KFC, the US fast food giant, is under widespread criticism in China after it cancelled a promotional activity on Tuesday, claiming that some customers had fake coupons.
The restaurant chain had planned to issue three types of coupons at 10 am, 2 pm and 4 pm on Tuesday to the first 100 netizens who registered at each interval through its official Chinese website.
However, starting at 2 pm on Tuesday, customers who wanted to use the coupons in KFC stores across the country were told the promotion had been stopped following an order from its China headquarters.
Some customers in Nanjing, Beijing and Shanghai had bitter quarrels with KFC staff, resulting in police rushing to the scene to maintain order.
The cancellation was due to fake coupons, KFC China said in a statement on Wednesday.
According to the company, at 10 am on Tuesday 100 netizens successfully retrieved the first round of coupons. But before the second and third round of activities began in the afternoon, stores across the country had already received many customers with the additional two types of coupons.
A preliminary investigation revealed that some other websites had made these two coupons available for downloading without the authorization of KFC China, the statement said.
The company claimed it had made it clear in its promotion that only coupons issued by its official websites would be valid.
"KFC has reported the case to local police and we'll cooperate with the investigation," the statement said. "KFC is sorry for the disturbance. If consumers insist that their coupons are from official sources, they are required to show evidence."
However, the explanation failed to satisfy the disappointed customers. At a KFC store on Wujiang road in Shanghai on Wednesday, about 30 customers whose coupons were rejected sat on tables waiting for an explanation, while a McDonald's delivery boy was called in with their lunch.
"The McDonald's delivery was ordered on purpose, in protest to the unfair treatment we received," said a customer who declined to be named.
However, most of the 17 customers randomly interviewed at two KFC franchises in Beijing on Wednesday remained calm when asked about the issue.
Fourteen of them said they were unaware of the fracas, while the rest of the customers expressed their discontent. "KFC should explain and apologize to the public. Otherwise, who will believe future coupon activities?" a female customer said.
"I really cannot accept the cancellation," said a student from the University of International Business and Economics, who came to the store on Wednesday to redeem a coupon.
"I downloaded this coupon yesterday from our university's online bulletin board. It said a copy is also valid. How can they refuse our coupons and end this promotion just half a day after it began?"
Both customers hoped KFC would provide a reasonable explanation, along with detailed descriptions of other coupon activities.
Information on the promotion having been canceled was on display in both of the stores visited by China Daily.
"The cancellation order was from our KFC headquarters. We ended the activity yesterday afternoon. Many customers left after receiving our explanation. Some were discontent and even angry," said Cao Limei, a KFC employee.
Written notice of the promotion having been cancelled was prominently displayed in KFC shops, Cao said, adding that she would continue to explain the situation to customers who tried to redeem the coupons in the shop where she worked.