenni Maley, a blogger at The Social Penguin
who has written about the Claire's/Tatty Devine case, says she also wondered, "Is that it?"
"The response is a stiff corporate apology that appears to dismiss the concerns expressed by their consumers," she says.
Other experts agreed that it probably won't help Claire's to salvage its bruised reputation.
"Looks to me like the lawyers are in charge of PR at Claire's," says Sean Williams of Communication Ammo. "The responses express no humanity. Of course, this might be
a legal matter, so we shouldn't be too surprised. These indeed are allegations, however much a reasonable person might conclude that the designs are
exactly the same."
Scott Douglas, founding director of Holyrood Partnership PR and a blogger, says the response doesn't fit
with Claire's online persona.
"Claire's has a great social presence and an accomplished PR team. They didn't join up here at all—why, I have no idea—which means I'd grade the
response as both a PR disaster and a #fail."
Williams says this seems to be a clear instance of a company's protecting itself against legal risk, even if its reputation takes a hit. Confessing
could lead to some nasty litigation, he says.
But Norman Birnbach of Birnbach Communications says copyright law doesn't offer a lot of protection when it comes to copies or knockoffs—at least, not
in the United States; law in the United Kingdom is a bit different.
"The issue here is not whether or not a big retailer like Claire's copied designs from an independent designer," Birnbach says. "The issue is, how did
Claire's address the issue via social media? Claire's did not do a very good job."
What the response needed
Claire's comments should have come from a named person, Williams says.
"What's missing here is a dose of humanity, a face and name. They seem distant and unconcerned."
Maley says an apology and a change in tone are what the company needs now.
"Ditch the cold, corporate tone, and go back to interacting with their customers in a more sincere manner," she says. Sticking one's head in the sand
won't make a crisis go away.
Keith Trivitt, associate director of the Public Relations Society of America, says Claire's statements aren't just cold, they're confusing. They gave
no details about what was alleged and didn't go beyond saying the company was looking into the allegations.
"In a crisis situation, a company should explain its actions," he says. "Failing to do so only makes the situation worse as it leads to confusion and
gives rise to consumers and the public coming to their own conclusions, based on hearsay or rumor."
In addition to not directly addressing in its statements what "the matters raised" were, Claire's also apparently deleted Facebook comments with no
further engagement. "Just because you can delete posts written on your wall, doesn't mean you should," Birnbach says.
He says the company should take advantage of its strong Twitter and Facebook presences. "They have not provided its 1 million Facebook fans with
information to support the company's statement that it is responsible and that it is vital source for the latest fashion trends," Birnbach says. "The
company basically disengaged, which is the antithesis of how you're supposed to approach social media."
How can it do that? Trivitt suggests a statement explaining how Claire's designs were unique. If they weren't unique, as Maley contends, Claire's
should say so, acknowledge that it's working with Tatty Devine on a resolution, and apologize, she says.
Douglas says the company could have apologized without admitting guilt, with something like: "The pictures show remarkable similarities, and clearly
that's upset a lot of people. We understand those reactions. That's why we are determined to get to the bottom of what happened and launched an
immediate investigation. We promise to keep you updated."
It should have also pulled the items from sale, he says.
Two days is much too long to wait before responding to a crisis like this, Williams says. But Trivitt contends that "but it is never too late to fully
explain your company's actions and its values."
Douglas says he's not sure what sort of lasting impact this crisis will have on Claire's and its reputation. Maybe just a bruising.
"But I'd like to think this short-lived reputational bloody nose will result in greater care from Claire's on checking the origin of designs it uses.
Ultimately, that's what all those upset people online—especially Claire's customers—want to see."
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.