One good way for new companies to spread awareness of their products is to offer referral credits to customers: get a friend to sign up or buy, and you get money to spend with the company. But period underwear company THINX may be rethinking (rethinxing?) its referral program, as some people are now claiming it’s taking back thousands of dollars in credits it doled out to customers and bloggers.
For those not in the know, THINX makes underwear that the company says can replace the need for panty liners and can be used in conjunction with other feminine hygiene products like pads and tampons, depending on each individual’s needs.
Put A Cup In It, a site that advocates the use of menstrual cups and other alternatives to pads and tampons, laid out claims made by various bloggers and customers who purchased the panties and shared their referral codes in a blog post on Thursday.
To get people to share its brand, THINX offered a refer-a-friend program: share a unique code with your pals, they get $10 off their first order, and you get $10 by way of a code that could be used like a gift card.
“When they make a purchase you’ll also get a $10 THINX gift card as a reward! Pretty straightforward. Go on, now. Get that guap. You deserve it.” read the email, via Put A Cup In It.
That’s a pretty good deal, when you take into account the $24-$38 price tag for each pair of underwear — stacking up those codes could mean never having to pay for underwear ever again. Bloggers bought the panties themselves and reviewed them, in turn, sharing their referrals, including a co-founder of Put A Cup In It.
“I had been asked about THINX several times by readers so when their PR person asked for a call to discuss a review and giveaway I figured ‘why not.’ I spent 30 minutes chatting and the PR person was quick to offer free THINX for me to review, and she wanted a video review,” says Kim Rosas of Dirty Diaper Laundry. “When I mentioned I had fees for a giveaway she didn’t seem as pleased, but asked me to send that information. I didn’t hear from her again for 6 whole months, by which time I’d already purchased a pair, published a review, and earned hundreds of $10 gift codes.”
As those kinds of posts circulated in the blogging world, Rosas says she wrote to the company to find a way to keep things from spiraling out of control: she realized if she used all the gift card codes she’d amassed, and if others did the same, the company would be out of thousands of dollars in product.
She approached THINX with an idea for a more traditional affiliate program where referrals would earn bloggers 5-10% of purchases. She says that in response, THINX said it was discontinuing the current program and would be in touch if other opportunities came up.
A few weeks later, THINX’s referral program changed, Put A Cup In It says: after April 28, referring friends and readers to THINX earned a $10 coupon code — but only toward a single purchase. Codes aren’t considered gift cards and cannot be combined or accrued in a user’s account. Under this system, each time you want to use that $10 off, you’d only get that discount on one purchase, meaning you’d pay the difference in price up front, instead of being able to apply a bunch of gift codes and pay nothing.
Rosas says she sent about $100 in THINX codes from her bank of codes she’d earned to her hairdresser, who tried to use them without success. When she clicked on the codes in her email collection, each one showed up as disabled. Other friends reported back to her with similar stories.
“I was humiliated and felt robbed by the company I’d been shouting from the rooftops for months,” she says, after having around $2,000 in gift cards deactivated.
One customer claims she posted a question about the referral program on the THINX Facebook page, only to have it deleted.
“Seriously? You deleted my post from yesterday asking a question about this and never answered,” she wrote, posting a link to Put A Cup In It’s story. “Is this true? Are you deleting our referral codes? It appears you did it to some bloggers. Don’t delete this. Put your big girl Thinx on and address this. ”
Currently, the “get $10” link on the THINX website promotes a “Give $10, Get $10” model. Customers used to the previous referral system might not realize the change, as there’s nothing to indicate that the $10 is only for a single purchase.
While it makes sense for a company to change a program that could be causing them to bleed money, pun unintended, it’s also a good idea to alert your customers to that change, communicate what will happen to the referral dollars they’ve already collected.
The Company’s Response
When we reached out to THINX for a comment on their referral program and any changes to it, the company said in an emailed response that THINX saw “thousands of fraudulent orders created by ‘customers’ who were severely abusing the referral program as it was structured.”
According to THINX, those customers created fake bots and scripts that generated new email addresses, allowing them to then use those emails to sign up for the referral program. That brought them thousands of gift cards, THINX says, because the program was designed to send a $10 gift card to any new customer who created an account.
“Thousands of pairs were ‘purchased’ with these fake gift cards and sold on the second hand market. The loss was devastating,” THINX told Consumerist in the emailed statement.
“After we discovered this issue, we still had hundreds of thousands of dollars in unused, active gift cards from the program and a grand larceny investigation revealed as many as half could have been created maliciously,” THINX’s statement explains.
Because of that, THINX had to disable all the remaining codes.
“We let as many legitimate customers as possible know that we were disabling the current program and enabling a different one that would provide new $10 off codes that could not be combined together,” the company said.
As for any value the customers lost when those emailed codes were disabled, THINX says the company reached out to anyone with a significant number of legitimate gift cards and offered them “several different options for how they’d like their remaining credits handled.”
“If for some reason anyone affected has not been notified of this change, or has missed the original emails pertaining to the situation, we sincerely apologize and urge them to reach out to email@example.com to have the matter rectified immediately,” THINX said.
As for the customer who claimed that her post had been deleted from THINX’s Facebook page, the company says: “We never delete comments and we’re working on answering her momentarily.”
Why We No Longer Support THINX [Put A Cup In It]