Disconnects between online and brick and mortar stores

A recent shopping experience brought home to me the dangers of retailers quickly adding Web store capabilities. In the rush to make their products available online, they often don’t pay enough attention to the customer experience and its impact on the brand.

Last fall was the end of the summer selling season. I decided it was time to replace my aging gas grill and now was a great time to buy a new one on sale. I ventured down to my local big box store, and sure enough, all their gas grills were on sale.

As I perused the army of stainless steel grills before me, I found the one I wanted — six burners, a rotisserie, a side cooker, and seriously discounted to move, including free delivery. There was only one slight problem, the floor model was an LP, and I wanted natural gas (but the sales ticket said “available in natural gas”). Flagging down a salesperson, I asked if I could get an NG model. He said he would check in the back and see if they had one. He returned a few minutes later and told me that they were out of the NG model but that I could get one on their fancy new Web site. I asked, “But will I get the sale price and free delivery over the internet?” “Yes,” he confidently replied.

So I returned home and went to the store Web site and found my grill. However, it was at the list price and not the sale price. So, I had to hit the “contact us” button and submit my problem. A few days later I received a response telling me to purchase it off the Web and they would credit me the difference. I proceeded to make my Web purchase.

Soon after that, I got an e-mail that my product had been shipped and the delivery person would be contacting me. A few days later, I got a call from the delivery company asking if I could be home on a certain afternoon to accept delivery. I was thinking this internet thing is going pretty smoothly, until she hit me with the next question — “Would you be able to lift 500 lb.?”  I said, “No, but I could move the grill by pieces to my deck and assemble it, if need be.”

On the appointed afternoon, I looked out my window to find a ginormous tractor-trailer blasting its airhorn in front of my house. I went up to the street, and the driver told me that he wasn’t supposed to be in a neighborhood, as his truck was set up for loading-dock deliveries. I replied, “You and Bigbox.com have made all the shipping arrangements, I just want my grill.” He told me he could lower the pallet to the street, but that was as far as he could deliver it. I figured I would just have to carry my grill a little farther than I originally thought.

As the tractor-trailer drove off, I opened the box, only to find the grill assembled (except for some optional wheels). Conscripting my neighbor, I got him to lean the grill up as I inserted the wheels. I proceeded to wheel the grill to my front door, only to encounter a door stoop not level with the sidewalk. My neighbor and I then had to fashion a ramp out of some wood. (I was beginning to think this free delivery was not exactly what I had in mind.) Finally, after wheeling this grill through my house I made it out to the deck.

End of story, right? Wrong. The next thing I knew I got an e-mail telling me that my credit card had been debited by bigbox.com for several hundred dollars in order to pay for shipping my grill across the country. After several e-mails and phone calls, I finally got them to credit the charge back.

Moral of this story?  When you build your Web model, remember, “It’s the customer experience, stupid.” Building a Web order entry and delivery system is only half the battle.  What is the customer experience? Are you asking them to lift 500 lb.? Are you dropping a pallet on their street and driving off?  Are you requiring them to hit “Contact us” a million times, only to have to follow it up with a phone call just to get the advertised price in your brick and mortar location?

Until you can answer “no” to all the above, you have some more beta testing to do.

– Michael Reineck – Principal

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