Target's 'We've Been Breached' sale is a little cynicism for the holidays

A sale, right before Christmas? What an extraordinary step for a retailer to take! And that hefty 10% off is available to everyone. Target's millions of breach victims must be feeling very special.

Data breaches can happen to anyone. One just happened to Target, which announced that data involving some 40 million credit cards had been accessed. What really matters is how a company handles a breach.

Overall, Target seems to have handled things as well as most other companies in the same tough spot. That said, it has nonetheless taken a serious breach and cynically tried to turn it into an opportunity for profit. It's not the first company to do this, but let's hope it's the last.

On Friday, Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel announced a "Data Breach Sale," encouraging people to come back to Target, spend more money and give up more payment information. There are two things that make me call this cynical. First, a 10%-off sale, running on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22 (the Saturday and Sunday before Christmas), seems like something a savvy retailer like Target might have already planned to do, with or without a headline-grabbing data breach. Second, what does this do for the actual victims of the breach? They got the privilege of paying a mere 90% of the marked price if they shopped at Target this weekend, but so did everyone else.

Steinhafel's rationale? He said the universal discount was in the "spirit" of "we're in this together."

Yes, except that the actual victims were definitely in it more than those people who didn't have their payment information compromised. How about doing something for the victims that they might actually appreciate -- like giving them partial refunds for what they had bought at Target when their data entered its soon-to-be-attacked systems.

Note to Target: When you screw up and fail to protect tens of millions of your customers, trying to use that screw-up as an upsell opportunity is not going to make customers trust you more.

A few other unsolicited tips for handling the breach aftermath:

We'll trust you when you show you can be trusted. Target, if you are going to announce that "the issue has been identified and eliminated," you should probably back that statement up with some facts. You offered zero details to back up either claim, so it was pretty much saying, "Trust me." That's exactly what those 40 million shoppers did when they used their payment cards in your stores, so you'll forgive them if they're hesitant right now to do it again.

If the issue has indeed been both "identified and eliminated," why not get specific? No need to go chapter and verse on every keystroke used, but a healthy heaping of details would go a long way toward convincing people that you've truly plugged the hole. The bad guys certainly already know where the hole was, and if you've truly plugged the hole, there's no security risk involved in telling others. Hold back a few details if you must, but by saying, "We've figured it all out and our system is now fine. Just fine. Nothing to see here. Just go back to giving us your money," you're really giving people reason to be even more suspicious.

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