November 19, 2012 Try!

As a perpetual bargain hunter, I know I sometimes sacrifice quality of customer support and customer experience when I hunt the lowest prices. The less I pay, the smaller the margins/profits the retailer has, the less funds there are that can be turned around to improve future shopping experiences. It’s the price I pay (pun intended.) But there’s one place that I didn’t expect to get burned – sears.

Now, I generally think I’m a good customer. I may gripe about a bad experience privately, but I give a company time time to fix the problem. I didn’t blog about my ShutterFly experience until the issue was resolved, and even then I made it clear that I was a happy customer who would shop from them again. If someone is willing to try to fix the problem, I’m willing to let them do it.

In this case sears is unwilling to address (or even acknowledge) the problem, so I feel free to voice my frustrations here.

A little bit of background
Some products are always on sale. The undershirt I wore for my engagement photos back in 2009? They are still on sale for $9 (regularly $18) at JCPenney.

Carter’s brand baby clothes is similar. They have rotating sales that are largely equivalent (Buy one get one free, 50% off, regularly $16 on sale for $8.) If you ever buy carter’s brand clothes at list price, you’ve paid too much. Sometimes you pay a dollar more or less, but it’s usually somewhere around 50% of the list price.

My experience
On Saturday at around 10pm I started shopping on for clothes for the baby. At about 10:10 I began the checkout process. I had $60 worth of merchandise pre taxes in my shopping cart. I verified my cart total to ensure my purchase qualified for free shipping. After entering my billing\shipping information, something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. The price of my order had ballooned to $134! List price!

I immediately abandoned my checkout. I went back and viewed each item individually, all were still showing as on sale. But every time I added them to my cart my cart reflected the list price – not the sale price.

What happened
After talking to customer support and reading various similar complaints on the web, I think I know what happens. I suspect the website uses my local time in determining which sales to display. My local time was 10:10 pm on 11/17, so the 11/17 sale pricing was used. The backend system that processes the sale uses central standard time. According to the back end system it was 12:10 am on 11/18, and the 11/17 prices were invalid. But rather than use the 11/18 price, it wanted me to pay list price!

When I waited until just after midnight local time, the display price of the items in question changed to 11/18’s prices. The dropped the total back down to $68 – roughly 50% again.

That’s TERRIBLE website design. If your website shows a given price for an item, the backend system should honor that price. As a webdesigner, I can attest that it isn’t hard to synchronize all your systems on one time zone. Since Sears is a multi-national corporation, it should have occurred to them that different customers would be in different time zones, and they should have tested this scenario.

Why I’m so mad
I only just barely noticed the price in my shopping cart had changed. I don’t know about you, but once I begin the checkout process, I expect the price I’m paying to remain consistent. Had I not noticed it, I wouldn’t have realized there was a problem until I got my credit card statement, which would have occurred AFTER all the tags were cut and I couldn’t return anything. That’s $74 I almost got cheated out of!

The difference in prices on 11/17 and 11/18 was just $8. It would have cost sears $8 to honor the sales price the website offered me. Just $8. Instead their response to their website error was akin to “too bad, so sad.” Instead of feeling like a valued customer, I feel cheated. So to sears I say: “too bad, so sad” you just lost yourself a customer.

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