Williams-Sonoma's curious Sandy promotion

Do victims of the damaging storm really need expensive cookware?

By Jonathan Berr Nov 20, 2012 9:47AM

Fuse Fuse Getty ImagesWhen it comes to helping victims of Superstorm Sandy, the folks at Williams-Sonoma (WSM) may have their hearts in the right place -- but you have to wonder about their brains.

The upscale cookware retailer is running a promotion (see here) offering 20% off purchases at its retail stores and catalog orders to people who were affected by Sandy as long as they provide proof from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or their insurance companies. Now, I like a good public relations stunt as much as anybody, but this is just silly.

Do executives at the San Francisco company, which is also the parent of Pottery Barn, really think that residents of the Jersey Shore, Staten Island and Long Island areas decimated by Sandy are giving much thought to $460 toasters, $600 stainless steel saute pans and $800 food processors? I would think not because they have much bigger concerns.

Clean-up work continues in Seaside Heights, N.J., where Sandy picked up a roller-coaster as if it was a child's toy and dunked part of into the nearby Atlantic Ocean. The town has become infamous because it's where "Jersey Shore" was shot, but even the cast of that awful show is pitching in to help. Meanwhile, FEMA is giving about 30,000 grants to residents of Long Island, mostly in Nassau County. People on Staten Island are worried about freezing to death because some of them still don't have power and can't get to work because certain streets are still impassable, according to CBS.

The impact of Sandy will be felt in the Northeast for years if not decades. Rebuilding will cost billions and even then some officials, including Gov. Chris Christie, have said the area may never be the same.

If Williams-Sonoma wanted to help the victims of Sandy out, there are tons of non-profits such as the Red Cross that would appreciate the company's support. Instead, the retailer decided to exploit the storm for its maximum public relations value. Its executives didn't seem to give much thought about doing something that would actually help people. That's just sad.

Williams-Sonoma did not respond to a request for comment, but in an earnings call last week, CEO Laura Alber expressed concern for Sandy victims and said that many company employees have offered support to impacted communities. "While the recent storms have caused some disruptions to our business, our response has been focused on assisting our associates and customers in need," Alber added.

The company's latest earnings disappointed Wall Street. This promotion let down everyone else because it showed that the one group Wiliams-Sonoma was interested in helping was itself. It forgot the "public" part in public relations.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr

Tags: WSM
Nov 27, 2012 12:05PM
Who are you Mr. Berr to offer such a negative opinion regarding WS's nice gesture? I hope for your sake you live in an area hit hard by the storm... I live adjacent to Seaside Heights and I can tell you that through all of the misery and sadness this was something that actually cheered me up.  Many items I received at my bridal shower from WS were destroyed so to know that I will be able to replace some at a discount  in the future is something.  This discount goes right to those affected unlike all the donations made by other companies that I haven't heard anyone getting yet.  Other stores offering discounts to victims with no expiration so they can rebuild their homes are Crate and Barrel and West Elm.  Sorry Mr. Berr but you do not know what you are talking about.  Maybe you should write about Home Depot and Lowes (2 stores that all victims need to buy things from) are NOT offering any discount to Sandy victims.
Nov 30, 2012 4:12PM
For those of us who lost expensive items why should they be replaced by the basic item found at a discounted store- Insurance if anything at all gives you a fraction of the replacement cost. I think its great upscale retailers offer a discount!  If I lost a $460 toaster to the storm why shouldlnt it be replaced by another one? Ethan Allen is also offering a discount too!
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