When a sale tells you not to ask questions, ask questions.
The first moral of this story is: never buy a pair of shoes to look good on a first date.
The second moral of this story is: if you must buy shoes for a first date, don’t buy it from a deeply discounted sale that tells you not to ask questions.
It would have been nice to know this before hearing about Nasty Gal’s big 70% off everything sale, but what would I blog about if I didn’t keep falling victim to clever marketing? I’d like to think that I’m smart enough to avoid a deal that’s too good to be true. But thanks to a lethal combination of insecurity, FOMO, and accepting media hype at face value, I don’t always make the smartest choices.
Case in point: I ended up buying shoes from a brand I thought I admired, which cannot be refunded, and that will probably never arrive.
I Was Never a Nasty Gal
The only time I bought anything from Nasty Gal was in 2010, a time well before Jeffrey Campbell started churning out hideous incarnations of 70s platform sandals. I wanted a specific Jeffrey Campbell heel in a specific color combination that was somehow only available at Nasty Gal. It was mine in a few clicks.
Otherwise, the brand never appealed to me, even at the height of my fast fashion obsession. I couldn’t buy into the whole sexy-with-an-attitude image they were going for. It was too polished and cool in a way that clashed with who I am as a person, i.e. someone who fails at feigning indifference and is highly selective about how and who I reveal any sex appeal to.
The whole irony is that I developed an appreciation for the brand after Sophia Amoruso started declaring herself the ultimate #girlboss in 2014. Although I couldn’t bring myself to read past the first 5 pages of her book, I liked the idea of a female e-commerce founder making it big. Having once started an e-commerce store in my early twenties, I know that bringing the business to where it is required a combination of skills, street smarts, and grit that I didn’t possess at that age. And as a woman in the startup world, I’m all for seeing more female founders soar. I was still no Nasty Gal, but I thought I’d be happy to fork over my money if they had anything I liked.
I really should have paid better attention, though. Underneath all the girlboss hype, there was trouble in paradise. Nasty Gal began its downward spiral towards bankruptcy around 2013, when the business made heavy investments in logistics, paid marketing, and retail spaces. It was a toxic workplace, according to employees, and there was at least one female employee who got fired after getting pregnant. There were also complaints and lawsuits from big brands and independent designers accusing Nasty Gal of copying their work. If I had read Sophia Amoruso’s catty responses to an Etsy seller, I would not have held such a high opinion of her.
But all this was a matter of hindsight. At the time of Nasty Gal’s final sale, I was barely aware that they filed for bankruptcy protection or that they’d just been acquired. All I knew was that in a week’s time, I was going to go on my first real date in 2017, and I had nothing decent to wear.
(Almost) All Shopping is Emotional Decision-Making
The most effective marketing appeals to emotions rather than reason, and Nasty Gal’s closing sale was a prime example of this. With copy demanding that you stop reading and start shopping, you barely have time to wonder what the catch might be. Everything is going for 70% off! Everything! What could go wrong?
I would go so far as to say that a great majority of shopping is designed to fulfill irrational emotional needs. Objectively speaking, I didn’t need ridiculously tall stilettos I’ll probably only wear during dates with this guy. I don’t even need to go on a date with a guy who prefers women in stilettos. Yet I felt like I needed these things, for reasons I can’t explain.
In short, I was the perfect marketing victim.
Sales are the Ultimate FOMO Trigger
During a sale, the right shoe sizes never stay in stock for long, and the styles I want often run out quickly. There was definitely some shopping FOMO going on in my brain. If I had known that Nasty Gal was transitioning to new owners soon, the FOMO would have been more intense. After all, this could be the last opportunity to buy whatever it is I wanted, for so cheap.
Examining this now, FOMO has a lot to do with loss aversion and the scarcity effect. Loss aversion basically means that people feel the pain from loss twice more than the pleasure from gains. Because of this bias against loss, people are more likely to make irrational decisions that help them avoid missing out.
Unlike my impulsive purchase at M Gemi, I wasn’t particularly in love with the shoes I chose from Nasty Gal. But the pain of missing out on the 70% discount was too great. When else would I be able to own shoes valued at $190 for far less? Probably never.
Verdict: Marketing Fail
In the end, my shoes failed to arrive within the 72-hour express shipping window. I chalked this up to staff coping with an insane amount of sales volume, and decided it wasn’t worth getting angry over. I followed up once and got reassurance that the shipping cost will be waived. After an email on 8 March saying that my order will eventually arrive, I got no further updates.
To be fair, I haven’t been as proactive about following up (I’d since purchased better-looking heels from Mango and had bigger things to worry about). In fact, I almost forgot about it until I read this article from Racked. Thousands of customers are, like me, waiting in limbo for their sale purchases and really pissed about it.
Apparently, Nasty Gal’s new owners, Boohoo, did not buy their operations, resulting in a lot of confusion as to who will fulfill purchases from the sale. Following up on my order resulted in this response:
“Thank you for getting in touch with us here at Nasty Gal.
We sadly cannot track, resend or refund orders placed before the 02/28 changeover.
This is as we do not have access to these order details as these were sent from a warehouse out of our holdings.
I can only apologise as the previous owners had informed us they would fulfil orders placed under their management.
We would suggest that you firstname.lastname@example.org for a full refund for your items.”
In other words, I should just kiss my shoes and money goodbye.
Nasty Gal’s 70% off sale is a lesson for consumers to pay better attention and ask questions when a deal seems too good to be true. Thanks to some seriously slick cool-girl marketing, shoppers with the habit of clicking without thinking got tricked into buying orders that were probably not meant to be fulfilled. And because Amoruso had time to build a lucrative, TV show-worthy personal brand that women believe in, she gets to walk away from this mess relatively unscathed.
Meanwhile, I better start branding myself as the kind of woman who will never ever wear stilettos to look good on a first date.