I’m not a coupon person. I don’t know why I’m not, but I don’t find myself at the grocery store digging through a coupon wallet the way my mother did to ensure I get $.25 off on that discounted meat I like to buy for a little game I call “Will this kill me tonight?” When shopping online, however, it’s a completely different story. Like many others, checking out of an online store isn’t complete until I run the brand or retailer through a search engine to see if there are any online coupons I can use. One of the common sites that comes up is RetailMeNot, an aggregator of coupon codes. Sometimes the codes work, more often they don’t, but it’s all part of my buying process.
And you have to imagine that, for the most part, retailers love sites like this. Coupons, after all, are designed to get buyers to try out a store or a brand. Making those coupons more widely available should naturally result in more first-tries, more purchases when there might otherwise be less. It’s a promotional tool, if nothing else, likely a free advertising source for these stores and brands. Mary Kay Cosmetics, in its never-ending wisdom, has decided to sue RetailMeNot for fraud and trademark infringement, litigating against the hand that feeds them.
Mary Kay Cosmetics is suing affiliate site Google Ventures-backed RetailMeNot in federal court for precisely for this reason. The company doesn’t sell directly to the public — though its corporate site makes it appear otherwise — and says it doesn’t offer deals or coupons. Therefore the company says that RetailMeNot’s presentation of Mary Kay coupons misleads consumers and harms the brand and its relationship with its sales reps (independent consultants) in several ways.
Okay, a couple of things to note from that pull quote. First, Mary Kay absolutely does sell direct to customers on its website. Not its entire catalog, perhaps. For that, you probably have to deal with one of the low-on-the-pyramid “sales reps” that hasn’t figured out the Mary Kay business model yet. As for whether Mary Kay offers coupons or deals, they absolutely do that, too. You can get free gifts with certain purchase amounts or free shipping on certain amounts, for instance. I played along at the Mary Kay website to find out, so you can see the screenshot below.
Now, while these aren’t the kinds of coupons that have a code, the kind that people will usually travel to a site like RetailMeNot to get, so what? RetailMeNot is a service for alerting consumers to sales, coupons, and deals. When there is no coupon code, the site drives traffic directly to the retailer’s site for the deal instead. For instance:
The Mary Kay site is displayed and consumers are directed there for their needs. I have no idea where the fraud is here and, if it’s trademark infringement, it’s the kind of infringement most businesses should be begging for. Driving traffic of interested consumers directly to your website? That deserves a “thank you”, not a lawsuit.
And, in truth, the higher ups at Mary Kay probably have no problem with any of this. Unfortunately, the Mary Kay business model means that consumers visiting the website really aren’t Mary Kay’s most important customers. It’s lower level employees are. The folks at the bottom of the triangle have been complaining that their customers are referencing the deals on the Mary Kay site that RetailMeNot is pointing out and demanding the same deals from the local reps. And, because Mary Kay makes a fat percentage of its money directly from those reps, rather than from consumers, pissed off “Independant Beauty Consultants” are a problem. Hence the stupid lawsuit in which Mary Kay admits as much.
RMN’s listing of these “sales,” “deals,” and “coupons” harms Mary Kay and its relationship with its customers (the IBCs). Mary Kay has received various complaints from IBCs and others, who have been pressured by customers to accept and/or honor the false or unauthorized “coupons” posted on RMN’s website.
RetailMeNot’s site is pointing back to Mary Kay’s website. That’s what makes all of this not only legal, but certainly not underhanded. Now, I still can’t quite fathom why Mary Kay, even after admitting who its real customers are in a legal filing, can’t immediately be disbanded as a pyramid scheme, but that’s entirely besides the point. RMN is under no obligation to keep Mary Kay customers happy and driving traffic to a retailer’s website isn’t grounds for a lawsuit. And it appears the site is willing to fight, according to the statement it provided.
RetailMeNot, Inc. takes concerns related to third party intellectual property very seriously. RetailMeNot, Inc. continues to believe that it operates in compliance with law and in the best interests of consumers and its retail partners by aggregating information to help shoppers save money using its websites and mobile apps. RetailMeNot, Inc. believes the allegations in this lawsuit are without merit and intends to vigorously contest this matter.
Sigh. No good deed and all that….