A few weeks ago I received an email from a frustrated Costco.com shopper, Mike P. in Arizona. He shared some news in his message that was shocking to me, and left me frustrated as well. He told me that on a recent visit to the Costco.com website he had been bombarded with an intrusive and most unwelcome advertisement for Olay while looking at restaurant gift cards. I was floored that Costco would do this, quite frankly. Here’s what Mike had to say in his email, including an image of the Olay ad:
I have been more and more disappointed by Costco’s changes recently. Not only are we losing American Express, the credit card vendor with customer service that equals Costco, but now their web division is using intrusive advertising. Not only are page results “Sponsored” now, but a huge banner dropped down from the top that took up 1/3 of my screen. Then it started playing video! This is the sort of advertisement one is more likely to find on an illicit website rather than a reputable one. Look at some competition – Best Buy, Amazon, Sam’s, and Walmart – none of them have video advertisements because they upset or infuriate shoppers. It is worse with Costco because I am a paying member, which should eliminate or reduce the need for Costco to put advertisements on their website. After all, my much cheaper memberships to news outlets reduce or eliminate ads. I am attaching a screen capture.
I can reproduce it in Internet Explorer as well as Firefox by going to Costco.com, and typing “Restaurant gift” into the search box, and clicking “Gift Baskets & Gift Cards”. As if it isn’t bad enough that Costco is now advertising to their members, they are using some of the worst possible choices. For starters, on mouseover the advertisement at the top opens a huge black bar and starts a video. And at the bottom is another banner that is served by Doubleclick.net. This advertisement company has been known to inject malware and viruses onto people’s computers — See this link for an example of when this happened:
I couldn’t agree with Mike more! For those of you that aren’t aware (probably most of you), in my former life I was a usability consultant for software and websites. I did that for more than 15 years, consulting for companies both big and small around the world. When I see things like this happen to a website for a company that I respect, it makes me wonder who is offering them advice. And why are they taking it? As Mike points out, you pay for your Costco membership and that should mean an ad-free browsing space online, not just that you are a captive audience to hit with ads for things that aren’t even related to what you are shopping for in the first place. Serving up ads like this just makes me wonder if they do not understand their website visitors and couldn’t have used that information to extrapolate how poorly ads would be received. Also, why not just stick with the sections for top sellers or what others viewed to get people to have a deeper interaction with the site and lead them to different products. Or, use an Amazon style recommendation section to suggest things that might be of interest based on other purchases or things in the cart. All of these options are less intrusive to site visitors, plus people feel like you are helping them with these suggestions, which is rarely something people feel about online advertising.
I have ads on my blog (over there in the right-hand column) to generate income to support my blog because it’s the only source of income I’ve got here. But Costco clearly doesn’t have that situation with their ecommerce website, which certainly shouldn’t need to depend on ad revenue for generating income. If you’re going to place an ad on your site, the very least you can do is make in not so intrusive and definitely don’t make it one of those annoying ads that takes over the browser and starts playing video without input from the shopper/reader/viewer. There is nothing more annoying and off-putting than an ad (or a news story for that matter) that just starts playing video. I, and most people on the Internet, want the control of deciding when and if I will play a video; I definitely don’t want to leave that up to some random website guy to decide. There wouldn’t be so many plug-ins and extensions for browsers to stop ads and Flash if people didn’t get really ticked off about it.
To me, Costco running intrusive ads on their website is no different than if they made us all stop and listen to the Vitamix blender guy before we could do our shopping in the warehouse. No one would be okay with that, and I have a hard time believing people are going to be really appreciative of pushy ads on their website either.
It has been a couple of weeks since Mike sent me his email and in that time I was trying to see if I could get the ads to display and under what circumstances. It was my hope that they were running some type of an experiment on the site to see how the ads would be received and if it would lead to sales. I use different browsers than Mike, Chrome and Safari, and did not get the same ad situation when I went to the restaurant gift card page, or any other pages for that matter. I also did not get the little “recommended for you” sidebar that you can see in Mike’s screen capture. I tried being logged in and not being logged in, but still didn’t get the ads. I have tried this over several days too, just to make sure that nothing popped up. Of course, I might not be able to trigger the ads since I’m a non-US visitor (obviously, my IP address indicates I’m coming from the UK). But at this point I am hopeful that they were trying something out and have found that it just doesn’t work for them and isn’t the right step for the Costco.com website. Because it really, really isn’t.
Have you seen this type of unpleasant advertising cropping up on the Costco.com website? What do you think about this type of advertising in general and how would you feel seeing it on the Costco shopping websites?