The howling-wolf T-shirt phenomenon it is not. Walmart Stores (WMT) has closed the lid on customer reviews of its caskets. As DailyFinance reported this week, the retailer is selling 15 caskets, and more than 130 urns and cremains containers, through its website.
As debatable as that business proposition might be, it proved a sure thing with at least one type of consumer: not the bereaved, but the wags who lurk behind high-speed Internet connections, waiting for an opportunity to heckle retailers with tongue-in-cheek reviews.
Razzing online retailers with facetious comments has evolved into something approaching an art form. Take the howling-wolf T-shirt sold on Amazon.com (AMZN) this year: the comments for the black shirt, which sports a graphic of three wolves howling at a moon, has collected more than 1500 reviews -- providing hours of fun reading for anyone with hours to spare.
For would-be comics trying out their material in the comments sections, the social-media function of voting on which reviews are the most "helpful" may be irresistible. Amazon's reviews of the T-shirt include a "review" that more than 16,000 customers have endorsed: "After checking to ensure that the shirt would properly cover my girth, I walked from my trailer to Walmart with the shirt on and was immediately approached by women. The women knew from the wolves on my shirt that I, like a wolf, am a mysterious loner who knows how to 'howl at the moon' from time to time (if you catch my drift!)"
But far from silly, the comments posted on Walmart's casket selection were creepy -- and creepiness, presumably, is not a trait Walmart wants its customers to see when they're choosing a burial option for a loved one. Before Walmart shut down the caskets' review section, Advertising Age documented a few of the reviews, like this one: "I picked one up to bury my cat in. Other than having room for about 100 cats, it worked well. Oh, had to dig a really big hole too, and that was rough on my back. But at least when my dog dies I can just open 'er up again and stick him in too."
For the howling-wolf T-shirt makers, the phenomenon of facetious online reviews proved a goldmine: whether ironic or not, the shirts' sales skyrocketed. So maybe there's a chance that tongue-in-cheek comments might have boosted casket sales. After all, 525 people voted that "bury my cat" review as "helpful." Walmart didn't immediately return a request for comment.
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