Talbots Has Robots Call Customers -- And Can't Even Do It Right

Last Updated Apr 28, 2010 6:55 PM EDT

When you're an upscale women's clothier, it's cheesy to make automated telemarketing calls to your customers to flog your latest sale. But that's what Talbots' managers decided to do last year. Now, it turns out the robot-calling campaign wasn't just lame, it also broke the law.

This week, Talbots paid a $112,000 fine to the Federal Trade Commission for violating Do Not Call Registry laws on 3.4 million robo-calls made between February and July last year. Its telemarketer, SmartReply, paid a small fine as well. Their error? Customers couldn't opt out and be placed on the Do Not Call list soon enough or easily enough during the calls to comply with the law.

Talbots got off easy on the fine, as it could have paid as much as $16,000 per violation. It may not be as easy to recover from the brand damage caused by contacting customers with annoying recorded calls. In this era where retail managers can execute terrifically inexpensive, customized email campaigns, it's a mystery why Talbots' team elected to use such an impersonal and intrusive marketing method.

The company has been struggling in the downturn, recently contemplating a reverse-merger deal to raise cash needed to pay off debts. The chain is also trying to revitalize its fashions to appeal to younger shoppers. The robo-calling marketing misstep is exactly what the company doesn't need right now. Hopefully this experience has put Talbots off using telemarketing, and company managers will find more appropriate ways of staying in touch with customers.

Photo via Flickr user vlima.com

  • Carol Tice

    Carol Tice is a longtime business reporter whose work has appeared in Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times, and Nation's Restaurant News, among others. Online sites she's written for include Allbusiness.com and Yahoo!Hotjobs. She blogs about the business of writing at Make a Living Writing.