Wait, you WANT me to go to Amazon? (Williams-Sonoma)

I have been trying to shop bricks and mortar retail more. Honestly, when the store is well curated, well organized, and staffed with well trained people, it’s a wonderful experience. I’m also trying to not shop on Amazon.com when I have good alternatives. Some reasons are found in this rather long first hand account.

At the same time, shopping American retail can be a trying experience. Today’s trip to Williams-Sonoma ranks among the worst I have recently had. It wasn’t a disaster, and I ultimately walked out with what I intended to buy. But it still managed to be a 2/5 star visit. Here’s why:

  1. My online order was not ready at the store, apparently because ‘the system’ was down at the store. It’s nice that the option to pick up at the store is available. When it works. I estimate the visit took about 30 minutes, in large part due to the IT issue. I’m not sure where the responsibility lies — maybe with the systemwide IT support?
  2. The store staff couldn’t locate what I bought. Because the store couldn’t access my order on their ‘system,’ I showed my emailed receipt. There were two items I had bought. One was readily found. The other… took some waiting. And waiting… And some more. Then the woman searching gave up and the other woman involved said I would receive a refund. So the latter wrote down my order information, i.e., since the system was down. The former then suggested that I go to Amazon. (!?!?) At this point, I thought perhaps the website didn’t have the correct store inventory position.
  3. On the way out, I found the missing item. A pile of them, neatly organized on a shelf. (Frankly they were where I would stock them, if I were in charge of the store.) Both women took note of where it was, seemingly for future reference. I was surprised though that neither seemed sorry nor embarrassed. (Maybe it isn’t their job to know the store?) This one rests completely with store-level management.
  4. An LTO I wanted to use was deemed not applicable to a third item that I chose while waiting. Williams-Sonoma had emailed me a one-day offer of 20% off everything except for a list of big brands. I chose a small consumable that I had forgotten to purchase in my online-to-store purchase. At the register, one woman informed me that the offer was not valid on my purchase. But when I looked on the website, it was. We cancelled the purchase, and the other woman re-rang it up. Again, no apology or even an oops… No awareness of the limited time offer itself either. Maybe the central marketing organization did not tell the store about the offer? Or maybe they did but the store staff didn’t read the notice? Hard to tell.

Williams-Sonoma, I noticed that you are suing Amazon for copying you. I doubt you are going to sue your employees too for sending your shoppers to buy stuff that you have inside your stores at Amazon instead. But maybe you should train them better. If I may, here’s what I hope all store associates know beyond knowing how to ring up sales:

  1. Knowing your merchandise, and where it is. A simple weekly quiz would suffice, I’d imagine. It could be fun — top scores could receive treats or special discounts. The point is to inspire some curiosity about the wares you/they sell.
  2. Knowing your promotional offers, and where they apply. This could be easy. Before an employee hits the shop floor, a quick bulletin they can scan with their eyes so they are not caught unawares.
  3. Knowing when to mea culpa. When I leave, I’d like to feel like the store staff cares that I had a good experience. Ultimately, I think that’s what store teams are responsible for. If I don’t, like today, I’d like to be acknowledged. Otherwise, why would I feel the desire to go back? …I could just shop at Amazon.

As I left Williams-Sonoma, I had the thought that the service I received could well have been replaced by a self-checkout terminal. And that is a terrifying prospect for the 16 million retail workers in the U.S. To protect and grow their jobs, I believe retail workers should demand better training — especially training on things that only people can do.

Training is never easy, especially in a low wage, high turnover environment. But good store level training is perhaps the best defense against Amazon. It’s also the best proprietary way that I know to organically increase revenue.

Well Williams-Sonoma, I’m not sure when I’ll be back. Good luck and good night.


I received a customer experience survey from Williams-Sonoma by email later in the evening. I summarized the above and sent it in, and I received the following response the next day:

Hello [me],

Thank you for contacting Williams-Sonoma.

Please allow me to sincerely apologize for the experience you’ve had when visiting our [location] retail store location.  Because your concerns involve one of our retail stores, we are forwarding this information to the attention of our Retail Store Management.  They will ensure that this information is forwarded to the appropriate leadership individuals for their review and follow-up.

Please know that Williams-Sonoma, Inc. is committed to providing our customers with superior products and world class service.  We truly appreciate the time you took to share this feedback, and you can expect to receive a response to your concerns in a timely manner.  Thank you again, and please feel free to contact us with any other questions.

Warm regards,
[name withheld]


Not bad. The nature of the problems at the store makes me think that they won’t be fixed easily, but it’s nice to know that they do read and respond to feedback. And a sincere sounding apology is always nice. 4/5 in my view.

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Where has my RPU gone? (United 1K travails)

United has an increasing array of rules for passengers and people who are part of their MileagePlus program. I get the impression that sometimes, they’re a little too hard for the various teams at United to keep up with.

In this instance, I found that using one 1K benefit (the ability to change flights free of charge within 24 hours of takeoff) through the United app caused another benefit (an upgrade request using a Regional Premier Upgrade RPU certificate) to fall off my reservation and disappear. And nobody could help prior to takeoff.

Here’s my exchange with United’s 1K desk, submitted through the comment intake page at United.com.


This evening I boarded a 5pm flight from EWR to SFO. I was originally booked on the 6, and it’s nice that the app enabled me to switch so easily, as my business concluded early in NYC. Less nice is that the RPU upgrade that I had requested somehow fell off my reservation. It remained deducted from my account, but was no longer attached to my itinerary. I hope your IT team fixes this. The ability to change flights without charge within 24 hours is an elite benefit, as are RPUs and GPUs grants. Why does the system force me to give up the uncleared upgrade request when switching a flight? I’ll never know whether mine would or would not have cleared. But two passengers’ requests did clear and I wonder if one would have been mine. Secondly, when I called the 1K desk about 20 hours before boarding, the woman I spoke with told me that the lost RPU could be reattached by the attendant at boarding. The gate agent was not be able to do anything. How disappointing.


United wrote back the next morning. Pretty good response time, I’d say.

Dear (me):

I appreciate you taking the time to share your comments with us.  We work hard to consistently provide superior service.

Your constructive comments give us an opportunity to correct problems that may not have otherwise come to our attention.  Because we value your concerns, they have been forwarded to our management team to assist them as we continue to make positive changes within our company.

Again, we always welcome your comments, questions or ideas at united.com/feedback . As a Premier 1K member, thank you for choosing United and MileagePlus.

Regards,

(name withheld)

MileagePlus® Service Center


I was wondering how they’d handle my message, as nobody in the Service Center would have any power over the back end system or the takeoff process at the gate. I think this is a 4/5 star reply.

For a while the Service Center used to hand out what I call ‘I’m sorry miles’ if I offered similar kinds of feedback. It was interesting to see what remarks merited how many miles. I think this note works better.

What would make this an outstanding experience is if someone got back to me and told me that the problem was fixed. And what would totally floor me is if at that point, United offered a thank-you gift — maybe another RPU cert, especially one that actually clears before takeoff!

A girl can wish.

Farewell Shipt

Last week, I quit Shipt.

In the end, what did it in were the same order accuracy issues that plagued my tests of Google Shopping Express and Instacart circa 2016. Amazon Prime Now circa 2016 did not have this problem, although their inventory range was challengingly limited.

I strongly believe that one-off shoppers as an overall labor force will never achieve a high level of accuracy. Some are really good; the bad ones make for (in my case) no peanut butter and jelly for my kiddo’s lunch.

In the future, I won’t use any delivery service that isn’t using a dedicated order picker (i.e., who really knows the store or stockroom).

I try to write the companies I quit to leave them with constructive feedback. Here’s my letter to Shipt and their response back.


Hi folks,

After having experienced Shipt seven times, I would like to cancel my membership and ask for a refund. Fortunately, I have not given my gift membership yet.

Here is my feedback for my ‘exit interview,’ so to speak:

My main reason for quitting is that the quality of your service varies too much from time to time.

Most people who are working as your shoppers are not familiar enough with the store in order to be able to locate the products I order. It’s simply not believable that commonly available items (such as the peanut butter and the strawberry jam that I ordered but did not receive today) are out of stock. It’s far more likely that the shopper could not locate it within the store.

In one instance, a shopper told me that something I ordered wasn’t available, and took a picture of the alternatives available to me. When I pointed out that in the picture was the item that I actually ordered, the fellow sheepishly agreed and brought the right item.

Only one shopper (name withheld) was someone I would use again. She was stellar — she even checked for expiration dates, and only brought items that would not go bad quickly. I would pay for her separately, rather than rolling the dice and getting whomever picked up the gig.

All in all, the intermittent time and attention I have to spend responding to people who are running around looking for the items I ordered, and not finding them, negates the time that I could just go to the store myself.

I am assuming that it isn’t possible to have my orders route only to (name), which is too bad because I would stay your customer if that were possible. For me, order accuracy is the most important attribute by a wide margin. If you could guarantee that my order would be right, and that only the truly out of stock items would be omitted, I wouldn’t even care what time the order arrived.

Thanks for listening, and for timely processing my cancellation and refund.

Best wishes,

(signed)


Four hours later the reply came. Kudos to Shipt on their reply time!

We value you as a member, and we’re sorry to see you go! We have cancelled your membership as you requested, and we appreciate you giving Shipt a try. Your refund will take a few business days to process back to your account. We would love to hear any feedback you have about our service. If you have a few moments, please take this brief survey: (link omitted)

If you would like to join Shipt in the future, log back into your account via shipt.com/shop or on the app and click ‘Get Started’ to select a new membership plan. We would love to shop for you in the future should your needs change!


While I did quit Shipt, I appreciate their friendly sendoff. They also processed my refund (prorated) quickly. If they ever change their model to have a vastly improved order picking quality, I’m glad to try them again.

5/5 star exchange. Good luck team!