Online Store Syndrome: Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment


How many times have you seen your organization’s logo on an inappropriate item, in all the wrong colors, or misappropriated in some “horrific” way? It’s marketing’s worst nightmare. They spent month upon month working with a designer to get the logo exactly right. They scrupulously tweaked the dot above the i, meticulously selected exactly the right shade of blue from 200 other shades of blue, and scrutinized every single font until they found precisely the right one to represent their organization.  Then they painstakingly selected 20 of the most perfect promotional items for their field agents to give to their clients. They even pre-purchased inventory so goods could be ordered through the online store for quick and easy delivery. And, all was right with the world…until it wasn’t. The field agents went and ruined it all. They slapped the organization’s beloved logo on a cheap neon lighter and gave it out to all of their clients, which to marketing felt more like a cheap neon slap in the face.

Working daily on our technology implementations, I can almost predict word-for-word what our new marketing clients are going to say when discussing the effectiveness of their current online store.  “Three years ago we wanted to make it easier for our buyers (whether field agents, sales team, HR, or from other departments) to buy our organization’s branded merchandise, so our supplier built this great online store for us.  But nobody is using it!  They’re all going out and buying random branded merchandise from wherever they want.  We’ve lost control of our brand and how it’s represented in the field, and we have no idea how much we actually spend on this category.”

We call this the Online Store Syndrome.


What are the causes, diagnosis and treatment? Let’s take a look.


I often find that online stores are initially successful. Buyers are very excited when the store first launches and they quickly place orders for all of the fun promos their hearts desire. They proudly give the products to their very important clients through engaging campaigns, and their recipients are very happy.

It works so well, the buyers go back to the online store when they are ready for their next campaign, and what do they find?  Exactly the same products.  So, they ask marketing for some new products, marketing starts working with their suppliers, and the time it takes to get the right products is too long. The buyers starts buying on their own. Marketing gets busy with other priorities. The campaign passes. And, the cycle repeats. Sometimes for three years!

So, buyers take their budgets elsewhere and marketing loses oversight of brand usage and category spend.


What marketing doesn’t realize is that they, with the help of their promotional supplier, assisted in enabling this behavior. By agreeing to buy a large quantity of inventory, and effectively limiting the options, they forgot that it’s not really about the product – even though your traditional promotional product distributor would love to tell you that it is. It’s really about the moment when the recipient receives the branded product. It’s that moment we call Brand Love.

It’s about rewarding, incentivizing, motivating, satisfying, exciting, and educating. Driving a recipient to action. Increasing retention, participation, and loyalty.  Making people feel important, included, curious, and intrigued.  And, how can you do that with the same exact products year over year?

You really can’t.

And, now marketing is left scrambling and asking themselves: How do we re-engage?  What about all that inventory still sitting in the warehouse? How do we get control back? How do we ensure brand integrity? How do we reign in the rogue spending? How do we give our buyers the flexibility to delight our clients without giving them free reign with the brand?

Here we come to the heart of the problem: Marketing is the expert in brand, messaging, and creativity, while buyers are the experts in what products are going to foster the results they want to achieve.  If they don’t work together, neither team will succeed.


  • Build an online environment to give buyers options, and where those options can be updated quickly and regularly.
  • Partner with creative product experts who know how to drive recipient behavior.
  • Gain insights through visibility into what works for others across the organization and/or industry.
  • Continually evolve the program to consistently meet buyer and client demands.
  • Stop buying so much inventoried product. In this day and age, many suppliers have the ability to turn an order in 24 hours. Why buy stuff to put in a warehouse when much of it will be obsolete in three months?
  • Give buyers the tools they need to share their ideas and explore creative, unique options in a safe environment where purchases can be reviewed and approved.
  • Focus on delighting recipients and building Brand Love.

Because in the end, isn’t that really what it’s all about?

One response to “Online Store Syndrome: Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment”

  1. Great article. You are so right on. The solutions were excellent. Brand integrity is so important.

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