Until yesterday, I have only used Gilt – a short-term sale site for apparel and travel – to impulse buy clothing at steep discounts (my most recent purchase? A pair of Cynthia Rowley studded tights.) Apparently desperate to piggyback on the success of local services like Groupon and Living Social, Gilt has now introduced Gilt City. The new service promises to provide cheap experiences in one’s immediate surroundings.
The first DC-based event through Gilt City happened last night, and is spared my denunciation as a complete disaster due to the eventual open bar. The event was poorly planned, the staff and attendees hostile – in short, it was a mess. It is difficult to say whether it was the fault of Gilt Groupe or the Regal Cinemas in Chinatown, but someone dropped the ball, and it subsequently rolled down a staircase.
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate saving Benjamins (err…Abrahams.) I enjoy the opportunity to try things I wouldn’t try ordinarily because it happens to be cheaper than usual. Apparently, Planet Earth agrees with me, judging by the immense success of these Recession-booned discount sites. So when Gilt City offered free tickets for July 19 for a cocktail reception and screening of the upcoming Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis movie Friends With Benefits, I figured it was a good excuse to laugh with some girlfriends and eat movie theatre popcorn for dinner. My friends and I reserved tickets within an hour after the offer sprang up on Gilt’s website. Here is the problem – Gilt obviously set an irresponsibly high cap on the number of tickets available.
The movie began at 7:30, and I arrived at 6:05 – there was already a long and snaking line. My friend Maggie arrived at 6:15, and she was able to join me in it. The cocktail reception was slated to begin at 6:30, so this seemed reasonable. Lindsay called a few minutes later from outside – her bike lock had snapped, and she needed me to lock her bike to mine. In most human scenarios, this wouldn’t cause a problem. I met Lindsay outside and returned to the line, whose crust had been fortified with those irritating little rope posts that create snaked lines. (Bonus points for whomever knows what they are called.)
An approximation of the scene
A pushy, rude crowd had amassed itself all the way to the escalator. People were arguing about the line. I tried to get back to Maggie, but was barked at by a security guard and a girl with heavy lipliner told me to “fucking get to the back of the line.” My explanation that I was already up there, that my friend Maggie was waiting alone and I needed to help Lindsay downstairs was met with an equally sour “well, that sucks for you.” She reminded me of a bitchy cartoon character. Other people were raising their voice at others, shoving and arguing with employees – you’d think they believed that Justin Timberlake would actually be at this thing. And that he would touch them. The line finally began to proceed past the barricade over a half hour after the cocktail reception supposedly began. Slightly after seven, we reached the front of the line. We were told that there were no seats left for the movie. We were still permitted to enjoy a free drink.
I simply don’t understand the marketing theory here. Whatever the purpose of this marketing stunt, the gimmick failed. I understand why Gilt might be inclined to release a block of free tickets greater than the amount of seats – after all, many people who RSVPed probably didn’t show – but they obviously weren’t anywhere close to striking a good equilibrium. Regal Cinemas seemed confused and unprepared for the angry mob snaking around the lobby. I also see why a slight surplus of turned-away guests might produce the image of exclusivity or popularity, but hundreds of pissed-off Gilt users waiting in an abrasive line for an hour isn’t a stellar way to promote your brand. And this was no case of an unexpectedly large response – Gilt knew this many people had RSVPed. It didn’t care. And Regal Cinema’s other screens were too tied up with Harry Potter and the Seventh Book Title to free another screen. They screwed up too.
Don’t get me wrong – I know it was a free event. But my chain still feels pretty yanked by the Gilt Groupe and Regal Cinemas. Their crappy and ill-conceived promo wasted a few hours of my life. Sure, I got a glass of wine out of the deal – fine, two glasses – but I waited over an hour in a cauldron of assholes to get them. My hourly rate is more than two glasses of wine – I mean, at least the kind I drink.
Mercifully, we punctuated the evening with a barbecue dinner at Hill Country on 7th and D. Say what you want about chain restaurants and independent eateries – but I will be damned if you can’t find an awfully good meal in Chinatown.