I often like to look at other industries, companies, and media and explore how book marketers and book publicists can apply the successful principles to the art of selling a book. But in the case of Priceline, I only have a negative example to showcase what one shouldn’t do.
I used to like Priceline.com. They helped make shopping for a hotel easy and I saved some money in the process. Their spokesman, actor William Shatner, gives them good street credibility. But as of now, I think Priceline exhibits poor customer service, lack ethics, and is synonymous with fraud.
What, you may ask, has my ire?
Priceline tried to pull a fast one on me, and perhaps millions of others, and when I called them about their unsavory business practices, they stood by their poor behavior. They will not grow a brand in a positive direction with a formula of screwing the customer and turning them off.
My wife and I went to book the first of several hotels for a family trip we’re planning.
Priceline gives you a few ways to search for deals on hotels. You can bid based on price and hotel-rating. You can also see their pricing for hotels and just sign-up directly for a specific hotel.
After surveying three-star hotels for the city we were looking to stay in for the dates we needed, we saw hotels ranged greatly in price. We set the parameters that we wanted a 3-star hotel for $101. We tried with 4-star and then 3.5-star hotels and came away with nothing. So we tried a search for three stars at that price.
The understanding consumers have is that hotels that list on their site for a rate above my bid price of $101 can choose to lower their rate and match the customer’s offer. What is not expected is that a hotel that already lists for less than my bid price of $101 would be allowed to bid up and equal my offer.
Well, that’s exactly what happened. The Ramada Inn, listing for $89, was allowed to contract with me for $101. I called Priceline to explain that the auction process is not supposed to work this way and that I was getting ripped off.
They apologized and said they would match the $89 price and refund the $12 difference. Only problem is that I didn’t want that hotel. I wanted a hotel that was priced higher to lower its price.
The hotel they tried to stick me with, could have been had for less than $89 if that’s what I wanted. For instance, I could’ve put in a bid for $80 and likely that hotel would’ve dropped to that. Further, if I wanted the $89 hotel I could’ve just made a reservation with them directly through Priceline and not use the bidding process. If I had, I’d have the right to cancel within 24 or 48 hours of my scheduled stay. Under the bidding process, no cancellations are allowed.
So, not to weigh you down with details, but Priceline screwed me.
You may say no big deal. I still have a hotel with a low rate, right? Well, brings me to problem number two. The hotel is a complete dump that has no business being rated three stars or even being available by Priceline. On Priceline.com, reviews from the past week vilified it for being dirty, filled with roaches, and for charging for parking and providing lies about fees. One customer said they had to cancel their second night. This is not a place I want to stay in.
What further frustrated me is that Priceline acted as if it had no wiggle room. I told them of my complaint and they ignored it. I told them I’d gladly be a customer and choose a different hotel and told them I had many hotel dates that needed to be booked.
They refused to help.
There was an arrogance about Priceline that seemed to contradict their public image or previous behavior. But when the bidding process is rigged, it undermines a consumer’s confidence. The integrity of the organization can no longer be supported by the idea they will act in a fair manner. They seemingly violate their own rules – and the law – as well as the spirit of good business practices.
I will appeal to my credit card company, believing they will hear me out and investigate. I might also contact the attorney general. I’m so angry at Priceline. I can’t waste time making a federal case out of this, but I can’t be ripped off and allow others to fall prey to their manipulative business maneuverings.
Don’t market your book like Priceline. Here are some lessons to apply:
1. Only promise what you can deliver on – and deliver as promised.
2. If a customer immediately wants to reverse a sale moments after it took place, allow it.
3. When a customer questions your business ethics, respond quickly in a way that shows the consumer you care about them and will make amends.
4. Don’t do business with crappy vendors. Priceline only needs to read its own site to see that the hotel it offered is not up to standards. If you sell your book in combination with another publisher, author, or product/service provider, make sure they won’t embarrass you.
5. Don’t lie, mislead, or try to fool your customer.
The year still has five-plus months to go but the newly created award for Worst Company of the Year goes to Priceline, for trying to rip customers off and then doing nothing when they are called on the carpet. If you want to do business with an ethical company, look elsewhere.
And never devolve your brand as an author or book publicist as Priceline has.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013
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