OPINION: Sales snags happen, but never ignore customers

A lack of communication. Sooner or later that wrecks any relationship, personal or business.

When the guilty party is an online retailer which has failed to deliver the goods to the customer when it promised to, the customer is bound to experience a catastrophic break in trust and goodwill.

The upside of doing battle with hordes of bargain hunters in a physical store is that you leave with the product in hand; your struggle is over.

Not so with online shopping.

The clicks part is quick and easy, but trying to get your hands onto your purchase is often not so much.

What many corporates fail to appreciate is that almost all but the most unreasonable of consumers are placated, if not impressed, by a good apology and regular detailed updates, in real language – not “we apologise for the inconvenience” trite, stock responses – when things go wrong.

What enrages them is non-delivery coupled with little to no feedback and an inability to get answers.

“Phones rang and then were put down with a short message of ‘your call wasn’t answered’. E-mails went unanswered. I spent hours trying to just speak to someone…”

So said Sheena Lemos Ebersohn of her Black Friday experience with Game.

She bought a stove online on November 24, partly because of the retailer’s promise of delivery in three to five days.

The following week when she’d heard nothing, she made enquiries but got nowhere.

Finally she spoke to someone from the marketing department who promised to check on delivery and get back to her, but didn’t.

When she called back, the call went unanswered.

“Eventually, after days and days of trying to get hold of anyone who could help me, I was told my stove was somewhere and they aren’t sure where, nor can they tell me when it would actually be delivered.”

The stove was finally delivered to her last Tuesday.

I fielded similar complaints from customers who’d bought online from Massmart’s other divisions – Makro and DionWired, echoing what was being posted on social media.

“It’s one thing to have delays but their lack of customer care is astounding,” said Philippa Byron, who placed an order on Makro’s site on Black Friday and later got an e-mail saying there was a stock shortage.

When Rhys Davy had still not received his Black Friday Makro online order by Friday – two weeks on – he tweeted: “No response to e-mails. (I was) sent to collect at local branch, but head office reallocated my order elsewhere. Only head office can tell me where but they’re not answering phones…”

Massmart’s group communications manager Annaleigh Vallie said Black Friday’s online order exceeded the group’s forecasts, and bottlenecks at courier hubs also contributed to delays.

“We have endeavoured to be transparent with our customers and have been communicating with them to inform them of delays,” she said.

“Makro has introduced nightshifts, increased staff capacity during the day, added extra transport capacity, introduced multiple courier collection times and, in some cases, secured additional stock directly from suppliers, to make sure our customers get their orders as soon as possible.

The “TV licence integration system” – retailers are legally obliged to ensure would-be TV buyers have valid TV licences – was to blame for some of Game’s backlogs, Vallie said.

“This meant television sets couldn’t be released to the warehouse for fulfilment, and the unexpectedly high number of people paying via EFT resulted in us having to do manual checks with banks to prove payment.

“During the delay of TV licence validation and EFT order release, we saw a store sales spike beyond forecasts and key lines intended for online stock were then sold through the store network, which resulted in us not having stock to dispatch when the TV licence and EFT hold was released.”

All delayed orders should be delivered by this week, Vallie said.

“We apologise unreservedly for inconveniencing our customers and we are working hard to keep them abreast of the progress of their orders.”

Bottom line: Delivery failures are inevitable, but failure to communicate with customers appropriately when that happens is unforgivable. And online retailers which don’t grasp that will lose their customers to those which do.


“Edcon has enhanced its social media engagement to ensure timeous response to customer queries or complaints.”

That’s what an Edcon spokesman told me last month after I’d taken up a massive “fail” of an online order.

Tammi Dooley pre-ordered and paid R900 for an X-Box game from CNA in September, as a gift for her serious gamer fiancé, having been told that if she did so by that date, she’d get the game the day it was released.

But she didn’t, and no one contacted her with the bad news.

So she cancelled, and was told she would be refunded in 15 days. The game was delivered anyway, and collected the same day, but two months later, Dooley had no refund, which is when she turned to In Your Corner for help.

A day after I e-mailed Edcon, she got her money.

“Communication errors contributed to this regrettable customer experience,” the spokesman said.

As a result, Edcon has “reviewed its online fulfilment processes”, instituted an emergency payment process for future refunds, re-looked at its social media engagement and compensated Dooley with a R500 voucher.


E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za

Twitter: @wendyknowler

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