WWTT? Walmart Learns Important Lesson About Third-Party Sellers This Holiday Season
I'm not sure when Ugly Christmas Sweaters became a thing, but they seem to show up regularly each holiday season, spurred by Ugly Christmas Sweater parties and people who enjoy making poor fashion decisions. However, it seems that what used to be ironic sweater-wearing has turned into shock-value sweater-wearing for some individuals, and there are sellers out there who will gladly cash in on that trend. And so we have the recent problem that Walmart Canada faced when a number of highly inappropriate Ugly Christmas Sweaters were made available for purchase on walmart.ca by one of the third-party sellers, Fun Wear, that sells its merchandise on the site.
The sweater that has caused the most uproar features a bug-eyed Santa Claus in front of a table with three lines of a white substance, with the words "Let It Snow" below. Okay, so not great. But then it gets way worse.
Yall. Look at this description for this Christmas sweater from Walmart pic.twitter.com/lBdmKQ1JoZ
— Jason John (@HurrbaSousJohn) December 7, 2019
Unfortunately for Walmart, this is more than an embarrassment for selling something tacky and enduring some snickering from the Internet. The product description, partially seen in the tweet above, is particularly problematic:
"We all know how snow works. It’s white, powdery and the best snow comes straight from South America. That’s bad news for jolly old St. Nick, who lives far away in the North Pole. That’s why Santa really likes to savor the moment when he gets his hands on some quality, grade A, Colombian snow. He packs it in perfect lines on his coffee table and then takes a big whiff to smell the high quality aroma of the snow. It's exactly what he needs to get inspired for Christmas Eve."
On Saturday, Dec. 7, Walmart Canada removed the product, and issued an apology. A spokesperson provided the following quote to Business Insider:
"These sweaters, sold by a third-party seller on Walmart.ca (our website in Canada), do not represent Walmart's values and have no place on our website. We have removed these products from our marketplace. We apologize for any unintended offense this may have caused. These sweaters were not offered on Walmart.com in the US."
Despite the removal of the product and the apology, the reference of "Colombian snow" has the National Agency for the Legal Defense of the State in Colombia prepared to sue. According to the Washington Post and El Tiempo, on Dec. 10 the agency stated that Walmart's apology about the product from a third-party seller on Walmart.ca was not enough. Agency director Camilo Gómez Alzate provided this statement to El Tiempo, reported by the Washington Post:
“The Walmart sweater is an offense to the country. It generates damage to the legal products of Colombia and damage to the country’s reputation. Although Walmart apologized, the damage was done.”
So the lesson to be learned here: third-party sellers may expand the amount of business you do and the revenue you pull in, but you can't always trust that their products will be in line with your company's values. This was not the only Ugly Christmas Sweater that Fun Wear had up on Walmart Canada's site ... and the majority of them were in rather poor taste.
While Walmart may have policies in place to limit undesirable products from third-party sellers, it's clear these policies are either difficult to enforce or they're not being enforced. The consequence of losing customers over this is one thing, but having Colombia's National Agency for the Legal Defense of the State sue if appropriate reparations aren't made is an even bigger problem for the retailer.
What do you think marketers? Is it worth it to have third-party sellers offer their products on your sites, checked or unchecked, or are issues like this enough of a reason to avoid third-party relationships? Oh, and yes, Amazon is selling products with similar and identical designs.