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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Author: ararhan

i love retail. it could be a whole lot better. let's figure out how.

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