Buyer Beware

December 13, 2006  

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a GPS device on BestBuy.com. The item was on sale: $200 off the regular price. Instead of having the item shipped to my house, I chose to pick it up at the local Best Buy store. I love this option because it gives me (almost) instant gratification. Once I got the unit home, I discovered that the device was defective. I hurried back to the store to exchange the GPS for a working model. Unfortunately, I was too late; they sold the last unit an hour earlier and did not expect any in for a couple of weeks. They told me to hold on to the item so that I could exchange it when they were back in stock, ensuring the discounted price.

Today I went back to the Best Buy store to exchange the item. I assumed this would be a simple transaction: I bring them a box with a defective unit, and they hand me a box with a working one. Nothing is ever that easy.

Because I bought the GPS on BestBuy.com with in-store pick-up, they could not do a simple swap (or at least they could not figure out how to do it). Instead, they needed to refund my original purchase made via the web, and then process an in store purchase. Unfortunately, the price had gone up $50 and they could not figure out how to sell me the item at the price I paid.

What did I do? I had them refund my money and I bought the item – for $20 less – at a competitor.

It didn’t bother me that they couldn’t solve the problem. What I found disconcerting was that the manager seemed relieved when I told her I wanted my money back. It was clearly too much effort for her to figure out a solution – a solution that would have resulted in a sale and a happy customer. Instead, she lost the sale, has a defective unit she needs to process, and created a (slightly) disgruntled customer.

Back in 1997 I co-wrote an article for the Economist about the Virtualization of Financial Services. One of the biggest challenges we discussed was “channel integration” – the seamless integration of the web, branches, and ATM (cash) machines. I am shocked that 10 years later, great companies are still struggling with this issue.

My guess is that Best Buy invested heavily in their supporting technology. But I wonder if as much attention was given to the process and people/culture issues – two vitally important, yet often neglected areas. In this case, the company needs to design itself around the way customer does business (buying online and exchanging in stores), rather than around the company’s existing silos. Design from the outside in. In today’s information age, we have come to rely heavily on technology. As a result, we often neglect human element: our employees. Do this, and you are certain to lose your most important people: your customers.

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2 Responses to “Buyer Beware”

  1. John Thomas on December 20th, 2006 9:33 pm

    I had a similar problem with Best Buy when trying to buy an item only available at their store. I was so irritated and frustrated with what appeared to be their unwillingness to help me spend money with them that I decided I simply wouldn’t buy from them again.

    And I haven’t.

    Hopefully someone there will read your blog entry here and fix this problem.

    - John Thomas

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