Magazine Article | January 22, 2008

Multichannel Disintegration

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

An Internet promotion fails,  customer service reps are powerless, and a loyal customer is let down.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, February 2008

My favorite retailer let me down last month. I'd been mulling a big-ticket purchase there for some time, balking just short of buying on several occasions for fear of the bite it would take out of my checking account. Then the store hit me with terms I couldn't refuse. The credit offer of 0% for 12 months came via e-mail. I had a bunch of loyalty dollars saved up, and extended free holiday shipping meant even more savings on a big, heavy item that I wanted really, really badly. I bit.
I'm a bit of a cross-channel purist, so while I was disappointed to see that the promotion was labeled Internet only (had to click through the e-mail promo and on to the site in order to get the deal), I set ideals aside in the interest of lust for this item. I filled my shopping basket and proceeded to the checkout. At the confirm order and send stage, things went haywire. The site wouldn't let me get to the final confirmation page; instead it continuously reloaded the confirm order and send page, complete with errors, at every attempt.
I called customer service. Usually, this retailer's customer service department is the absolute best. On this day, I got a rep who was holiday help(less). I asked her to complete my order over the phone. No dice, said she, if I wanted to take advantage of the Internet-only 0% financing promotion. "But," I said, "you're making it very difficult for me to spend this quite significant amount of money with you, aren't you?"
Perhaps, she said, I should try the online chat function. So I did.

The Bank, The Web Site, And The Brand
The online chat attendant was prompt with her reply. "Are any of the fields highlighted, indicating an incomplete field?" she eagerly asked. Ugh. I knew where this was going. She was working off her script. The server error the retailer was experiencing was decidedly not scripted. Ironically, the site kept reloading to a preconfirmation page that showed my several-thousand-dollar purchase totaling $0. I should be so lucky.
I called customer service back and asked for a supervisor. The supervisor connected me with the bank. The bank confirmed that although my interface to the retailer's site was not indicating it, my Visa (the one with the private label bearing my favorite retailer's name) had, in fact, been charged with the transaction with every frustrated click I made, to the tune of much more than several thousand dollars.
We eventually straightened the matter out. The retailer granted my request to complete the transaction on the phone and then expedited shipping and threw in a gift certificate for my grief.
This is the short version of a long story that took more than 2 hours to play out in real time. The items were in stock, the money was in hand, but because cross-channel promotions were disintegrated, one of this retailer's very frequent spenders was quite displeased with his shopping experience. But I've been back, and I'm saving hard for an upcoming trip to one of the retailer's destination stores. Its merchandise mix and selection, in-stock positioning, and catalog order process are all — usually — top notch, and as we all know, merchandise is king.