Tuesday, January 2, 2007

On-Line, In-Store Mix-Up

In the midst of pre-holiday hoopla, it dawned on my friend Sabrina that she completely forgot to buy holiday cards. The revelation came at about 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 17. It was late and she was tired.

But she wasn’t about to settle for some basic holiday cards left on on Hallmark tables. She still intended to be creative, and the last thing she wanted was her greeting cards to look like a last-minute put-together.

So what did she do?

She grabbed her camera. After some quick snapshots of quirky poses with friends, she uploaded the images online at a popular drug store within minutes. She selected her own background banner and instead of waiting weeks to have personalized greetings cards made and processed, her order was to be ready the very next morning.

Sabrina received an e-mail from the store around noon the next day saying her cards were ready for pick-up. It was just too easy, she told me. The drug store saved her last-minute-card crunch.

Or so she thought.

Still excited, she stopped at the store to pick up her on-line purchase. But to her disappointment, the store couldn’t find her order. Sabrina was given a pile of leftover pictures to sift through to see if her order had been misplaced. The staffers told her some of those photos had been there since May.

Sabrina became very frustrated and was told to come back the next day. She told the employee that she specifically chose to use the company to save time and aggravation; now this delay would push her back even more. She left.

The next day she received a phone call from the store saying they had found her order. However, after the employee described her silly and quirky holiday picture, Sabrina felt completely embarrassed.

What should have been such a smooth on-line to in-store experience turned utterly daunting.

“It just could have been so easy,” Sabrina said.

Although the turnaround was still pretty fast for last-minute personalized cards, I’m sure next time she’ll allot a few extra days for an expected next-day pick-up. Retailers, however, should be made aware of and fix these on-line and in-store miscommunications fast. If a business promises a hassle-free multichannel experience, it needs to keep its word.

— Samantha Murphy