Southwest Airlines Removes Passenger for Tweet about Bad Customer Service

Twitter logoYou may have read the story about the Minnesota man and his kids who were removed from a Southwest Airlines flight because he expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s boarding policy on Twitter.

The father wanted his two kids to board early with him but because of their status that was denied. Here’s USAToday’s summary of the incident:

Duff Watson of New Hope, Minn. [said] he’s an elite “A-List” member of Southwest’s Rapid Rewards frequent-flier program. A-List customers are entitled to early boarding because of their status, and Watson assumed that would include his children – ages 9 and 6 – who were traveling with him on a flight from Denver to Minneapolis.

A gate agent informed Watson that was not the case, and they’d have to wait until after priority boarding to get on the aircraft. But Watson, [reported he had] been able to board early with his kids on previous trips, claims the gate agent “rudely and dismissively” told him they’d have to wait.

The father, Duff Watson, expressed his frustration on Twitter and included the gate agent’s first name:


He was later asked to leave the flight because the gate agent felt “threatened.” Once he agreed to delete the tweet he and his children were allowed to get back on the flight.

The carrier, according to its own “contract of carriage” (embedded below) is permitted to deny boarding or remove passengers from the plane under a range of circumstances. Here’s my incomplete, edited version of the conditions or circumstances:

  • Whenever such action is necessary, with or without notice, for reasons of aviation safety
  • Force Majeure Event (outside carrier’s control)
  • Government Request or Regulation (compliance with law)
  • Interference with Flight Crew: Passengers who interfere or attempt to interfere with any member of the flight crew in carrying out its duties
  • Search of Passenger or Property
  • (Refusal to provide) Proof of Identity
  • Incompatible Medical Requirements
  • Comfort and Safety . . . including (i) Persons whose conduct is or has been known to be disorderly, abusive, offensive, threatening, intimidating, violent, or whose clothing is lewd, obscene, or patently offensive.
  • Weapons
  • Non-Smoking Policy (violation of)

I’ve highlighted the the clauses that Southwest might have been able to point to to justify removal of the passenger and his family for the remarks on Twitter. This is probably why the rude gate agent used the phrase “threatened.” Otherwise the guy’s conduct doesn’t qualify.

In addition Southwest’s specific boarding-related policies (at least available on its site) are largely silent on this situation: letting lower-status children board with a priority boarding family member (United allows this). The one relevant statement I could find was the following:

Can groups assigned to different boarding positions board together?

Yes. However, in order to maintain the integrity of the boarding process, we ask that earlier boarding positions board with the later positions. For example, if a passenger is assigned position A16 and wants to board with a passenger assigned position A45, the passenger holding the A16 boarding pass should board with the A45 passenger.

Watson’s Tweet clearly was not a threat to the gate agent, nor did it create an unsafe or disorderly condition on the plane. It was a customer service complaint. Accordingly Southwest breached its contract with Watson and his children. It also violated his First Amendment rights.

The airline deserves to be sued. However because he was ultimately let back on the flight there are probably no damages and the case isn’t worth filing.

The larger point, and why I find this so outrageous, is that there’s a power struggle going on between customers/consumers and corporations. Companies have for years gotten away with unfair policies and poor customer service and social media are now leveling the playing field and putting pressure on them. Some companies are reacting with nefarious terms or by using intimidation tactics. This incident was an example of the latter.

I don’t believe that agent really felt threatened. She probably felt angry and offended.

Many (not all) airline employees have a tense, condescending or openly antagonistic relationship with passengers. This was likely an act of hostility or retaliation by the Southwest employee.

Southwest needs to discipline and train the employee. It also needs to be much more communicative about its boarding policies. The right thing to do in this situation would have been to let the kids board with their father and inform him of the policy and that this was an exception. Instead the company (and its embittered employee) chose to be punitive.


Study: PayPal Most Used Digital Wallet, Apple Passbook Used Most Often

Digital WalletA new survey about digital wallet usage from Thrive Analytics finds that there’s a significant gap between awareness (PC + mobile) and usage. As one might expect, usage is higher among younger people and payment security is the biggest usage inhibitor.

The online survey had 2,038 US adult respondents.

Interestingly the survey found that people are carrying relatively little cash. Half of all respondents reported carrying less than $20 in cash on regular basis with “71% of females carrying] less [than] $30 compared to 54% of males.” There’s no historical information in the survey; however I suspect people carry much less cash than they used to.

Digital Wallet Usage by age

Nearly 80% (78%) of survey respondents said they were aware of “digital wallets” but only 32% had ever used one. Usage was higher among those 43 years and under and among men.

It’s no surprise that PayPal is the most well known and widely used digital wallet. Google Wallet was second after PayPal followed by Groupon. The presence of Groupon begs the question of how these respondents understood the term “digital wallet.”

For example does a stored credit card on Amazon count as a “digital wallet”? Amazon doesn’t appear to have been a survey choice. But there’s effectively no difference between a stored credit card on Amazon and one in Groupon’s mobile app. It’s also interesting that Starbucks doesn’t show up, although there is broad discussion of merchant app usage in the report.

Digital Wallet usage

Overall it’s not clear what the breakdown of mobile vs. PC wallet usage is in the data. I would guess that the majority of PayPal usage identified is on the PC but a high percentage of Groupon and 100% of Apple Passbook transactions are mobile.

While PayPal had the greatest reach among the digital wallets Apple Passbook was more often used. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say Apple Passbook is used more frequently by those who use digital wallets.

Digital Wallet Usage frequency

In the chart above on the right it shows that average transaction amounts are relatively small. Of the top three most used digital wallets Google Wallet features the highest percentage of transactions over $30.

Below are the most common transaction categories according to the survey findings. Many of these are mobile.

Indeed, most of the frequent, lower-cost transactions happen on mobile devices. The survey found that “75% of transactions less than $10 are done weekly via a mobile phone” and “70% of transactions greater than $30 are done quarterly or later via a lap top.”

Mobile wallet usage

The main reason that people don’t use digital wallets is fear surrounding payment security. This is well established and echoed in earlier surveys. At one time that may have been a paranoid and irrational fear but given all the hacking and security breaches lately it’s much more rational to be concerned about digital payment security today.

The concern about payment security and the perception that cash and credit cards are “easier” suggests that digital (and specifically mobile) wallets still have a great distance to go to become more mainstream. When I say this I’m talking about “horizontal” wallets that can be used across categories and merchants (e.g., ISIS, Google Wallet, PayPal).

Payment security

Yet, as I’ve argued elsewhere before, mobile payment adoption is happening and becoming quite mainstream in specific apps. Think about Uber or Groupon or Amazon (mobile) or Fandango where credit card numbers are stored in the app to remove transaction friction.

People often don’t see these in-app payments as “mobile wallet” transactions. But they are. And this is how mobile payments go mainstream.


Privacy Surveys: It Matters How You Ask the Question

PrivacyThe Place Conference is today in NYC. As part of my opening slides I’m presenting survey data about consumer attitudes toward indoor location and privacy.

There are now many dozens of surveys about consumer privacy, online advertising and data collection in the market. In the case of indoor location in particular those surveys often contradict each other — or reveal in the aggregate a complex picture of consumer privacy attitudes.

The data show that if consumers see concrete benefits and are given more specific information they’re more likely to share data (i.e., location) with retailers and marketers. However if they don’t understand how the data are being used or just asked to respond to the question of “tracking” in the abstract, they generally reject the notion.

As with all surveys it matters how you frame the question. Indeed, you can almost guarantee a particular outcome through the language and framing used. This is how survey data can be manipulated for marketing or other objectives.

Privacy survey 1

Privacy survey 1

Privacy survey 3

Each of the above questions features a different sample of 500 US Android users. Each question asks about tracking or data collection but adds more specifics each time. The third question offers very concrete benefits.

Look at what happens between “tracking” as an abstract notion and “rewards, discounts and better customer service.” In the latter case two-thirds said yes. In the previous two answers, with fewer benefits and more uncertainty around “why,” consumers either rejected the notion or wanted more information.

This offers some specific lessons about communicating with consumers about privacy and indoor location in particular. But it also reflects how survey data can be easily manipulated to generate desired responses and outcomes.


Google AdWords Express App Aims to Boost SMB Self-Service

AdWords ExpressGoogle has introduced an app to help SMBs or anyone using AdWords Express to manage their campaigns on mobile devices. Ironically there’s no app yet for the main AdWords product.

The AdWord Express app is currently available for iOS and Android devices.

The new app allows businesses and advertisers to create or edit ads and choose targeting criteria “on the go.” Google said in a blog post that advertisers can target ads by zip, city or state or service area:

Now advertisers can choose exactly where to promote their business — in their zip code, city, state or others around the country (currently in English-speaking countries).

This effort should be seen in the context of Google’s larger, renewed push for SMB self service.

AdWords Express App

This is smart and a useful tool for existing advertisers and perhaps some small agencies that may use AdWords Express on behalf of their clients. However I’m skeptical that it will bring substantially more SMBs into AdWords.

Currently, by some local sales executives’ estimates, self-service represents perhaps 5% to 10% of the addressable SMB market. In several more years it may become a more meaningful component of the SMB advertising landscape. Facebook is an exception when it comes to SMB self-service; however that doesn’t yet extend to Facebook Ads.

Most business owners don’t want to devote the time to developing expertise with digital marketing, even as they grow increasingly sophisticated about it conceptually. Indeed, it’s more of a time (and expertise) issue than one of intelligence or understanding.

If the “addressable” SMB market for a product like this is between 7 and 10 million (out of a theoretical 20+ million firms), even 10% represents a significant number — potentially several billion in potential AdWords revenue.


Goodzer Now Aggregating SMB Data, Moving Into Local Marketing Services

Goodzer iPhone appGoodzer has been an aggregator and syndicator of local product data — something of a survivor of the “real-time inventory” push that came a couple of years ago. Now the company is getting into “enhanced local services content” and wants offer “merchant-facing performance marketing and presence solutions” for both enterprises and SMBs.

The company now sees itself as a comprehensive source of local data for third parties (online, mobile). However it’s also seeking to offer “highly efficient advertising solutions for local businesses.”

Goodzer API

On one level this is logical. CEO Mike Wilson is from Yellowbook. This is the syndication model that SinglePlatform successfully rode to a roughly $100 million acquisition in 2012. Yext, which has expanded beyond pure listings syndication, recently raised $50 million on a $500+ million valuation.

Goodzer says that beyond just NAP, it’s aggregating “full service lists, detailed merchant-provided descriptions, and pricing when available” typically from merchant websites. Its marketing solutions (not previewed) will reportedly launch in the coming months.

Goodzer adds that publishers and developers can access its local services database now. The new database currently contains 2 million listings in selected categories. Presumably that will increase over time.


Do People Prefer Banners to ‘Native Ads’? Survey Says ‘Yes’

Yahoo Native AdsSo-called Native Advertising is often help up as a powerful new ad format that’s better for everyone — users, publishers and advertisers. Even the NY Times has gotten into the act.

What do consumers really think of “sponsored content”? (It used to be called “advertorial”). If recent data from Contently are any indication, most users don’t like or trust it. The company conducted an online survey among 542 US adults in June.

It’s not clear how representative of the online population these responses are. It’s also just one survey. Regardless, the results should be of concern for publishers, which may be unwittingly damaging their credibility by running native ads/sponsored content.

Contently survey

The Contently survey found that many users are confused by the meaning of “sponsored content.” There are a range of responses above, with the largest single group (48%) correctly defining sponsored content as: “a sponsor paid for or influenced the article.”

As I typically point out with survey results, attitudes and behavior are often different. Yet, strikingly, a majority of survey respondents said that they would rather see banners than sponsored content. This seems to be because of higher disdain for sponsored content.

Banners preferred

Across demographic segments, survey respondents said they preferred banners. This was especially true of people under 44 and among those with advanced degrees.

A large majority of respondents said they had felt “deceived” upon discovering that a piece of content/article was sponsored. This feeling was strongest among college graduates and those with graduate degrees.

Sponsored ads

As one might expect from the previous response, users also expressed distrust of sponsored content. Print newspaper and magazine articles were the most trusted forms of content in the survey. The most trusted form of online content was news on a branded website.

These survey respondents also said that news-related publications running sponsored content lose credibility. Roughly 66% of respondents said they were disinclined to click on sponsored content.

Sponsored content trust

Sponsored content trust

Again this is just one survey. In addition, people may say they dislike sponsored content/Native Ads but those ads may also “work” and drive more revenue than conventional banners and online display advertising.

Nonetheless these findings are pretty strong and should give publishers and advertisers pause in their leap into sponsored content.

What are your thoughts about this data? Do you agree with my conclusion or do you think these findings are not as damning as they appear?


Details from the Yodle S-1 Filing: 45K Customers, $162M in 2013 Revs

Yodle logoYodle filed its S-1 yesterday for a roughly $75 million IPO. Below are some excerpts:

  • Yodle had $161.8 million in revenue in 2013, up from $132.3 million in 2012
  • Q1 2014 revenue was $45.7 million up from $35.2 million a year ago
  • There was a net loss of nearly $6 million in Q1

Yodle says its addressable market is roughly 7 million small businesses. It had “approximately 44,800 customers as of March 31, 2014.” The company cites third party data estimating that there are 74 million local businesses globally. (This is a very conservative estimate.) The implication is that Yodle will expand internationally.

Yodle describes its product suite as “CMO in a box.” Below is a representation of the company’s offers and how they all fit together.

Yodle product suite

Source: Yodle S-1 filing

In comparison to Yodle’s approximately 45,000 customers, ReachLocal reported 24,100 active accounts but revenues of roughly $125 million in Q1 2014. ReachLocal’s average revenue per advertiser was $5,187 in Q1. Yodle had average revenue per customer of $1,020 approximately.

Among the risk factors the company identified were the following:

Historically, we have experienced a high turnover rate in our customer base, especially within the first year of launching a customer. We believe there are a variety of factors which may result in increases in our turnover rate or fluctuations in our revenue. These factors include:

  • customer satisfaction with our products;
  • our customers’ perceived value of our products and their return on investment, or ROI;
  • changes to pricing, including in connection with expanding our offerings;
  • the number of our products used by our customers;
  • decreased spending by our customers on advertising and marketing generally, and on digital marketing in particular;
  • cessation of our customers’ businesses, as small- and medium-sized local businesses have historically experienced high failure rates;
  • increased competition in the local business digital marketing environment . . . 

Yodle added that it “purchases the majority of its media from Google, and the business could be adversely affected if Google takes actions that are adverse to Yodle’s interests.” In addition, the company reported:

In January 2014, we entered into a revised agreement with Google that, among other things, provides us with certain performance bonuses if we meet certain advertiser spend targets and other requirements. If we fail to meet those requirements, and as a result do not qualify for the rebates, our operating results would be harmed. 

One could see the data above and assert that Yodle is in a weaker position than ReachLocal based on revenue per customer. However it has just under 2X the number of customers of ReachLocal. Accordingly it has the opportunity to grow revenue per customer — though retention remains a challenge.


YP Turns MyBook into Social Sharing Tool

YP CollectionsYP has made its innovative MyBook personalization and favorites feature into a social sharing tool. As of today personal lists or “collections” can be shared through SMS, email, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

Users can easily save a friend’s list/collection to their own MyBooks or share their lists in response to a question or inquiry from a friend or colleague. I’ve long been a fan of list-making tools and MyBook — especially now that it offers sharing — holds great promise for YP.

MyBook debuted in 2013 but was formally announced earlier this year. I’ve written several times about it and how it offers a way for the site and app to more deeply engage users and differentiate vs. other competitors in the market.

MyBook social sharing

I spoke briefly yesterday with Darren Clark, YP’s CTO. He used to be at Yahoo and we discussed Q&A sites and the failure of local Q&A to materialize, among other things. (My instinct is that MyBook can power a Q&A like function on the YP site or app over time.)

To jumpstart MyBook, YP seeded it with “featured collections” featuring celebrity lists and local favorites, which can also be shared and saved. Clark said that MyBook now has two million users who create lists on both the Web and in the YP mobile app.

Among other things, MyBook encourages users to register and keeps them signed in, which gives YP visibility into their behavior across platforms. Clark told me that the majority of YP’s app users sign in with Facebook. In the future, he explained, YP will be able to surface public MyBook collections from individuals’ social networks. That should help accelerate adoption and further sharing.

YP truck

To promote MyBook and YP more broadly the company has launched a “truck tour” that will stop in San Francisco, LA, Atlanta, Nashville and Seattle.

Related posts:


Survey Says Yelp ‘Best Quality,’ ‘Most Trustworthy’ Local Review Site

Yelp logoLate last night Yelp released the results of a Nielsen survey of approximately 1,000 “local review site users.” The survey results identify Yelp as the category leader according to a number of criteria such as usage frequency, quality, trust and influence.

I haven’t yet had a chance to look at the full Nielsen survey results. Yelp announced the findings on its blog.

It appears that the universe of sites compared in the survey were the following:

  • Angie’s List
  • Citysearch
  • OpenTable
  • TripAdvisor
  • Yelp
  • YP
  • Zagat

Exposed findings:

Most frequently used review site:

  • Yelp — 44%
  • TripAdvisor — 12%
  • Angie’s List — 8%
  • Citysearch — 6%
  • YP — 4%

Most influential when making final purchase decisions:

  • Yelp — 37%
  • TripAdvisor — 13%
  • Angie’s List — 8%
  • Citysearch — 4%
  • YP — 3%

Most trustworthy reviews:

  • Yelp — 25%
  • TripAdvisor — 17%
  • Angie’s List — 9%
  • Citysearch — 4%
  • YP — 3%

Best quality reviews:

  • Yelp — 24%
  • TripAdvisor — 20%
  • Angie’s List — 9%
  • Citysearch — 3%
  • YP — 2%

The survey also found that 85% of Yelp users report making a purchase within a week of using the site and a substantial minority do so within a day.

Some thoughts and caveats:

The methodology discussion says the survey was commissioned by Yelp. It also says the sample was weighted for age and gender to be representative of review site users. However (and it’s hard to read) it appears that the sample includes “668 self-reported Yelp users.” So there’s a possibility at least of some bias in the sample.

Google was not included in the survey choices. Google arguably does qualify as a review site given its effort to become one over the past several years. In addition, OpenTable and Zagat are mentioned in the blog post but not in the main results exposed (above).

Accordingly, I’m asking for clarification from Yelp on the methodology and asking to see the full survey results.

What are your reactions to this survey? Do you agree? Are you surprised in any way?

Update: Mike Blumenthal pointed me to a survey he fielded using Google Consumer Surveys. The population was people who create local business reviews. The following data (n=1,002) responds to the question “When you leave a review online for a local business which sites are you likely to use?”

local reviews survey

While this answer is somewhat different than the questions asked above it does appear to at least partly contradict the Nielsen findings.

Update 2: Yelp provided some answers to the questions above. I’ve included those in my post at Search Engine Land about the study.


Is Google Shopping Express Destined to Become Webvan?

According to a post on re/code, Google is planning to spend $500 million to build out Shopping Express.The same-day delivery service is currently in limited availability but apparently the company is committed to expanding it nationwide.

Today Google Shopping Express is available in parts of California.

Google Shopping Express delivery areas

Current stores involved in the program include Target, Whole Foods, ToysRUs and a number of others (see graphic below).

Delivery is currently free for six months for “members” (credit card on file). Non-members pay $4.99 per delivery per store. Apparently eventually there will be an Amazon Prime-style fixed fee annual membership.

One version of the story is that Google is seeking to counter or compete with Amazon Fresh and grab a piece of the $500+ billion grocery market in the US. However Google’s ambitions are broader than groceries obviously.

If the company can connect Product Listing Ads, online payments and delivery it creates a “virtuous cycle” where merchants and consumers are both tied to the service (and merchants to PLAs, etc.) and it throws off an enormous amount of “closed loop” shopping data.

Such data would include “offline” buying habits and product preferences by zip (and by individual consumer), as well as purchase-conversion data for merchants. These data could inform lots of other things, including personalized search results, ads and promotions by Google across platforms.

The question is whether consumers will adopt home delivery (and associated fees) en masse. There are many bullish on this proposition. However I remain somewhat skeptical about the mainstream potential for this.

Google shopping express participating stores

Certainly services like Amazon Fresh or Shopping Express are useful on occasion and for specific needs but I don’t think that people will be replacing their real-world shopping with online shopping + local delivery.

Massive dot-com failure Webvan incorrectly assumed, as did and among others, that people would gladly and readily shift their offline shopping behavior online. Many would argue that Webvan was just ahead of its time and spent its cash unwisely. But I think it fundamentally misunderstood consumer behavior.

While online and offline commerce are blurring and more people buy things online, there’s a social-emotional component to offline shopping that can’t be fulfilled by shopping on the PC. People like to go out into stores, be with other people and see products physically. Shopping malls (horrific as they are) are entertainment environments — not just utilitarian collections of stores for consumer convenience.

I could be completely wrong but I’m betting that while services such as Shopping Express and Amazon Fresh can deliver utility and will gain some degree of adoption, they’re not going to be the multi-billion dollar businesses their companies hope.

Google has roughly $60 billion in cash on hand so if Shopping Express does become Webvan it’s obviously not going to cripple the company.