Watsons Malaysia Explains Itself – Badly.

It’s been one week since I blogged about a bottle of tampered-with, over-the-counter medicine that I purchased at Watsons, Asia’s largest personal care chain (a drug store, basically). The blog post – and the story behind it – went totally viral in Malaysia thanks to Samantha Khor who wrote it up for says.com, a hugely popular Malaysian website. Since then, I’ve received a bit of clarity on what, precisely, happened.

But first, let’s back up to last Tuesday. Out of curiosity, I returned to the Watsons outlet where I’d bought that bottle of Panadol, looking to see if the chain was still selling tampered-with packages. What I found astounded me: not only were they selling a tampered-with package – they were selling the very same bottle of Panadol I had returned to the store several days earlier for having been tampered with (easily identifiable due to the serial number on the box)! Below, a photo of the returned bottle on the shelf. Compare it – and the serial number – to the photo I posted on Monday – they are one and the same (a fact later confirmed, which I’ll get to).IMG_2255

I was planning to blog that on Thursday, but before I could I received a phone call from Danny Hoh, Head of Marketing at Watsons, on Thursday afternoon.

That surprised me – Watsons had ignored every one of my attempts to reach them by phone, email, twitter, and Facebook. But that’s not to say they missed them – Hoh found my phone number on an email that I’d sent to Watsons on Monday. Why did they only get around to calling me on Thursday? Because the says.com post had gone viral. In fact, by Thursday night, it was really viral … which might explain why they called again that night at 10 PM.

I’m going to summarize those conversations, and one email from Hoh, in five points:

1. After informing Hoh that Watsons was re-selling my returned bottle of Panadol, Hoh told me that Watsons’ operations staff reviewed CCTV footage from the store in question, and I was correct – the staff had placed the returned, opened bottle back on the shelf. This is against Standard Operating Procedure (Hoh’s phrase), and won’t happen again.

2. Hoh conceded that Watsons employees had broken the seals on boxes containing Panadol. He said it was against the company’s Standard Operating Procedures, and won’t happen again. He also assured me that it only happened in one outlet. As for the fact that the bottles within the box also lacked seals – he told me that this was the fault of GSK, Panadol’s manufacturers, which ships them that way.

So – I spoke to GSK this afternoon, and a company representative confirms that GSK ships unsealed bottles of Panadol to Watsons Malaysia, and secures them with a clear seal on the box (basically, a piece of clear tape that’s easily peeled away). To be clear: there is no seal on the bottle itself. In a phone conversation, a GSK representative explained that their packaging meets local standards; needless to say, it doesn’t meet the standards of, say, the US market, the world’s largest pharmaceutical market. Are Malaysians less worthy of protection? GSK says it’s just meeting local legal standards. Watsons isn’t asking them to do better.

3. Regarding the exchanges I had with the @watsonsmalaysia twitter account – in case you’ve forgotten or never seen them, here’s a sample:

the tweets

— Danny Hoh tells me that the @watsonsmalaysia twitter account is an unauthorized account, and Watsons has no connection to it. There is evidence to support this point, specifically the fact that the account has – as of this writing – 147 followers. On the other hand … when the account isn’t busy insulting Watsons critics, it’s tweeting Watsons promotions. For example, here’s what the unauthorized twitter account had to tweet on Valentine’s Day:

IMG_0222

I suppose it’s possible that there’s somebody out in the universe who likes Watsons so much that he or she set up a @watsonsmalaysia twitter account for the express purpose and joy of tweeting Watsons promotions – and modeled it after twitter accounts for @watsonsPH (Philippines), @watsonsSG (Singapore), @watsonsIndo (Indonesia), and several others. Likewise, it’s possible that Watsons, which has 600,000 followers on Facebook, has never bothered setting up a twitter account – and doesn’t monitor how its name is being used on the hugely popular servic. Regardless, Watsons informs me in an email that they’ve reported the account to twitter and the police.

5. Why didn’t Watsons respond to my emails and other messages before this incident went viral? Hoh explained over the phone that my message to their Facebook account was ignored because the person who received it assumed that I was a salesperson, likely trying to bid for the Watsons social media contract; my email to the company was ignored because the person to whom I sent it was out for the first part of the week. He didn’t have any explanation for the ignored phone call.

Watsons could have left it there. But they didn’t. Instead, Danny Hoh wrote: “It is unfortunate this issue was not brought to our attention prior to been highlighted on social media.” I’m sure he feels that way – it’s been a rough week for Watsons. But of course the only reason that they felt bound to respond to me is that my tweets and blog went viral thanks to says.com. Had that not happened, Danny Hoh would never have called me. Meanwhile, in the days since the says.com post, I’ve received tweets and tweets from customers of Watsons Malaysia who purchased or encountered broken seals on the company’s products. They deserve responses, just as much as I deserved mine. Will Watsons take the trouble to find them? Or will those customer, too, have to go viral to get Asia’s largest personal care chain, and one of the world’s largest drug companies, to take notice?