Wayfair found itself in hot water after comedy writer Ariel Dumas tweeted a story about the company calling her on the phone as she browsed its website—on Halloween.
"It was a Wayfair employee saying that they noticed I was browsing their website," she later tweeted. "[S]o happy creepy Halloween I guess."
In an email to Wayfair, Motherboard asked if the company obtained explicit consent from customers to use phone data in this way and if the company could point to where in its public policies this was stated.
Wayfair didn't answer that question, instead stating: “Customers provide us with their phone numbers and we reach out to them at various points throughout the shopping process where we believe we can be helpful.” The company went on to insist that "we do not make outbound phone calls based on real-time site activity," saying that it sends "an introductory email from the team prior to any phone outreach."
In replies to Dumas' viral tweet, multiple Wayfair customers (including Dumas) made claims that contradicted Wayfair's statement. No customer mentioned receiving an email, and several said that they received their calls during "real-time site activity," and that they did not find the calls helpful, but creepy.
One person even replied they did not browse the site because they had clicked on an Instagram link "but [Wayfair] kept asking for more info so I closed [the] page & next day got called!" Another person said they simply put tile into their shopping cart and was called the next day to discuss tile options. And yet again, another person had been debating whether to book a massage, left the page, then was called and told "they'd be happy to help me find a time..." There are many more stories like this in the thread.
Wayfair was in the news earlier this year when 500 employees (10 percent of its staff) walked out after petitioning their executive leadership to cut ties with a contractor responsible for furnishing children’s detention camps at the US-Mexico border. Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah’s responded with a stern refusal to stop any business with any government contractor.
Wayfair has not had a profitable quarter since its IPO five years ago, and that is likely part of why the company refuses to walk away from any business it can get—it is chasing sales growth to achieve profits that have thus far been elusive. The company has also been caught in the midst of the US trade war with China, which promises to levy tariffs on 60 percent of Wayfair’s products, which have been sourced from suppliers importing from China.
It’s not clear how customers might opt out of Wayfair’s tracking practices, but visiting the website with privacy tools enabled can give you a sense of how aggressive their efforts are. My Privacy Badger plug-in found 22 trackers, while uBlock Origin found around 110.
Either way, that’s way too much.