For a company that espouses "Easy" Apple sure misses the boat sometimes…

As I mentioned last month in my Holiday Online Shopping post one of the total misses in my online shopping experience was with Apple.

My cousin was getting an iPod for Christmas so my wife and I decided to buy him some credit at iTunes so he could buy some music for it. Christmas came and went, so did New Years, still no cards. I called the first week of January and it turned out that something went strange in the system with my address. I had initially entered my office address but then decided to change it to home just in case it didn’t get there before Christmas.

Strike #1
Something didn’t take when I updated the address. The end result was my office street address with my home city & postal code. To make things worse when the phone number was stored it tried to put the whole 10-digit number in the 7-digit phone space and left the area code spot blank – this meant Purolator didn’t even have a phone # to try and get a correct address from me. The package went out, hung out at Purolator for a bit and then went back to Apple.

My email address was right – but I never heard from anyone saying “Hey something isn’t right here.’

Strike 2

Finally, in the first week of January and a week after they said it would arrive I gave them a call. The error found above was discovered, address corrected and I was told the order would be shipped again shortly. Smart, friendly call center person. Too bad there was no follow through. Fast forward two weeks to today, still no item in the mail.

Strike 3

As a last ditch attempt I call Apple once more. Checking the status on the site shows no material change in my order at all, and no second order created to ship the cards to me. Explain to the girl she goes on to explain that it’s easiest if I go to yet another iTunes store page (I think I’ve counted 3 distinct “stores” on apple’s site so far) as she would just have to do that herself anyways. I take one look at the site (a usability disaster in its own right) and tell her just cancel the order, I really can’t be bothered to go through this much work over a pair of gift cards and she made it pretty clear she wasn’t interested in doing it for me.

She puts me on hold and comes back with “I went to the iTunes store and requested a cancellation, expect someone to email you back within 36 hours.

Physical Cards for Online Stores?

I commented to the girl about the sheer stupidity of having physical gift cards for a purely online store. Who the heck thought that up?

It’s not like people have a swipe peripheral on their PC – the reality is my cousin would get the cards, scratch off the silvery patch on the back to reveal a code which he’s then going to punch into the iTunes online store. Why not save the headaches, shipping costs and time and just let me buy codes directly off the site.

Continue Dealing with the Same Company

When I place an order with your business I want to continue dealing with your business. I don’t want to hear sob stories about how that’s another system or a different division. If you can’t support the fulfillment process don’t sell the product.

“Perceptual Integration” is a wonderful thing – The first girl did the right thing, she didn’t tell me about others sites or stores – she just did what she could to make it happen I was none the wiser, I perceived an integrated system where there clearly is not. Unfortunately someone dropped the ball in the interim and the second shipment never happened. If I’d just been able to buy the codes off the site in the first place though, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

Confusing Websites

Aside form having three stores I found it really tough to locate where my order had placed and what its status was. The site kept trying to get me to install iTunes when I clicked on the obvious stores but I knew that wasn’t where I had bought the gift cards from. The third site that the girl pointed to me was literally four directories down in the apple site – I have no idea how one would easily find their way there. When I did get there the page was so busy and cluttered I was completely lost and just gave up.


I think one lesson to take away for any online store is if you don’t have a physical presence have a purely electronic way for people to buy gifts (Hint: Steve call Jeff, I know you guys are good buddies and his team at Amazon put this notion together years ago). Sure, make cards for Point of Purchase displays in physical stores, but don’t make electronic consumers wait for a physical item when the only use for it is in electronic form.

There’s lessons in call center training (the second girl blew the deal), and system architectures (why two storefronts? why do I have to cancel my order somewhere else?) etc. in here somewhere to.

All in all though a disastrous online shopping experience.

2006 Online Christmas Shopping Experience Roundup

This is the first year I’ve tried to proactively do as much of my Christmas shopping online as possible. In the end I managed to order roughly 90% of the gifts I needed to get online.

I ended up ordering from six vendors and with the exception of Apple ITunes everything was ordered on the same day (December 10th).

Here’s a summary of the results:

  • Toys R Us
    This was the second time we’ve ordered stuff from Toys R Us – It was the first package to arrive out of any of the orders. Ordered Saturday and arrived on Wednesday. Toys R Us doesn’t have any sort of free shipping offer but some items are marked as having free shipping (Seemingly arbitrary). The most puzzling thing was how the items were packaged when they arrived. We ordered two items and they came shipped in separate boxes even though both would have easily fit in the bigger of the two boxes. Seemed like a whole lot of waste to me.

    Hits: Quick Shipping, Reasonable Shipping Costs
    Misses: Wasteful Packaging, Arbitrary Shipping Pricing (Why no blanket policy?)

    Overall: HIT

    I’ve ordered a lot from Amazon over the years so their performance wasn’t surprising at all. Regardless of timing their items consistently arrive on time, and their shipping discount policy is straight forward. The most frustrating issue this time was actually dealing with the site. For example: we were trying to order a cookbook for one person, it turns out though that most cookbooks aren’t readily available. Not a big deal but there was no obvious way to filter those items out. In general Amazon needs a filter for “Show me only what you can ship right now”, especially though as you get closer to Xmas.

    The other Amazon head scratcher is their Free Shipping policy of arbitrarily delaying the Super Saving shipping orders 1-3 days. At the end of the day I don’t see the point of holding the orders. At least in the Toronto area we’re right on top of a distribution point. I got the “Your order has been shipped” email Wednesday night and the package beat me in to work on Thursday morning. 6 books packed in one dense tiny little box exactly as ordered.

    Hits: Free shipping, Quick Shipping despite arbitrary delay, Efficiently packed
    Misses: Arbitrary Shipping Delay, Lack of search filtering slowed order process

    Overall: HIT

  • Obadiah Parker
    I encountered this band after seeing their lead signers amazing cover of “Hey Ya” on Youtube. After poking around I found their MySpace page, and finally their main homepage. Their site only had pricing for shipping to the US but they provided an email address to inquire about International shipping. I fired off an inquiry and within a couple of hours I had a response, pricing, and the order placed via PayPal.

    Unfortunately this package missed getting here in time for Christmas by a day – but it was there waiting in the mailbox the first day we had mail delivery after the holiday. When I ordered the discs I was somewhat skeptical that they would arrive on time so it wasn’t a huge disappointment. Given the time of year and the fact they’re a one person “shop” I can cut them some slack. The album is great, Highly recommend everyone check them out.

    Hits: Fast response (even on a weekend), Good Value
    Misses: Missed Christmas by a Day

    Overall: Neutral

    I first tried to order an iPod accessory for my cousin. Faced with the option of paying for shipping or free, in-store pickup I figured I’d give the pickup option a try. A few hours later I got an email back from Future Shop telling me that they couldn’t fill my order in store.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post I thought it smelled a bit fishy, the email came through right before the store opened for that day even though the site said the store had them in stock. It reeked of “It’s two weeks before Christmas, we’re busy and can’t be bothered”. Understandable to a point but here’s the kicker – they hadn’t just delayed my order, they cancelled it. At that point I would have continued and just either a)picked a different store or b) paid the $2 to have it shipped to me, but I couldn’t do that – they had automatically CANCELED the order. To change my shipping option I had to recreate the whole order. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    Hits: None
    Misses: Can’t change delivery method, Automatic canceling of Order

    Overall: MISS

    Knowing their both owned by the same people I hesitated using the Best Buy site as an alternative to but I figured at least my original order would still show as a lost sale on the Future Shop site. Rebuilt my order, selected shipping and I thought I was done.

    The next day I get an email telling me they were unable to process my order until I called them from the phone number on my credit card company’s records. I was at work at the time and couldn’t call from there. What drives me nuts about this is that they don’t give you any warning that this step would be required – like the Future Shop process of automatically canceling an order – this is just a stupid design flaw that they could resolve if someone spent five minutes thinking about customer experience. I’m not even sure why they have this step (especially on low cost items) – every other site manages to use address verification etc. – I just canceled the order and moved on to my next idea.

    Another lowspot is the new AJAX’y catalog they’ve put into both sites ( & are powered by the same CMS). You can now browse through the catalog you can dynamically filter your search etc. but there’s no state! If you click through a product to view it’s detail screen it loses all your filtering etc, so when you click on the back button to find something else you need to start over from nothing again. This one drove me right up the wall.

    Hits: –
    Misses: Frustrating UI, Suprise Extra Order Step

    Overall: MISS

  • Apple iTunes Store
    With the Future Shop/Best Buy frustration I had blown a few days and it was getting closer to Xmas so I wasn’t so sure anything could be shipped on time.

    I figured I’d be able to buy my cousin some credit at iTunes for my cousin and after all, it was an purely virtual store I shouldn’t have to have something shipped to me right?


    Of course not. The purely virtual iTunes store only allows you to order Gift Cards in physical form and only in either $20 or $50 form. Throughout the process the site is also promoting that you have to order a certain amount before you get free shipping. Then I finally get to the order confirmation screen and it tells me shipp
    ing is free on Gift cards. The site was also telling me over and over that I was a couple days too late for guaranteed shipping before Xmas – but then, on the same confirmation screen it told me to expect the cards between December 19-22.

    Both were odd mixed message that had it not been getting to crunch time would probably have sent me elsewhere for another gift idea.

    As of today the cards still have not arrived.

    Hits: –
    Miss: Confusing messages re: shipping costs & timing, Missed Christmas by a long shot – missing New year’s too

    Overall: HUGE MISS

In Summary:
Overall the three misses were all in the name of getting the same present. and Toys R Us I wouldn’t hesitate the order from again, they met or exceeded my expectations and have every other time I’ve ordered from them. 8 of 10 gifts arrived quickly, as ordered. 1 was understandably late and 1 was a total disaster.

At the end of the day I spent no time in crowded malls, gave up one afternoon “shopping”
and got almost everything I needed. I’d rate this year as a success.

Overall: HIT

Boxing Day Shopping Heads Up… (Early deals)

I mentioned to a few folks ove the past couple of weeks about how Futureshop & Best Buy both put all their boxing day sales online as of midnight (ie. between christmas day & boxing day).

Well this year they’ve changed that tradition so here’s a quick heads up – the deals start TONIGHT (Dec. 24) at 8:00pm.

Happy shopping! – although a couple recommendations:

1. Don’t bother with “In Store Pickup” – I tried ordering something last weekend and even though the site said it was in stock it it was noted that I would get an email from the store confirming that I could pick up the product. Five minutes before the store was set to open I got a “Order could not be completed”… It seemed an awful lot like someone just went through the queue of stuff in the “To pickup” line and said “Not gonna bother” (semi-understandable in the Xmas chaos) and said no to everything. Problem being? Instead of letting you pick a new store or switch to delivery the site automatically CANCELS YOUR ORDER. How stupid is that. They lost my business.

2. Expect a call – With either company they have this ridiculous process where they won’t ship anything to you until you call them back, from the phone number on your credit card company’s records. Best Buy did that to me last year and thankfully they called right before I was walking out the door for a 10 day vacation. I figured I’d be okay this year because they verified me last year. Nope. Had to do it again. Canceled the order and got something else from a different store.

I did 90% of my Christmas shopping online. The Best Buy/Future Shop (same ownership) were 2 of the 3 misses in my experience (The third was Apple) — I’ll summarize the online shopping experience along with hits and misses next week (when it won’t spoil any surprises).