Retail is moving online and there’s no going back to traditional shopping, but standards of customer care when things go wrong are not good enough, writes Helen Martin.
FOR 16 years I’ve been living in a house with dogs, cats, a man with an allotment and a passion for grass cutting – thus shoes bearing mud, clippings, and whatever sticks to a bloke’s feet after playing tennis and golf. It’s now finally time to change carpets, some furniture and repaint.
Did that mean going shopping or online? The latter takes less time and effort, sitting with a PC or iPad rather than trudging the streets and paying for parking places. Hit a few keys and we can visit dozens of stores in a couple of hours while indulging in coffee or vino with the cat on one’s lap.
No need to go to a supermarket either. Click on whatever you want to buy and have it delivered to your doorstep. Clothes? Whizz round websites of boutiques, trendy chains or department stores, pay online and wear it two days later. Portal thingies and e-mails for everything from utilities, council taxes, insurance cover and other supplies are efficient and fast in theory, and being expanded by councils, offices, even holiday bookings. There’s no need to speak to another human being at all.
Many jobs have disappeared through all this digital development, but customers increasingly switch from footfall and bus trips to buying stuff from home.
Can’t say it works well for me. Ironically, a new PC desk is required in our revamp. I spotted the ideal one on a well-known website. With no sporting stuff on and rain plummeting outside, my Shoe Man correctly ordered and paid for it with delivery in just two days.
A few hours after it arrived, I realised the shape of the boxes didn’t seem to conform with the desk. To cut a long story short, it turned out to be some sort of bed, delivered wrongly to us while someone else had the desk we ordered, now said on the website to be ‘out of stock’.
Where’s my desk?
After about 30 minutes trying in vain to find a way online of telling the firm what had happened, we finally found a phone number. Still don’t know if our desk is coming.
I once bought a pair of soft slippers online, something I thought unnecessary to try on. They were marked size 6 but turned out to be size 3. It was easier to give them to a ten-year-old rather than post them back.
Utility, council and other portals provide only the ordinary, positive options they want to offer, so they cut back on phone operatives. If there’s a complaint or a non-portal issue, allow anything up to an hour to call and speak to a person to deal with it.
We went to look at carpets in shops. None had the samples we wanted. We were told to go online and order the sample.
I wanted to phone a major Capital department store to ask if they stocked a product I could see and examine. Their website told me I couldn’t do that, I had to go to the shop in person, to find out whether they had the item or not, or order it online and return it if I didn’t like it.
I used to order shopping online for my elderly mother. Ideal because she lived in the West, couldn’t get to shops and it would be delivered.
Unfortunately, three fridges had packed up in the loading store so instead of letting me reorder, they delivered substitutes she didn’t recognise, couldn’t open and wasn’t medically allowed to eat.
Turning the clock back to traditional shopping isn’t an answer. But the standards of websites, customer care, product checks and phone access still have a long way to go to provide decent service.