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June 8, 2005 12:08 AM

Broken: Mall shoe shopping

L.K. writes:

My daughter will wear only one style of shoe right now... she is 19 months old and getting fussy about such things.

So we drove across the blank suburban landscape to the big department store at the huge mall, and got her fitted for the next size in her required style. So far, so good.

I wanted two pairs. The store had only had one pair. Sorry.

Did they offer to order another pair?

No, they did not.

So I asked if I could order another pair, and this is what the saleswoman said: "it will be an $8 delivery charge, delivered to the store. or check back to see when fill-in orders come in."

Uh, yeah, right... I'm going to pay an inconvenience fee, and/or keep driving across the suburban expanses of nothingness hoping, hoping, hoping that someday the shoes will come.

So I went home, went to Nordstrom's online... and the shoes arrived at my door a few days later.

The big stores just sooooooooo don't get it...


Ohh that is pretty broken for customer service... because they wanted to stick you with an $8 charge for delivery of shoes to the store that had you bought the existing shoes they would have to order anyway and couldn't tack on an additional delivery charge to the next customer. they managed to lose the sale of 2 pairs of shoes that would've probaly given them a profit of more then the $8 they might lose in the inflated delivery charge...

Posted by: Infinity at June 8, 2005 12:24 AM

I had the same problem when I tried to order Penn & Teller from Canada....

They said take could make the order, but it only be ordered the next time their bought from that 6-8 weeks...maybe....

If I order online, I could get it in a few days...

Posted by: Bye bye offline stores... at June 8, 2005 03:00 AM

I agree, that's no way to treat a customer. I would simply shop somewhere else; my money is good anywhere.

But I think the "broken thing" here is the 19 month old child that dictates what she will or will not wear! As a mother & grandmother, I predict trouble on down the line.

Posted by: Mary Clutter at June 8, 2005 07:10 AM

Haha, Mary, you're right about that. If it was a foot problem or something I could sympathize because I have foot trouble, but I just turned 18, and I can't ever remember being that picky LOL... especially that young!

Posted by: Lacey at June 8, 2005 07:45 AM

shrug. customer service at some places sucks. Just find a different shoe store.

Posted by: Bob at June 8, 2005 08:44 AM

Wow, I'm suprised. Not one "This is not broken, you are!!!11!1!1one" for this review... For once...


Dude, Department stores NEVER get it. XD

Posted by: Sazabii at June 8, 2005 09:36 AM

It's still early Sazabii.

Posted by: Faolan at June 8, 2005 09:46 AM

This clearly isn't ideal customer service, but I think I can explain a little from the merchant side why this happens, and why you're much better off ordering directly online.

Successful merchants tightly control supply chain and ordering so that they always have the appropriate number of items in stock at any given time. For perishable goods, or things that go out of style this is especially important, because the merchant could end up with a bunch of merchandise that is almost worthless. Because of this, normal employees do not place orders for their departments or manage inventory. This function is usually performed by the department manager, store manager or in some cases the district manager. Then then place these orders along with all of the new items they order and receive the appropriate quantity discounts, and shipping savings by buying in bulk.

Now when a customer wants to order one extra pair of shoes that are not in stock, this order has to bypass the normal order fulfillment, supply channel route, and a special order is made that then incurs additional shipping charges by the merchant, or they add it to their total order and then the customer is made to wait longer for the item.

One thing I don't know is the price of these shoes, and the shipping method being used, but if they were being overnighted, the $8 charge is understandable although I would prefer to see the option of shipping directly to the customer's house.

Now if you look at this same order from an online perspective things change dramatically. Their are basically 2 types of online stores, those that warehouse their inventory and those that use distributors to drop ship the items. When ordering from an online store that directly warehouses their orders, your order comes into the system, generates a pic list and is packed and shipped. Your order is moving through the regular channels used by the online store, and the costs associated with this method of ordering are factored into the price.

Overhead for stores increases in the following manner online

This method works extremely well for most items, although the occasional fad item will deplete their inventory, and by the time their stock is replaced the fad may be over.

The other thing that can occur is that as their warehouse stock is depleted, they automatically forward the orders over to their supplier who then dropships the items to the customer. The shipping rates associated with dropshipped orders is typically higher than those directly from the warehouse, but often the online store will eat the difference to preserve good customer service.

It's also useful to note that in ordering online you are also paying a shipping fee, or shipping has been factored into the price.

I understand that you did not have an ideal customer experience, and assuming that both pairs of shoes were from Nordstroms, one in store and one online, I'd be interested in learning the price paid for both. Was one higher than the other? What was the shipping charges on the online Nordstrom order? It would have been nice for the CSR to offer to order the second pair for you and have it shipped to your house for an additional $8, before learning more about the price differential of the shoes and the shipping charges you paid, this experience seems more annoying than broken.

Whenever a customer encounters an out of stock issue, there is bound to be frustration, the important thing is for all merchants to do a better job of managing that frustration.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at June 8, 2005 09:52 AM

Wow, didn't realize I wrote that much, ecommerce and helping our customers manage supply chains is what I deal with all day long. If you're ever interested in more ways of being successfull selling online check out my blog

Posted by: Joshua Wood at June 8, 2005 09:53 AM

Problem is a lot of people will go "Well I am already here and it's easier just to go ahead and order than try to find them somewhere else" it's going to stay broken there and a lot of other places untill EVERYONE is willing to go looking for better service elsewhere. stores do this kind of thing because WE let them get away with it.

Posted by: Sean P at June 8, 2005 10:00 AM

Wow. Josh, you definitely don't work in a customer service industry. To give L.K. a superior customer experience, an empowered employee would have said, sure I'll get those ordered for you right away and give you a call when they arrive. $8 shipping is not to much to spend on a customer who wants to spend more in your store. It's also worth all the great word-of-mouth advertising the store would have received instead of winding up here (although we don't know which store it was.)

It's like my favorite restaurant customer service experience. My dad was in town and we took him out. He wanted diet 7-Up. They didn't have it. A few minutes later they brought two cans to the table. They'd sent someone across the street to a convenience store to buy him some. Definitely not broken.

Posted by: Jennifer at June 8, 2005 11:42 AM

Wow! Joshua & the dept. stores still don't get it! I predict the eventual demise of the large dept. store & (it's insensitive employees) due to the ease of internete buying. Big, big mistake dept. stores, you should be making every effort you can to compete, but I don't think you are going to survive.

Posted by: Onery at June 8, 2005 11:43 AM

Whether or not we all think the big stores don't get it, what Joshua just described IS accurate. Unfortunate? For us, yes. But it's the way it is.

Posted by: Serenity at June 8, 2005 12:02 PM

To all of you that say I "don't get it" I'd like to point out that in my first sentence I said>>

This clearly isn't ideal customer service, but I think I can explain a little from the merchant side why this happens, and why you're much better off ordering directly online.

I'm not trying to defend the retailer, but just provide more information on what happens between that item on the shelf and what has to occur when it is no longer in stock.

There are always ways to improve customer service, and things can always be done better. Online ordering largely does a better job handling customers and providing service, which is why I do 85% of all purchases online or using only payments. In my experience it's a better way of handling transactions for both the customer and the merchants.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at June 8, 2005 12:09 PM

2 weeks ago, the day of a wedding, I was trying to remember where the participants were registered for gifts, having lost the bridal shower invitation. I got online and checked all the big stores in our area, including REI, Foley's, Kohl's, Sears, J.C. Penney's, etc., all of whom had fair to good online gift registries.

What amazed me is that Mervyn's did not. Not only did they not give me the ability to search for a gift registry online, but they made me wait until a splash screen loaded before I could even find that out. I live in a remote town with only dialup available, so downloading a Flash page at 26,400 baud when I was already under the gun to find what I was really looking for really ticked me off.

I wrote to their customer service department, by the way, wondering what will become of Mervyn's in this century if they cannot keep up with all the other big companies.

Eventually I put a Universal Gift Certificate in an envelope.

Posted by: Boris the Spider at June 8, 2005 12:24 PM

First of all is it just me or has service all over gotten really shabby what use to take 2-5 minutes at a fast-food chain with a line of customers now takes 15 minutes with no line but the prices keep going up?

This retailer could check the invoice for their next shipment (on average twice a week) too see if this merchandise will be available.

My guess is that it will be since as mentioned in Joshua's post they buy in bulk and the item as sold out(no mention of it being a clearance item).

Anyhow as mentioned before the real trouble would be the 19 month old getting her way real trouble lies ahead. This is no joke.

Posted by: kent at June 8, 2005 12:34 PM

Customer service is nonexistent these days. The main goal of businesses today seems to be to sell you something by making you believe you want a sub-standard quality product at overblown prices, all while making you think you're getting a good deal. There is no thought to actually making the customer happy, and if you think you're going to find good tech support or a help phone line, I'd like to present you with an offer for a bridge I have for sale. As long as you bought the product, there's not much need to keep you happy after that. Try to tell them about the concept of "returning customer" and they'll stare at you like you're speaking another language.

Broken broken broken.

Posted by: Manni at June 8, 2005 01:20 PM

What I really think is broked is that your 19 MONTH old daughter has to have particular shoes. That is truly broken

Posted by: Scott at June 8, 2005 01:31 PM

Here is a customer of ours that I think does a really good job of setting the customer's expectations regarding the inventory and delivery level of products.


The system is entirely automatic, sends out notifications as items run low, and most importantly lets the customer know in advance the timeframe for an item to arrive.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at June 8, 2005 01:41 PM

Joshua has provided a very clear explanation of why the $8 charge is being applied. From a pure numbers point of view, I guess it makes sense to thee company, but it still looks bad on the company. I'm not familiar with shoe retailing, but are margins so thin that the store could not absorb an $8 charge sperad over two pairs of shoes?

If you view this from the point of view of lifetime value of the customer, this incidents puts the lifetime value for this customer as at best $0, with the added downside of a customer providing bad word of mouth.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at June 8, 2005 02:39 PM

We are all assuming of course that only one customer has ever requested the store purchase an item for them that is out of stock. We don't know the numbers but what if 10 people a day made this request? That adds up to quite a bit of money the store is eating.

Yes, customer service has gone to crap anymore and unfortunately, word of mouth doesn't seem to do all that much anymore. There is a demand and we seem to be willing to put up with the crap to get what we want. There are some who will write in, (I'm one), some who are afraid to say anything negative and some who just like to complain about it but never do something about it.

Businesses do rely on feedback, positive and negative. A business cannot know where it's failing if people just stop using it, they need the feedback. If you have been confronted with bad customer service, let the company know that so that they can be given the opportunity to improve in that area.

Of course the other problem is many of these CSRs don't get paid much and really don't care about their jobs. It's just a job to them. It's just a paycheck. Granted, they can pick another job and should not be taking their lack of enthusiasm out on us, customers but until we start voicing our opinions to through the proper channels in the company, not a lot is going to change.

Businesses do care about what appearance they are putting up for customers. There is a whole industry of people called, "Mystery Shoppers" whose job it is to go into these stores and act like customers while taking note of just about anything you can think of from the way the parking lot looks to the way they were treated in the store. We can't rely on the mystery shoppers to speak for us though. Write to the company, tactful and with some sort of class, don't curse them out, express your concerns, dates, times, names, locations and let them know, with facts, what happened. This is how we get things to change. Not enough people are doing this.

About the 1 1/2 year old demanding certain first thought was the same as many readers here but since I'm not a parent, I'm leaving that up to the moms, dads and grandparents of the world to say their peace.

Posted by: Faolan at June 8, 2005 03:00 PM

What the shoe sales clerk could have done to make this experience better was to offer to order with the fact that it would be $8 shipping charges OR, they could take the person's name down and call them when the new shipment arrived if they were expecting one.

I'm one for buying a lot of things online but shoes I would rather buy in the store to ensure a proper fit even if I know my size.

A letter to the company might address these issues and let them know that maybe a database of customers with wishes are in order. Don't know how much that would cost them though.

Posted by: Faolan at June 8, 2005 03:15 PM

I agree with you all that this was a bad customer experience, The only other thing I would add is that the customer is paying for shipping regardless of whether they order online or in the store they are still paying a shipping price. On they are running an all you can order for a flat $5 special. Not too bad, I can tell you from experience that offering a flat shipping rate encourgages customers to go nuts and buy that extra item or two. A customers who orders 4 items is much more profitable than 4 customers who each order 1 item. This is true even if you are charging $1 to $2 over the ups cost to cover packing materials and time.

I found a produt that would be the shoe I would choose if I was a 19 month girl.

I would think that the acutal reason why this was a broken experience was the attitude of the CSR at the point of service. Why was the customer angred by paying for shipping at Nordstrom, but not angered paying for it at Nordsrom online? It must be in the way it was presented.

Here's a couple of ways that this could have been handled better.

Maam, I'm sorry we do not have another one of those items in stock.

We can add this item to our next order from the distributor, and call you when the shoes come in. Typically this will take 4-6 weeks.

We also have a home delivery option where we can ship a pair directly from our warehouse to your home. There is an $8.00 charge for this.

Finally, I may suggest that you might want to order directly from Nordstrom Online, they offer specials and products that are not always available in our store.

I've just given the exact same options the customer was given in the description at the top, but worded in a customer friendly manner.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at June 8, 2005 03:39 PM

Joshua, note that the $8 charge was for the shoes being delivered to the store, not to the customer's home. That's one good reason to find the online shipping fee more reasonable than the in-store fee.

I really like how REI (the outdoors store) handles this. When you order something, you can pay to have it shipped to your home, or you can pick it up at a store for free. That's the case whether you're ordering from the website, or if you're in the store, ordering an out-of-stock or special order item. Actually, REI does just about everything right from a customer service standpoint, in my experience.

Posted by: mph at June 8, 2005 03:48 PM


I know the paying to ship to the store is broken and just plain stupid, it should go to the customer's house. REI does rock, I only order online though so I can't tell you what they're instore experience is.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at June 8, 2005 04:07 PM

An angle not yet brought up...

an 18 month old has relatively few experiences to go by, but most decisions (in my opinion) are driven by pleasure or avoidance. Consider this:

old shoes are wearing out but still fit (it COULD happen, especially if the parents don't like the scuffed finish on the shoes)

new shoes are obtained, different style. Shoes do not fit comfortably and child remembers old shoes were comfy. fussing and strugling begins every time child sees new uncomfortable shoes. New new shoes are sought.

Now child remembers the bad shoes and the good shoes, not much of a stretch to think the child ONLY wants the old style, when in reality comfortable shoes are desired. The lack of experience in the 18 M.O.'s mind leads it to believe the old STYLE is comfortable and anything else is not.

Posted by: another angle on 19 M.O. at June 8, 2005 04:23 PM

Another angle,

That's a great point. Learned behavior and the patterns it can setup is facinating.

Here's a question, why do you want two pairs of the same shoes? If anything you'd want one to be a size or two larger.

Posted by: Joshua Wood at June 8, 2005 04:37 PM

I have had poor customer service in almost every department store, from Saks to Neiman's to Dillard's to Macy's, etc...But have NEVER had a bad experience at NORDSTROM'S. I had a pair of Gordon Rush shoes that were over a year old, but the sole on one was wearing prematurely. I still had the box, but no reciept other than my AMEX statement. Nordstrom took them back no questions asked, no attitude, and gave me a full refund, not store credit, a FULL FRICKIN' REFUND! So guess what, I now buy as much as I can from Nordstrom's.


Posted by: Big at June 8, 2005 06:42 PM

I find some of these post are making a few assumptions. First its not the sell's clerk fault this person is merely following store policy. Second nowhere in the post does it mention the name of the store. The style of shoe was probably out of style (making my own assumption) because their was no mention of the product being on clearance.

Usually a product you purchase on-line including s&h will cost about the same as buying from a brick and mortar establishment.

About the child wanting the shoes for comfort is not likely they are probably some character associated with them i.e. Disney or barbie. Also it never mentioned shoe size so maybe the customer was considering two different sizes (would be wise to anyway).

Posted by: kent at June 8, 2005 07:43 PM

People! People! Pleeez... We're closing. Do you mind taking it outside. You're scaring the customers.

Yes my good people, it is your civic and patriotic duty to slap merchants back into line when they start to forget why they're in business. Trust me, I've seen an entire country's economy hanging dreadfully close to collapse simply because merchants and service providers woke up one morning and decided that the customers were no longer kings and queens but little profit centers. I'm talking about Japan - the place most of you in America believe provides the highest standard of service and respect to customers. That may have been true twenty years ago. But when I arrived in Japan for the first time in 1990 I was shocked. Customers were one rung lower than store room rats!

Today the Japanese customer has had enough. Regardless of how many logical reasons the retailers and their consultants are giving for treating customers like morons sales continue to head south.

Posted by: Sheriff In The East at June 8, 2005 10:08 PM

dont say that these chains will go down easily, many people pay for convenience alone, just to be able to buy on the spot.

Posted by: Dragon at June 9, 2005 02:15 AM

wow ... that's a pretty lively thread on my convenience / customer service post

yes to all re the supply chain issues

yes to all re the convenience / courtesy issues

if the store wanted to charge a fee to ship to my house, i would have thought about it; if i didn't make this clear ... they wanted to charge a fee to ship to the store, which, as a tib reader points out, they would have to do eventually anyway, so, uh, no

re the parenting issues: parents choose 100 times a day what they are going to let slide and what they are going to take a stand on. i think we all agree on the basics: no power tools for toddlers. after that, it gets more personal: television, fast food, religion, etc.

i chose to let my daughter have her way re sticking with one style of shoes ...

why 2 pairs? in case one gets wet.


Posted by: laurie at June 9, 2005 01:58 PM

"if the store wanted to charge a fee to ship to my house, i would have thought about it; if i didn't make this clear ... they wanted to charge a fee to ship to the store, which, as a tib reader points out, they would have to do eventually anyway, so, uh, no"

but that case was made earlier as to ship the shoes separately the store would be unable to get the rates as it would in its bulk orders, so of course it will cost to ship to the store.

Posted by: Dragon at June 9, 2005 07:02 PM

Try this one on for size: Ikea, which promotes their "flat packed so you can take it home today" philosophy, has a strange policy.

When I wanted to buy a coffee table, I discovered that there were none on the floor of the self-service pickup area. There were five on the shelf above it. But Ikea's policy is to not sell any stock that hasn't been put on the floor level.

They told me to come back tomorrow to buy it; of course, Ikea is not a store found on every street corner and generally requires a long distance trip to shop there. "Come back tomorrow" is not a solution.

Eventually, after escalating to management, a tall employee just fetched it down from the shelf and sold it to me.

Posted by: Gene at June 9, 2005 09:06 PM

Big- Nordstroms' plan is working, although winning you over with customer service is hardly a bad thing.

Posted by: Bob at June 12, 2005 10:31 PM

I still consider Nordstroms a big department store.

Over the weekend, we went to a FinishLine store (specialty sportswear/sports shoe store) in a local mall here in Las Vegas. When they didn't have the colour shoes we were looking for, they offered to ship a pair to our home FREE shipping.

That's the way it should be.

Posted by: William Lefkovics at June 13, 2005 02:34 AM

Really now, Mom!!! A 19 month old has you driving across some "blank suburban landscape" for special shoes?

I'm sure your daughter is a sweetheart, and she's not (in any way) the problem here. Just remember, you're the parent and she's the child. It sounds like you might be getting a tad bit indulgent here and at 19 months old, that just isn't going to work over the long haul.

As for customer service, it probably wasn't handled very well, but the store's policy is the store's policy. It does make me wonder why you didn't find out if her favorite little shoes were available online in the first place.

Why not buy her some other really cute little shoes and who knows ... they may become her new favorites!!! Kids are funny that way.

Posted by: Broken_inOhio at April 1, 2006 12:40 AM

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