I don’t have my stuff – when being nice is not enough in shopping online

These are both Kids Medium shirts from the same online company.

I bought some stuff and now I don’t have what I want. But the people were nice about it. Now I don’t have my stuff; and I don’t even have any righteous indignation to fall back on.

I have been thinking about shopping on the Internet a lot recently. In the last few weeks I have bought kids t-shirts from three separate companies. In each case they have either delivered the wrong shirts or have managed to muck up the sizing. In one case I bought a single shirt first to check the size would fit my kids and then bought six more. The second order came with a set of shirts labelled the same size but in fact significantly smaller (take a bow Cafe Press).

Now they’ve been lovely about it. There’s been no argument that they have made a mistake and no silliness about having me return the wrong ones; they’ve just sent out replacements. That lovely customer service has ensured I’m not left embittered, but I don’t have my shirts in time for my son’s Birthday.

Almost as an aside, the one element of the customer service that has been consistently missing has been an apology. The standard response runs roughly: “It is unfortunate that you are dissatisfied with your order and I’m happy to replace it.”. Of course I’m not satisfied – you sent the wrong thing. I hate the feeling that they are pushing the problem back at me like I’m the issue.

Anyway, I do a weekly Woolworths online shop. Over the last couple of months they’ve been making an increasing number of mistakes in the order. Some are straight mistakes, some are inappropriate substitutions. I order banana yogurt and they substitute strawberry (which my family wont eat), I order one sort of shampoo and they provide another. So I pop off an email and they apologise and refund my money. (Woolworths, by the way, has actually asked for the offending items to be returned which has left the delivery staff completely bemused: “What am I supposed to do with a bottle of shampoo, buddy?”)

The thing with all this is that while I appreciate efficient customer service and the don’t-argue response, I still don’t have the stuff I ordered. In the case of the shirts it’s a relatively minor inconvenience. In the case of the groceries it’s really annoying because I then have to go out and buy the missing things – at which point i might as well have gone real-world shopping in the first place.

The frequency of these problems occurring suggests that either I am extraordinarily unlucky or the companies’ packing processes are not that great. Perhaps a greater emphasis on up-front customer satisfaction rather than cleaning up after the problem has occurred would do them some good. It’s the lack of certainty in fulfillment that puts many people off shopping on the internet. It’s certainly one reason that even a committed Internet shopper like me has many things that I’ll pay a bit more for to be sure I’ve walked out of a shop with the correct thing in my hands.

Certainly the good customer service when there is a problem leaves me willing to contemplate shopping with the companies again; but I’d jump on an alternative that made sure I had the right stuff in the first place.

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