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Online retail’s Obamacare moment

UPS experienced a surge of last minute Christmas orders and there weren’t enough planes to carry the packages, so many presents weren’t delivered till after the holiday. In some ways this is a good thing: consumer confidence suggests a strengthening economy and prosperous times ahead. But many of those orders had been placed with the promise of pre-Christmas delivery, so there remained the question of how retailers would make good their contract with their customers.

I had two affected orders, one from Brookstone and the other from Amazon. When I discovered the packages had not been delivered till December 26, I contacted both companies and let them know I was upset and disappointed and would like a response.

Brookstone was pretty straightforward. I contacted them using their online form, including the order number, and received this response: “This automated message is to let you know that we have received your inquiry and will respond to it as quickly as possible. We will be glad to assist you in any way we can.” Four days later, I’ve heard nothing further. This was my first online order from Brookstone, and it’s good to know how they handle customer problems. For me and Brookstone, it’s one and done.

Amazon’s order was supposed to arrive two days before Christmas, not one, according to my Prime membership terms. I navigated the byzantine online help system to find a form I could actually fill in. I didn’t need to tell them how long I had been a Prime member or how much I spend because they certainly know this; I did let them know it was far from the service I expected and paid for.

Amazon’s response was a $10 credit (against my $50 order) and a one-month extension of my Prime membership, worth $6 and change. Doesn’t seem like a very significant accommodation to a valued customer. Perhaps they feel they already have secured my loyalty and don’t have to bend over backwards; maybe newer Prime members got a more significant adjustment and bigger apology?

As with the healthcare.gov fiasco, many of the shoppers who were let down by incidents like these were likely first time online buyers; their mistrust in the internet has been confirmed and it may be years before they try online ordering again. For Obamacare, that meant that the most desirable prospects—young people who didn’t have health insurance because they didn’t think they needed it—were scared off. With this year’s late retail deliveries, the first time buyers would have been late adopters who are more expensive to acquire, more expensive to maintain.

While we’re on the subject of the trust between a customer and a retailer, I had a remarkable experience with Sears that is only nominally mail order. I wanted to purchase an item online for in store pickup and, because it was out of stock at my local Sears, I ordered it at another store 25 miles away. I finally went up there last Friday, order confirmation in hand, and was told they didn’t have my order because they’d sold the goods to somebody else after the order was placed, and the item was now out of stock so they’d have to refund my money. Pretty straightforward, but completely wrong. I’ll continue to work on this order and will report back on what I learn.

One Comment

  1. Otis Maxwell wrote:

    Follow up on the Sears order? None. A rep contacted me by email and said it would take a few days to research the problem. When I heard nothing more, several weeks later I contacted them. They said the item was no longer available so would credit my credit card, end of story. No reflection on or compensation for the broken contract which is also probably illegal.

    Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 8:22 am | Permalink

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