WHS Carpet: lessons brands can learn from the Twitter parody account

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Whippet consider what marketers can learn from WHS Smith's parody Twitter account, WHS Carpet.

If you’re not familiar with the WHS Carpet Twitter account, think of disgruntled/highly amused Brits sharing photos of their shopping experiences.

Named after the blue carpets of a certain stationary brand, the account was created by an anonymous Twitter user, who thinks that said brand is letting standards slip, and it’s since grown to include other retailers too.

The same grievances crop up again and again – most of them easy fixes, causing unnecessary hassle for the shopper and bad feeling towards the brand.

With the so-called ‘retail apocalypse’ looming ever nearer (or already happening, depending on who you talk to), brands can learn a few important lessons from WHS Carpet.

1. Always look presentable

Gaffer-taped flooring; shelves propped up like cars with stolen wheels; and hand-written signage on lined paper: a scroll through WHS Carpet proves that customers do care about superficial details and they will share them on Twitter – so it’s false economy to ignore them. People want to root for the brands they’ve grown up with (remember all the nostalgic lamenting on Twitter when Toys R Us folded?) – that’s why they’re so critical when their expectations are not met in store.

2. Be clear with pricing

Would you rather have two bags of chocolate buttons for £2, two for £3 or one for £1.29? If you’re in a rush, the answer is probably none at all. Busy shoppers don’t have time to work out complicated pricing; it’s better to have no offer than a confusing one. This could be remedied by implementing a clear pricing strategy and empowering staff to to stick to it e.g. No discounts less than x% and Only one ‘x for £x’ offer per product.

3. Strive for synergy

A common feature of the WHS Carpet account: products supported by a completely unrelated campaign, like the Easter campaign above, being used to promote a mishmash of household products.

Other examples include a book store’s ‘Everyone’s talking about’ message, probably designed to promote a singular, popular title, being used to highlight various baby board books; and bottles of spirits in a supermarket, accompanied by a ‘Dry January’ campaign.

If staff are continuously having to push products unrelated to the campaign created by an agency or Head Office, then perhaps it’s time to introduce a few generic themes to use in emergencies.

4. Stay up to date

Christmas promos in March, annuals for years gone by, merchandise for now-defunct boy bands… there’s something so unsettling and uninspiring about seeing out-of-date stock and comms.

Retail is all about meeting customer needs; if the time for needing it has long since past, it shouldn’t really be on sale.

5. Don’t make them laugh

One sarky Twitter post from a disgruntled customer might not make much noise, but a post from a highly amused customer who has spotted a clanger? That’ll spread like wildfire.

When it comes to comms that could be misconstrued, brands could give stores a list of all the products it must not be used with.

The heat is on for the high street

When there’s a new story every week about retail businesses going into administration, brands are under immense pressure to justify their presence on the UK high street, and to prove that they’re doing enough to avoid closures and job losses.

From holes in the floor to incorrect pricing, you can bet that after taking snaps of these gaffes, shoppers don’t stick around to buy the thing they came in for.

WHS Carpet shows that the minutiae of the retail environment has a huge effect on shopper experience – and brands can’t afford to ignore it.

Carla Heath is the managing director at Whippet.

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