I am a bargain hunter, patiently lying in wait for the best deals of the year, only to pounce upon them with the eagerness of a lion bringing down its prey. Most of these deals take place each year on Black Friday, and the astute shopper can score big savings if he sticks to a plan.
This year’s bargain hunting went off without a hitch, like a military operation. I ordered a dining room table and several other items from Macy’s online. No problems: Thanks Macy’s for not wasting my time by making me come to the store. Next I perused the Kohl’s sale. With special discounts for online shopping, free shipping, and $15 in Kohl’s Cash for every $50 spent, you can’t go wrong. Internet purchases out of the way, I headed to the local Walmart early to look for the items on my list, from the $98 TV to the Hello Kitty play set. By the time the sale started at 6 p.m., I was ready. By 6:30 p.m. I had paid, and was on my way home. Great customer service, Walmart.
Then came Jos. A. Bank.
On Black Friday, after consulting their ad, I’d decided to buy six shirts online. I placed the order, hit submit, and was good to go — or so I thought. The next day, I received an e-mail explaining that three of the shirts were on backorder. Hmm…I wish they had told me that when I’d ordered, and I would have picked different shirts. The backordered shirts were to be shipped on December 7. More then a week later, on December 16, I emailed the company and asked for an update, reminding Jos. A. Bank that it had processed my payment in an efficient manner. No response. I logged on to its website and called customer service, but it rang busy — 11 times.
I finally got a customer service representative, who told me that my order had been put on hold pending address verification. She transfers me to the appropriate department, at which point a nice woman comes on the line and tells me that two of the shirts are still on backorder, but that she will overnight the others. The address verification issue never comes up.
I asked her why I wasn’t notified of the problem. She tells me that once the system rejected my order and there was no way for the company to send a second e-mail. She told me that the company’s policy is to just wait until the customer calls to complain.
Jos. A. Bank will get its comeuppance, so long as the markets are working correctly.
The Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter is credited with popularizing the idea of creative destruction — that the fall of companies and industries in a capitalist system leads to more productive and efficient successors. Think of the creation of the assembly line, which caused massive upheaval in the manufacturing industry, or the mechanization of agriculture, an industry that employed 40 percent of American laborers in 1900 and engages only 2 percent today.
The Internet is another such innovation, which has disrupted industry after industry, and retailing is certainly no exception. Companies that can’t get their act together to give customers what they want—more options, easy access to products, lower prices, good service—will fall behind. Either Jos. A. Bank will improve, or it will lose customers to the competition. Either way, the customer will win in the end.
Until then, I will be patiently awaiting the arrival of my shirts and looking forward to next Black Friday, when I will be shopping at Brooks Brothers.
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