What we have here is a failure to… pretty much do anything right…

Another day, another customer experience fail…

Not that we should be surprised of course, a vast majority of companies have a very, very long way to go until they get to a place in which the customer can be classified as “satisfied” (particularly here in the UK if you ask the average consumer and/or look at the customer satisfaction data.)

Most companies are nowhere near where they need to be to meet customer desires – much less to the nirvana of a “happy & ready to refer others to the business.”  But today’s story might be one of the great all-time fails in online commerce in recent memory (at least from my perspective.)

Today’s example is brought to us by Very.co.uk – a shopping site owned by Shop Direct Group (who also owns Littlewoods – amongst other brands.  I’d link to their websites, but I don’t want to give them more traffic after this episode…)

The story (in brief synopsis) goes down like this:

I was perusing the Cyber Monday sales online in the evening last week – with a particular interest in looking at the price of laptops to replace the aging one I currently use for most activities – and was alerted to what seemed to be an excellent price for a new mid-range priced laptop.

Reading some reviews online from various publications and it seemed to meet most of the requirements of what I was looking for – so I was quite interested to find and purchase my discovery on that evening.

With a listed saving of £200, I was quite chuffed to find the “deal” and purchased it (and an extended warranty) on the Monday night using my credit card (and with a bit of online digging, I was also able to come up with a £30 off code as it was offered to those completing their first purchase – Bonus!)

I signed up for their company-offered purchase plan as it would allow me the option of paying for the laptop over three payments with no interest or surcharges as well – all with one simple click of a checkbox and no need to fill out extra “paperwork” on the website!

I received a confirmation on my account page via their website after I completed the purchase process that the laptop would be delivered on Thursday and went on about the rest of my Monday evening. (in retrospect, the complete lack of use of email as a purchase confirmation tool is somewhat disturbing – but imagine it helps eliminate the possibility of an evidence trail for episodes like this one.)

I wanted to check a particular specification on the laptop (I’m a bit of a computer geek) – so I returned to the very.co.uk website on Wednesday morning – and was pleased to see that the very same model was still listed on the site, but no longer had the price that I had paid but had returned to its normal list price — £200 more that I had paid two days earlier.

Thursday came and went … no laptop was delivered.

Friday morning, I was curious as to why I hadn’t received the shipment and went back into the very website, logged into my account, and came across the info listed on the screenshot below.  Yes…. My laptop was “no longer available.

A bit confused, I called up the very.co.uk customer service line and waited on hold for about 15 minutes before someone finally greeted me and asked how they could help.  I mentioned that I was supposed to have received a laptop yesterday and it never showed.  The CSR disappeared for another couple of minutes and came back and told me“we don’t have it in stock anymore.

And?” I inquired….

And that is all I can say.  We are sorry.

So the confirmation on your website up until today that the laptop would be delivered yesterday was what then?

Apparently the listed confirmation was a pipe dream – they didn’t have it in stock and I wouldn’t be getting the laptop – so I asked a further probing question.

So if the laptop was ‘out of stock’ – why was it on sale on your website two days ago at its regular price.

I have no idea – but we don’t have it in stock now – so you won’t be receiving it” was the reply back.

Can I ask why there is still a £40+ charge on my very account page if you aren’t sending me the laptop then?

Oh that was for the extended warranty – I’ll remove that now.” (It actually took an extra five days – and two further emails from me – to actually get the charge removed.)

Rather flummoxed on that Friday morning (who are we kidding – I was pissed off) I took to the destination that most online consumers head to in moments like this – Very’s corporate Facebook page.

Reading through the many similar comments left there by other customers, it seems this all too common tactic might be the regular “modus operandi” for Very.co.uk – (over)sell particular items and then disappoint/piss off the customer by telling them after the fact that they don’t have it in stock (despite the fact that they were still selling it online at regular price two days after I bought mine – but apparently to Very, that is beside the point.)

I would imagine that they do this in the hopes of capturing the details of the customer (which are quite valuable – particularly in the online commerce world) and then spamming them with unwanted promotions and offers to their email address until the end of time.

I’m hoping that is the most innocent of the potential issues I face going forward.  I’m not sure where I stand from the consumer credit angle of their financial services offering of the deferred payments scheme – I’m hoping it is not completely nefarious – but who knows as it remains to be seen what other actions might take place.

After leaving a comment on the very.co.uk Facebook page (to which there only seems to be one ‘canned reply’ from the CSR consisting of ‘we are sorry – can you email us and we’ll see what we can do about this’ – which the real answer to that seems to be “Sweet F*@k All” or “SFA” as I commonly refer to it as) I resorted to another tactic I sometimes use in moments of customer distress – targeting the CEO to alert him of the problem and see if there is another way to resolve the issue to my (the customer’s) satisfaction.

Alas, the CEO, a former investment banker named Alex Baldock, doesn’t list his email anywhere, and his email address doesn’t follow the regular pattern of those who work at Shop Direct (firstname.lastname@shopdirect.com).

That is a warning sign straight off – for most companies whose CEOs “lock themselves away in a tower” where they don’t think they should/need to correspond with their customers at all – particularly when they are an individual buying a couple of small items on a regular basis, rather than a corporate behemoth who will seemingly garner the CEOs attention – night or day.

In this case, Shop Direct has a much larger and “busier” competitor like Amazon – where any person can contact their CEO, Jeff Bezos, directly at jeff@amazon.com to voice any displeasures – and someone in his CSR team gets back to you within 48 hours to find an actual proper resolution (having done this on a couple of occasions, it really works well to keep potential customers happy.)

So I took to Google to find another solution – and found that the Deputy CEO of the Shop Direct Group, Gareth Jones, is active on Twitter (although mostly just spamming Shop Direct’s “accomplishments” and various photos from PR events.)

I contacted him via a couple of tweets alerting him to my unhappiness of the recent events – and he passed me back to the customer service department almost straight away.

The new CSR tweeted me back and asked for a screenshot of the order and told me they would look into it – so I supplied him the one above within 15 minutes of our call.  They later got back to me (after five days – and after I had to contact them again to find out what the status was) with the same canned reply I had received earlier over the phone consisting of “out of stock – you won’t be getting it – goodbye.”

The amusing thing for me looking through Gareth Jones’ timeline of tweets is one that touts their partnership with IBM on “boosting” their digital transformation – which is apparently not working that well in retrospect.

I understand that online companies sometimes have logistical and supply chain issues that lead to situations like this – but to make it a regular method of business (as evidenced by many others who have complained about their tactics) is tantamount to fraud – if not, actual fraud since they gain as a business from having my financial and contact details.

There is also the option of trying to work out some sort of compromise with the customer — be it a discount on another model of laptop, as one suggestion….but no… straight dismissal of the customer and their complaint was their only apparent method forward even though it was a problem that was of their own making.

I decided a post illustrating the spectacular fail would be the best way to warn those who might be in the same situation – and let people know the shady business practices that Shop Direct and Very are using to harvest potential customer’s sensitive information.

I tweeted Gareth Jones a couple of days ago to let him know that I would most likely be writing a post to illustrate the issues I had with his company – and to offer him the opportunity to voice his side of the story.  I’m guessing from his lack of any or all replies, he is comfortable with their current stance on disappointing their customers.

Another day in the failure of customer experience….

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