Online Retailers Feel The Heat

Online Retailers Feel The Heat

How not to treat your customers - don’t deliver the goods they’ve paid you for, then shut down your call centre and ignore their emails.  Wendy Knowler wades into the shop-by-click chaos

Woman shopping online

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There’s never been a better time to buy online - especially if you’re working from home and the country is heading into the eye of the Covid-19 storm, making isolating at home an increasingly good idea.

The trouble is, a LOT of people have come to the same conclusion in the way the online retailers could never have anticipated.

So first it was the grocery retailers which ran into massive logistical problems, meaning delivery slots were pushed out by weeks, leading some to team up with delivery companies, with mixed results. Then as we  moved down the lockdown levels and more retail was allowed, even the likes of Takealot - which brought Black Friday to SA - began to flounder. The demand has been simply overwhelming.

Predictably, a combination of massively increased demand and enforced reduced capacity has led to delivery fails for many.

Add to that the fact that they also have reduced capacity to communicate with their customers and you have a lot of frustrated, angry customers.

Takealot, Makro, Incredible Connection, Norman Goodfellows, Woolworths, Bottles - you name the company and you will no doubt not have to look hard to find negative customer reviews.

No delivery and no or little comms is always a recipe for disaster.

This week two retailers stopped their online sales until they get on top of existing orders - Edgars and alcohol merchant Norman Goodfellows.

Brave move - rather stop selling until you’ve got on top of the backlog, to avoid angering more customers and doing irreparable reputational harm.

The other thing which is annoying online retail customers is the unilateral cancelling of orders. Takealot does this a lot, and tells its customers this via email, with the news that  Takealot’s annoying that they’ve credited their Takealot account.

What’s up with that?  I asked the company why it doesn’t refund the customer’s bank account, rather than deciding for them that the money will stay with Takealot.

Here’s their response: "Store credit is allocated instantly, providing the customer with an immediate opportunity to purchase an alternative or replacement item. Credit card or EFT refunds can be processed immediately however there is a time lag of up to several business days before the funds reflect in the customer’s account and the customer is able to access them.

"This time lag is unavoidable as batched payments need to be processed via the relevant interbank clearing system, which causes a delay. Having said that, we always offer the customer the option of having their store credit refunded if this is their preference.”

So if you get that “order cancelled” email and you’d rather have your money back, let them know immediately.

As for the communication issues, a number of corporates have closed their call centres, saying they being forced to have staff work from home, and they can’t run a professional call centre during the lockdown. Takealot’s current promised response time via its online help forum is three days.

Woolworths responded to the significant increase in calls to its call centre by recording a message to tell those who do call to rather use its digital channels.

Likewise, fashion e-tailer Zando says its “customer service team is working offsite from home with only email communications”.

Not really what you want when your promised order hasn’t arrived, with no explanation, and you want answers as soon as possible.

These are testing times for everyone, but one thing’s for sure. Companies would do well to devote a lot of time and resources to communicating effectively with their customers.

Being let down and then ignored is death to the customer loyalty.

Also read: The truth about disinfectant tunnels

Catch up with previous episodes here:

Get in touch with Wendy via her website or her Facebook page. Please note that Wendy is not able to personally respond to every email she receives. If she is able to take up your case, she will contact you directly. Here are other avenues for you to consider.

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