The cigarette contest

My employer has this promotion: if someone buys two packs of a certain brand of cigarette and types their phone number into the register’s touchscreen, they save a little money.

And they have a “contest” to incentivize their employees to nudge customers toward the touchscreen: each week, each store that sells 30% of that brand of cigarettes as part of the twofer sale has a chance at a $500 gift card, presumably split amongst the employees.

And by 30% they mean 60%, because this multinational corporation screwed up the contest’s simple equation. The number of phone numbers divided by the number of packs sold is supposed to be at least 0.30, except each phone number covers two packs. Are they that stupid, or do they think we are? Or both?

For the first few weeks, the store manager posted the weekly results for the stores in our region, with encouraging little handwritten notes like “we moved up a place!” The results stopped coming, possibly because of the number of times people like me pointed out that (1) the equation was so broken that (2) none of the stores on the list qualified for this ridiculous alleged contest. Not one.

(On the last week, one store did supposedly qualify, but I wouldn’t put it past middle management to fudge the numbers. That location is almost 60 miles away and I don’t know anyone there, or I’d have double-checked with them.)

I, for one, made no real effort toward this contest. Why not?

  • I’m reluctant to upsell addictive poisons. Selling, sure, that’s the customer’s choice, but upselling and its attendant manipulation? No, thank you.
  • If I was okay with upselling cigarettes, I’d object to contest rules that penalize anyone who sells them by the carton, or more than three packs at a time.
  • Also, the last time I “won” a gift card as part of an upsale contest, it took management four months to pay up. They might never have paid up at all, except that one of the assistant managers offered me a gift card as an incentive to work extra hours on short notice and I laughed in her face.
  • This contest is broken enough that I just can’t take it seriously.
  • If I did take it seriously, I’d be using it as a chance to push back against corporate’s mindless drive to upsell all the things to everyone all the time. On larger transactions, the registers have been known to spit out five or six different automated upsale prompts, plus whichever product management is encouraging us to push on everyone this month. Enough.

Why would I?

If a customer is buying two packs already, I remind them that the touchscreen’s number pad exists. That’s at least as much effort as this promotion deserves.

Categories: PiecesTags: ,


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