Until this month, Eric Lewis counted himself among Lululemon's most-ardent fans.
The 22-year-old marketing student from London, Ont., figures he’s spent about $10,000 on the company's famous yoga wear as well as much of his free time blogging about the brand at www.lululemonmen.com. It was his dream to work for the company one day.
“You could call me the #1 men's fan,” Lewis said in an email exchange with Yahoo Canada Finance.
But Lewis recently began to rethink his Lulu-love after he found himself on the receiving end of the company’s threats to ban him from the company’s online store.
His offence? He posted a pair of pants he had recently purchased on eBay for resale. He bought them on sale for $19 but didn’t like them. He said he had no alternative but to sell the pants, admittedly at a higher price, because of the company’s no-return policy on sale items.
Little did he know that the yoga giant also has a stringent policy in place to stop the private resale of new and used Lululemon gear.
The policy is intended to limit major reselling which results in assortments not being available to its customers, according to the company.
But it was the ‘rude’ and ‘negative’ tone of the woman on the other end of the phone that really made Lewis question his brand loyalty.
"She attacked me on the phone," he said.
More surprising still? Lewis’s experience isn’t exceptional.
Several people have come forward over the last week with similar stories of being blocked from the online store after selling Lululemon clothes online.
The retailer, no stranger to controversy, has since apologized, acknowledging in a statement "we had indeed gone too far."
But that hasn’t stopped Lululemon’s Facebook page from exploding with comments from angry customers.
"If I'm buying a Picasso, I want to know if it’s real. I don't need that with yoga pants," wrote Kevix Mark of Brooklyn, New York.
Lakena Chea Tompkins of Tyler, Texas quipped: "So lulu, are you going to start sending someone out to garage sales and such to find lulu being resold? I'm just about done with you myself."
The latest in a string of bad publicity
Doug Stephens, a Toronto-based retail consultant, said companies have every right to protect their brand from being knocked off or counterfeited.
But to trample on the rights of consumers to take something they own and sell it is "overbearing to the point of almost being ridiculous."
"It sounds like they are making some decisions over at Lululemon by the seat of their pants ," Stephens said.
The company, once the darling of the Canadian business world, can hardly afford this latest public-relations meltdown. It’s only just climbing back from a crisis caused by the costly recall of thousands of yoga pants that left customers feeling overly exposed. Chip Wilson, company founder, made a bad situation worse when he suggested in a televised interview that pilling on yoga pants had more to do with the size of some women’s thighs than how the pants were manufactured.
Stephens said now is not the time for the retailer to be picking any more fights.
They should be "kissing and making up at every turn here," he said.
In a media statement, Lululemon representatives said the company has taken steps to remedy the situation after hearing from customers that they were unhappy about being blocked from buying its product.
"We are reaching out to apologize to the guests who were impacted and have adjusted the language on our website to reflect that we are only concerned when we see large amounts of product being acquired and re-sold at an elevated price point," the statement says.
Lewis acknowledged he has received an apology from the company, but isn't sure that’s enough to win him back.
For now, he said, "I am choosing to spend my dollar elsewhere."