If You Are This Stupid, You Don’t Deserve To Be In Business

It’s all about customer service. As business owners you either check in on customers yourself or have account reps that do so. But when it comes to doing business online, the model has to change. Nevertheless, it’s still important to know that the customer has been served to his or her satisfaction. Anything less than that puts the ongoing existence of the business in jeopardy, whether it’s yours or that of a client you support. It all comes down to your eCommerce implementation and the people behind it.

So let’s talk about the astonishing incompetence and ineptitude of an online retailer called RitzCamera.com. If you sell anything online and your order-processing system is anything like theirs, you do not deserve to be in business. You deserve to be in bankruptcy.

Suppose for a moment that you went to RitzCamera.com on Aug. 29 (yes, I know it was Michael Jackson’s and John McCain’s birthdays and the unfortunate anniversary of Katrina, maybe that was an omen). You place an online order. Seconds later, you receive a confirmation via e-mail. So far, so good.

Six days later, you start wondering where your order is. It should have been delivered by now. You never received an e-mail shipping notice with tracking info, so you go to check your order status via the Web portal. Surprise! It’s nowhere to be found. Searching by order number, e-mail address, last name, and ZIP code turn up nothing.

Fortunately, the Web site has a live chat feature. You decide to try it out, and since there is a little thumbnail picture of a cute blond wearing a telephone headset, you figure you’re in good hands. Sorry. You don’t get the blond. Not even a female. You get someone who confirms that he’s at a location halfway around the world. (Clue: Pick a populous Asian country to which the U.S. has outsourced nearly everything.) Since you understand only actual spoken English, the typed live chat seems like a good alternative. Unfortunately, “Smith B” doesn’t have a clue. He can’t find your order either. And he can provide no explanation. Smith B types “The order might have not been gone through,” to which you reply, “I’m looking right at the confirmation e-mail.” Next, Smith B suggests the order might have been canceled due to “some error.” Fine. So, you type, “Then you would have a record of that error. What was it?” Smith B, now clearly in over his head, gives up and suggests you call the U.S. toll-free number. So much for outsourcing customer support.

You discover the phone is no better. Served by someone with a wimpy voice who speaks as though he has a clothespin on his nose, he can’t find the order, either. It has simply vanished. Nothing could be done except place a new order. At this point, you become, shall we say, impolite. Nevertheless, Mr. Wimpy takes your order over the phone and puts it in the system himself. And yes, you receive an e-mail confirmation.

Imagine if transactions simply disappeared from your online business or the online catalog operation of your biggest customer. You’d lose the business. Your customer might even sue. Was the system completely tested? How many other transactions are disappearing? What exactly is the condition that causes this? Isn’t there a journaling function that’s writing out a record of every transaction to an audit-trail file? What’s the real cost in lost revenue and bad word of mouth (generated in columns like this)?

What becomes pretty clear is that RitzCamera.com is an astoundingly incompetent online retailer. (Well, I suppose no business actually got done.) But you do have that confirmation e-mail as evidence. This company operates three sister sites, BoatersWorld.com, WolfCamera.com, and CameraWorld.com. If they share the same order-processing system, well, let’s just say “shopper beware.”

So, you think to yourself, “If my systems are this stupid, this incompetent, lose data for no apparent reason, and my customer service operation is this clueless, anything more challenging than flipping burgers for a living is not for me.” I suggest that if you care about your business, drop in your customers’ and offer a systems health checkup (for a fee, of course).

So, is this tale of woe somehow channel related? You bet it is. The very survival of any business depends on the competency of its systems. When conducting business online, it is essential to maintain data integrity, not lose data, and ensure that the order-processing and inventory management systems talk to each other. After all, what good is taking an order if you don’t have the inventory to fill it? As a systems integrator, this is your job. Consider yourself the “general contractor” pulling vendors, software developers, and Web services together.

Update: Suppose that today, Sept. 9, you receive two auto-generated e-mails from RitzCamera.com, each telling you that an item you ordered has “been discontinued by the manufacturer or we are no longer carrying this item.” The message goes on to say. “This item will be canceled from the order.”

This is odd, because 1) you ordered two completely different items, and 2) Mr. Wimpy confirmed they were in stock. And, oh yes, you ordered the same items from another big-name online retailer and had them within three days.

In my personal opinion, which is mine alone and in no way reflects the opinions of the Web site on which you’re reading this or its parent company, my (yes, this was about me, after all) online shopping experience with RitzCamera.com makes them the stupidest, most incompetent, inept, bungling, unskilled, worthless company I’ve ever written about in 20 years of technology journalism.

You can bet I’ll be spreading the facts about RitzCamera.com every chance I get. And yes, these are the facts. I have the transcript of the chat session, an audio recording of the telephone conversation, and the e-mail order confirmations and cancellations to prove it.

Don’t get me ticked off. Pretty, it ain’t.

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