The highs and lows of digital retailing over the holidays

by | Jan 12, 2016 | Omnichannel, Retailers

Whew – we are finally through the holidays! And by all accounts, 2015 was a successful season for digital retailing, with online sales jumping 13 percent from the 2014 season and mobile sales accounting for nearly 20 percent of online holiday purchases, according to Internet Retailer.

SPS-161-Best-Worst-Expreiences At the same time, the holidays can surely test the might of digital retailing, and with another robust holiday stretch in the books, we would like to share some of our employees’ best, worst – and quirkiest – experiences with omnichannel shopping over the holidays! To get things started, I am sharing my story first. Let’s go:

I ordered two iPod Touch cases from an online retailer in early December as Christmas gifts for my daughters. They were identical items except for the color, one was teal and the other was pink. The retailer said both items would arrive within two days. The teal one arrived with no problem, but then I got an email saying the pink one was delayed but would reach me by Christmas. Naturally, I began to worry because these promises ran into the week of Christmas and my daughters really wanted the cases. I received a tracking number for the item via email on Dec. 22 – cutting things very close – but luckily the pink iPod case arrived at 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve, right before I came home from our church service. I let out a whoop for joy and quickly wrapped up the case to put under the tree! I was so glad we got the iPod case in time, but the experience really reflected a lack of inventory visibility. When I placed the order, the retailer showed both items in stock – when one clearly was not.

Meanwhile, one of our project managers had an unfortunate experience with online pickup during the holidays. His story:

“I decided to use the in-store pickup option at a major U.S. retailer and was told I would get a confirmation that the item was ready for pickup by the next day.  Two days later, I received an email stating that the product was no longer available and that the retailer would be canceling the order and issuing a refund.  So not only did the retailer not meet the confirmation timeline that was established, it also couldn’t fulfill the order. On the flip side, I created an order for the same product from Barnes & Noble since my other order got canceled.  B&N confirmed that the product was ready for pickup before I got to the store.  It was a seamless, wonderful experience and one that has encouraged me to shop with Barnes & Noble more in the future!”

Another colleague in our marketing team had an unusual experience with both a retailer and logistics provider over the holidays! Her story:

“I ordered a paisley Free People dress around Thanksgiving (one that I had wanted for months) on a major U.S. retailer’s website. I got it at a really great price, and was told that I would get it in a week. (I got the shipping confirmation and everything!) Then, 10 days later, no dress. I called the retailer to check on the status, and after waiting on the line for an hour, the customer service representative said the dress was ‘lost’ and couldn’t be reshipped because it was out of stock. I was offered the option to purchase another Free People dress at the same discounted price, and ultimately did so, but I was super bummed because I really wanted the other dress. So I checked with FedEx (the shipper) myself, and the wrong ZIP code was recorded when the shipping label was created. So, almost 17 days after I placed the order, I got the paisley Free People dress delivered to my doorstep, in addition to getting the alternate dress that I had ordered. The bad news was that it took forever to get my dress and I didn’t get it in time to wear it to the event that I had planned. The good news, however, is that I ultimately got the dress I wanted, plus one for FREE because of the mix-up. For all the time wasted, the retailer decided to only charge me for one dress! Yay, for me! But it was a mistake that ended up costing the retailer.”

And finally, a member of our Web operations team got merchandise that was damaged.

“I placed an order for several high-end bath products for Christmas gifts and ordered them with plenty of time before the holiday. When I finally got the merchandise a week before Christmas, I was really disappointed to find that the items – 12 total – had seemingly been thrown into a box and shipped without any protective packing components. One of the items, a bath scrub, was damaged during shipment and leaked over all the others. It was a huge mess, and none of the items were suitable to give as gifts. Oh, and the retailer forgot to send one item entirely! I had to contact customer service. When I asked for a refund on the shipping cost, the request was honored. The retailer also sent a free replacement order for the items it deemed damaged. When the replacement order came, it was a repeat of the first order with no protective packaging and more leaky products! It’s clear that the customer service group wasn’t able to fix the issues happening in shipping. I could have asked for yet another replacement order, but I was too frustrated to deal with it. I wound up having to find alternate gifts at the last minute. I won’t be ordering from that company again.”

While these scenarios are quite different, they all show the importance of retailers having control over their inventory as well as working in lockstep with logistics companies like UPS and FedEx to get products delivered to the right place at the right time. Don’t wait for the next holiday season to get prepared. If you are a retailer, supplier or distributor looking to transform your business for today’s digital retailing and consumer expectations, contact SPS Commerce to get started.

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