Category Archives: E-commerce

Not Quite There Yet

I’ve been writing a lot lately about talent management and the importance of having a well-trained, motivated workforce to deliver the “brand promise” and maintain high levels of customer service, even (or especially) during a global recession. In a perfect world, consumers would receive consistently positive service and support across all channels – in a store, on the Web, from the call center, all staffed by helpful employees who are empowered to go off script and help consumers make  informed buying decisions or solve their problems quickly. 

If my current experience with Dell is any indication, we’ve got a long way to go. (Cue the violins.)

I’m shopping for a new desktop for my business. Dell is the only PC maker I’ve found offering free “downgrades” from Vista to Windows XP. I’ve got the model I want – a Vostro 420 Tower – and I’m clicking through their wizard to customize the system (bigger hard drive, etc.). I don’t need a monitor – but there’s only a pick list for different size displays, not for purchasing the system without one. Stuck. OK, let’s try the live chat feature. I fill out my name, type my question, submit – error message. Try again (sometimes technology doesn’t like the apostrophe in my name) – same message. I wait 10 minutes, try one  more time, with less text – same error.

So I clicked around, found an email for sales/pre-sales support, which seemed logical. Sent this email: 

I’ve been trying to customize a Vostro 420 tower, have a question about ordering the system without a monitor, tried to chat 3 times and got this msg:

SOAP-ENV:ServerUnable to Connect to Talisma Server at 143.166.82.15Request exceeds maximum size99999

Not efficient!

Regards,

Rob O’Regan

I received a prompt reply, but not what I was expecting/hoping for: 

Dear Rob O’Regan:

Thank you for choosing Dell. You have reached the Small to Medium Business Online Order Resolution team.  

Whats the question?

Thank you for choosing Dell.

Respectfully,

SMB Online Sales

Dell, Inc.

3 issues here – 1) using my full name (smacks of automation or outsourcing), 2) Nice tone! 3) anonymously signed. But hey, at least I got a response, and an offer to help (sort of). So I rephrase the original question: 

The question was whether I can configure the Vostro 420 without a monitor – I don’t get that option when I’m customizing.

Thank you. 

This response took a little longer, but was equally unhelpful: 

Dear Rob O’Regan:

Thank you for choosing Dell. You have reached the Small to Medium Business Online Order Resolution team.  

The system can be configured w/monitor but you will need to configure the lowest starting package.

Thank you for choosing Dell.

Respectfully,

SMB Online Sales

Clearly I’m missing the whole satisfying customer experience thing here. Probably my fault.

3/14 update: After being chastised by my buddy David Churbuck, VP of global Web marketing at Lenovo (or whatever his title is now), I bought a Lenovo ThinkCentre A57 Tower – and so far, it runs like a dream. Thanks DC!

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Groundhog Day

Con von Hoffman accurately writes about the media’s annual and tired treatment of Black Friday as a predictor of holiday sales. It’s pretty much the same story for the post-Thanksgiving retail shopping frenzy and its online equivalent, Cyber Monday, this year as last as the year before. The best line from Collateral Damage:

The truth is that Black Friday sales numbers are as accurate as sheep entrails when it comes to predicting the holiday season’s retail sales.

Let the statistical manipulation begin!

 

Black Friday, Cyber Monday

I don’t understand why someone would stand in line on Thanksgiving night for a midnight mall opening. Or why retailers feel the need to open at 5 am on the marketing gimmick known as Black Friday. Sure, I used to camp out overnight for concert tickets, but that was pre-Internet. I probably do 80% of my Christmas shopping online now. I’ll still take my kids to the mall once or twice during the season for the “experience” – but for the most part I have no patience for standing in checkout lines or fighting mall traffic. Or listening to Christmas music in November.  

But when it comes to e-commerce, I’m still heavily in the minority. A Jupiter Research analyst told the New York Times that online sales are expected to make up just 6 percent of all holiday merchandise sold this season. In the same article, the Times cited this stat from the National Retail Federation: just 47% of consumers would make at least one online purchase this year. That’s a far cry from the figure cited last week by Zogby and AOL, in which 80% of 37,000 U.S. adults said they would shop online this year. Who to believe? The tide may be turning, slowly. ComScore Networks said online sales on Black Friday surged 42% compared with last year’s post-Thanksgiving purchases, to $434 million.

In the brick and mortar world, the malls trumped the big box retailers over the weekend, pushing their openings up to midnight in some spots and boosting sales by 9 percent over 2005, the New York Times reports. Other weekend stats from the National Retail Federation’s Black Friday Weekend Survey (conducted by BIGresearch) and other media outets: 

  • 140 million people shopped at retail or online over the extended holiday weekend, down about 5 million from last year. But they spent an average of $360.15, up nearly 19 percent from 2005.
  • More women (48%) went shopping than men (37%). [Which raises a serious question: Were the remaining 15% gender-neutral?] But the men outspent their female counterparts, $420.37 to $304.30, with the guys apparently focusing their efforts on 42-inch plasmas and other necessities. 
  • The Washington Post reported that Black Friday drew about 58.9 million shoppers, down more than 1 million from 2005.
  • ShopperTrak estimated total spending on Friday reached $8.96 billion, up 6 percent from last year (Washington Post)

There’s plenty of debate around how much of a bellwether Black Friday is for the rest of the shopping season. Some say it’s a poor predicter, because those who shop early don’t shop late, so it all comes out in the wash for retailers. Analysts are notorious for throwing cold water on positive Black Friday numbers, as a way to hedge their bets if the season ultimately tanks.

As for today, the official online kickoff to the holiday season known as Cyber Monday, a survey conduced by BIGresearch for Shop.org predicts that approximately 61 million consumers will shop online from home or work. Retailers are certainly targeting the e-commerce set more than they have in the past, with heavy online-only discounts, free shipping and other promotions. Personally, I’ll take the comfort of my home office over the hassle of the mall. The tactile experiences are lacking in the online world, but the positive impact on my blood pressure is worth the trade-off.