This retail story has banal beginnings.
I recently bought a pair of Nike sneakers on Footlocker.com. When they arrived, I discovered they fit awkwardly on my feet.
I dug up the emailed receipt for the shoes and located a linked “RETURNS INFO” button. I clicked on it and landed on…”Page Not Available.”
I backed out of that search and went in another way—through the company’s customer service portal. That page materialized, but I ultimately dead-ended again.
Vaguely irritated, I gave up on the web and dialed the customer service number shown in bold red letters on the company’s customer service page.
The nice guy who picked up the phone insisted on an invoice number. But together we figured out that my packing materials didn’t actually include an invoice, only a packing slip.
It took him 7 or 8 minutes to find my exact order, but once it was located, he offered me an emailed UPS shipping label that would allow me to ship the shoes back for free. Fabulous. He was going to send me an email with it. Even more fabulous.
Then, with only a few words, he unwittingly curdled the entire transaction: “It should take around 24 hours for this email to show up in your inbox.” Something about the system, he explained, creates that lag. I thanked him and hung up.
It is now Monday morning—three days after I placed that call—and the email has yet to show up in my inbox.
I don’t share this story to complain (I’m sure I will eventually get refunded) or rail against Foot Locker, specifically.
But the encounter shone a light on why online juggernaut Amazon is eating the lunch of so many established retail companies.
Foot Locker is a veteran retailer. But even it hasn’t figured out how to implement and streamline an e-commerce process, 20 years after the dawn of e-commerce.
And time is running out for retailers to figure it out. Too many established retailers have been forced to scale back (Urban Outfitters, Fossil), and some industry titans are struggling to even survive (Sears, J.C. Penney)—in large part because they haven’t kept up with Amazon’s innovations in customer service and shopper experience.
The online retailer works relentlessly to make shopping easier and faster on its platform than anywhere else.
Amazon raises the bar for shopper convenience almost weekly, fundamentally altering the retail expectations of consumers as it steamrolls over entire consumer categories (with its acquisition of Whole Foods, groceries are next).
Just last week, it opened kiosk-style shopping depots in five college towns that offer near-immediate fulfillment of hundreds of products.
But all is certainly not lost. My Foot Locker snafu, for one, proves that retailers small and large can compete with Amazon—if they focus on the customer experience, online and in-store, with laser intensity.
Had Foot Locker’s returns page been active, or the customer service representative been able to shoot me a return UPS label while we were on the phone together, I would still consider Foot Locker an attractive retail option—one with category knowledge that outstripped Amazon’s.
Yes, the sneaker seller dropped the ball and lost a customer this time. But keeping me would have been a simple matter of ensuring its customer touch points were firing correctly.
When a page on your website goes down, fix it quickly. When you ship out a package, make sure an invoice is included. And if your system mandates a 24-hour traveling period for emails? Well, it’s time to get a new system.
UPDATE, 8/23: Pat Schmidt, vice president of operations for Foot Locker, called me directly on Aug. 22 after seeing this post, and apologized on behalf of the company for the issues—he said it was a rare occasion that packages ship without invoices; but that it happens sometimes when items are shipped directly from a store. Last night, he emailed me this: “We are in the process of fixing/speeding up the link at the bottom of our notifications and should see results soon. We have not been able to recreate the “dead end” issues you encountered on our customer service pages as you tried to access the returns information, but continue to monitor and research. We continue to work on improving our experience around packages shipped from stores as it relates to packing slips and invoicing. Also, we are reviewing our timing with UPS and its return labels program and will look to speed up the process. I see your return is on it’s way back to us so we will get that processed immediately! Sorry for the headaches and hopefully we get another chance to serve you in the future.” After experiencing such personalized, efficient customer service, it could definitely happen.