The Most Embarrassing Retail Moments of 2013

Even when a beloved brand is at the top of its game, just one slip-up — say, a cringeworthy ad or an attempt at risqué humor –– can cause it to fall swiftly from grace. And this past year, companies have made plenty of mistakes — from sexist marketing to fat-shaming consumers. “Before the days of social media, a PR company would filter all of a company's ads and public statements to make sure its messages were appropriate,” Christopher Cakebread, an advertising professor at Boston University, tells Yahoo Shine. “Nowadays, when companies misstep, consumers hear about it quickly through screenshots, shares, and tweets. Social media also allows people to communicate directly with companies, giving them influence over branding decisions, even the power to make big corporations apologize." And big business did plenty of apologizing this year — here are just five embarrassing retail mistakes.  
 
A&F has been accused of bullying. (Corbis) Abercrombie & Fitch's plus-size policy: The teen brand that exudes athleticism and sex has always courted controversy. In 2002, for example, it sold thong underwear to young girls. The following year, the company stopped publishing its catalog after complaints poured in over sexual overtones and nudity. But the company’s reputation really suffered this year, after a 2006 Salon interview with CEO Mike Jeffries resurfaced online. In it, Jeffries said of A&F’s target audience, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” His comments, along with an ABC News undercover investigation that revealed the store didn’t carry sizes above large for women, caused many to accuse the brand of weight discrimination. Cut to Florida teen Benjamin O’Keefe’s Change.org petition calling on Abercrombie & Fitch to diversify its range of sizes (which garnered more than 80,000 signatures), a mea culpa from A&F, and in November, amid reports of dismal sales, a vow to expand its women’s sizes by spring 2014, an announcement many saw simply as damage control.  Only time will tell if the company can get back in the public’s good graces.

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Some of Lululemon's yoga pants were recalled in 2013. (Photo: AP) Lulemon’s “sheer” audacity: By the time Lululemon founder Chip Wilson and Chief Executive Officer Christine Day stepped down from their positions this year, few people were surprised. After all, the yoga clothing company had spent the past year fumbling through multiple PR mishaps. In March, it halted production of its $100 nylon-and-Lycra yoga pants after customers discovered they were indecently sheer. In response, Lululemon enacted an unofficial policy whereby women could return or exchange the pants — as long as they agreed to bend over while wearing them, so that salespeople could determine the severity of sheerness. And in July, the company further alienated its customers when reports leaked that few stores stocked sizes larger than 12. But Lululemon suffered its biggest blow in November, when Wilson, a guest on Bloomberg TV’s “Street Smart” show, offered this explanation for why the brand's yoga pants tend to pill: “Frankly some women’s bodies just actually don't work for it.” To its credit, the company acknowledges its mistakes have led to slumping sales. On Thursday, Chief Financial Officer John Currie said on a conference call with analysts that the company’s public relations disasters have "undoubtedly" affected Lululemon's business. "Any time there's negative PR for a company, there's an impact on the business," he said. "I'm not saying we can see a one-to-one correlation, but let's face it, we've had lots of PR issues this year."

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The lotion in question. (Burt's Bees) Burt's Bees "sexist" body lotion: Skincare company Burt’s Bees has an eco-friendly, socially conscious rep, so in November, 29-year-old customer Colleen Kiphart was shocked to discover a jar of Vanilla Flame Body Butter lotion bearing a label that read, “Soak in the moisturizing seductiveness of shea butter and indulge in the scent of vanilla and rice milk. And let the catcalling commence.” Kiphart tweeted a photo of the lotion, made by Güd, a division of Burt’s Bees, to Hollaback, an anti-street-harassment group that encouraged her to launch a petition, which garnered 2,000 supporters. Burt’s Bees ultimately issued an apology on Facebook, but that wasn’t good enough — Hollaback wanted a second, more “genuine” apology and a donation to its organization. The brand issued a second apology, and Hollaback was satisfied.
 
McDonald's accidentally gave some bad advice. (CBS) McDonald's out-of-touch advice: In December, shortly after McDonald’s employees in 100 cities walked off the job to protest low wages, the fast-food giant published a holiday etiquette guide on its website, stocked with (now deleted) suggestions for how much employees should tip housecleaners, personal trainers, au pairs, and massage therapists. Given the fact that the average U.S. fast-food worker earns $9 per hour, the advice rubbed employees the wrong way. The tipping guide inevitably made the Internet rounds, prompting a McDonald’s rep to issue a formal statement to CNBC that read, "This is content provided by a third-party partner and quotes from one of the best-known etiquette gurus, Emily Post. We continue to review the resource and will ask the vendor to make changes as needed."

A screenshot from the Mountain Dew ad. Mountain Dew’s tasteless ad: Few brands would want to associate itself with violence and racism, but soft drink Mountain Dew did just that with a commercial released online in May. The one-minute spot featured five African-American men standing in a police lineup, along with a talking goat. A badly beaten blond, Caucasian woman approaches the group while a guard says, “We got 'em all lined up. Nail the little sucker." The goat begins yelling at the woman to shut up and she runs from the room, screaming loudly. After drawing outrage for the ad’s racist overtones — one blogger called it "arguably the most racist commercial in history” — Pepsi Co. pulled the ad and issued an apology. "We apologize for this video and take full responsibility,” it said. 

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