A Disconnect for the Online Shopping Experience

Amanda and I have an addiction. Books. We love books. One of our go to date nights is to head to Barnes and Noble and wander thru the store looking. There is something about holding a book in your hands and turning the pages.

We enjoy the instore experience of being able to pick up books, read the covers and possibly come across something we wouldn’t normally see. The online shopping is great at making recommendation’s but I think it doesn’t allow you to explore other areas.

When we go there we know we are over paying for the books we purchase and we purchase a lot. We are Barnes and Noble members and that helps but you can find the same thing cheaper on Amazon. Even more bizarre to me. I can purchase the books on Barnes and Noble dot com for less than in the store. In many cases a lot less. It is almost as if Barnes and Noble is trying to run their own brick and mortar store out of business.

Oddly they even offer coupons that are only valid online and not in store. In fairness to them they aren’t the only ones to do this. Staples does the same. (I’ll have a post on them tomorrow) I would think it would make sense to maybe reduce their in store pricing to be closer or even in line with the online pricing honoring all the coupons across the board. It makes more sense to the consumer. A more consistent experience. I understand the store has more overhead and expenses but it is all part of the same business model. How much business are they losing to competitors because people don’t shop in store due to the pricing and they also don’t shop their website because they prefer another online retailer like Amazon?

After my last experience I bet a fair amount of business is lost.

I received a Barnes and Noble gift certificate for my birthday. I had a few books that I knew I wanted and also came across a coupon for Black Friday. So I decided I would just order them on the Barnes and Noble site.

Now all of this was odd behavior for me since I never shop Barnes and Noble online, I generally don’t use coupons. My online book purchases are typically Amazon, even though I shop in a Barnes and Noble store all the time.

I placed my order for three books, two of them in stock and one of them a preorder coming out in a few days. Since I was getting free shipping the web site let me know that they would ship them in as few shipments as possible. I figured when the pre order was released they would all ship at once the following Tuesday. Amazon often ships your pre order so you have it in hand the day the book is released, which I think is pretty cool. I wasn’t sure how Barnes and Noble handled pre orders.

I received the expected emails about my order and it looked like everything was on the way with expected delivery ETA’s.

Oddly one book shipped and then a day later the pre order shipped, each with separate tracking numbers. The third book still had an ETA but no tracking information. The expected ETA came and went and the other books each delivered separately.

There was no way to get an order inquiry via the emails I was receiving so I logged into my account and looked there. No more additional information there. After digging I found a chat option to use for my inquiry. It was buried and I think it should have been easier to get more information about my order.

So I got on the chat with a representative and learned that the book was marked as out of stock but after several minutes the agent had located it. I was informed that she would send a request to have it shipped and that would take 24 – 72 hours. Then I would have it in another three days or so.

I asked since it had already been a week could the order be expedited since the error was on their end. I got the same response. So I asked the agent to ask their manager to expedite it. I was told that wasn’t an option and that I needed to call the 800 number and ask for a manager.

Now I was frustrated.

First I found this to be a huge disconnect from a customer service perspective. I also felt undervalued as a customer. I spend a lot of money at Barnes and Noble at premium pricing but that was probably unknown to the customer service representative. The airline industry has lots of issues but they certainly know who their frequent flyers are and there are lots of programs to reward them.

So I called the 800 number. Surprisingly I asked for and got a manager without having to go thru many hoops. Again I had to wait as I am sure she had to do the same work as the chat representative. She came back and said the same thing about the book being marked as out of stock but she found it etc.

I also got the same story about shipping times. I again asked for it to be expedited. Again I was on hold and she came back and said the request would be submitted. It wasn’t clear if my request was honored or not.

I think between the chat and the call it took at least 45 minutes maybe a little longer. That was a Saturday and the book showed up on Tuesday, so it didn’t take as long as it could.

In the end everything arrived in separate shipments the first two books took over a week to arrive and at least five business days but they did arrive within a day of their posted ETA. I wonder what would have happened if I never called about the third book. I understand that not everything goes as planned and mistakes happen. What is important is how the company recovers from that mistake.

From a customer perspective the experience was extremely poor.  I still can’t wrap my head around why I had to leave the chat to solve my problem. I have some ideas why, yet from a customer experience it is horrible.

Then there is the disconnect of my relationship with Barnes and Noble. It doesn’t seem that the online side of the business knows about my brick and mortar business. Every customer deserves a great customer service experience. As a business owner myself I would want to have a window to my customers business with my company on all of the platforms we sell on. This would allow me to have more information should I ever need to recover from a customer service issue.

What I expected to happen was the following:

1.       To easily be able to find a way to inquiry about my order delay since the order information online was not providing updates.

2.       To use the method I found for inquiry to solve my problem with one interaction.

3.       Since it was a Barnes and Noble mistake to have an expedited solution to my problem without having to ask for it. Something to maybe surprise me or wow me for the extra time it all took.

Well that didn’t happen.

In this case I wasn’t in a hurry to get the items I ordered. That doesn’t mean that I still didn’t want to know when they were going to arrive. If I was needing them delivered for a specific time frame I wouldn’t have been super comfortable with the process.

After this experience I may never use Barnes and Nobles online purchasing again. I’ll likely still shop in their brick and mortars stores but I do now question my value as a customer to them. They lost a little loyalty from me after all of this.

What I do find concerning is this wasn’t an odd customer service interaction. It is a daily occurrence for them, probably a hundred times over. They should have systems in place to address every type of order issue they could possibly have. This is a primary business function they are in, delivering online orders.

About Ernest

Ernest is the owner of the Crofton Bike Doctor located in the Village of Waugh Chapel Shopping Center. Ernest has been in the industry since 1989 when he first started to work at the Bike Doctor of Arnold. During that time I developed a love for cycling and retail. I graduated from the University of Maryland and live and ride locally.

I enjoy riding off road and on the road as well as doing a little bike touring. As a teenager I did a trip in Maine and then over to Novia Scotia which helped cement my love for riding. Since then I have done tours in the Canyons of Utah as well as several trips along the C&O Canal. Today I have both mountain bikes and road bikes that I enjoy riding. One of the most exciting things now is my wife is beginning to develop a passion for riding and we have begun mountain bike together as well as some light road riding.

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