The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pop Quiz - Trendsetter or e-Commerce Blunder?

Not Your Typical e-Commerce Issue

Online shopping is booming, companies are investing in their websites at a staggering pace, and innovative web technologies are enhancing the e-commerce experience for shoppers. “Click and buy” is now understood by almost everyone sitting at your dinner table…even the grandparents. Based on the first line of this blog post, and the fact that I’m a web marketing consultant, you would think the rest of this post would paint a rosy picture of buying online, right? Although online shopping works well most of the time, there are those times that push my patience to brink. This is one of them.

Here’s the pop quiz:
Based on the photo above, which one of the following statements is true:

A) Glenn decided to be a trendsetter and have the front of his sneakers be different colors. He wants to start a marketing craze where sneakers don’t entirely match.

B) Glenn has always wanted to be mad scientist with a lab in his attic. There he can sew together “Frankensneakers” for the world to buy. {Cue mad scientist laughter}

C) Glenn ordered sneakers online and wasn’t able to view the actual sneakers he would be buying, only to receive sneakers that weren’t manufactured correctly.

Although I do like being a trendsetter and the name “Dr. Frankensneaker” does have a ring to it, the correct answer is C. ;-)

My History with Adidas Trail Running Sneakers:
A quick background first. I love Adidas trail running sneakers. I started running 15 years ago and I’ve tried many of the top sneakers. For me, nothing has come close to Adidas Trails. That said, I don’t like looking like a jogging clown, even though I can juggle and create balloon animals. :-)

You Can Use E-Commerce to Buy Almost Anything, Right?
Based on what I do for a living, and the fact that I buy almost everything online, I decided to visit and buy sneakers online. Keep in mind that although I’m a huge advocate of e-commerce, it can be tricky if you need something to fit perfectly (especially when you are going to be jogging a lot miles in a pair of sneakers…) I was willing to take the risk.

Buying Sneakers Online at
The buying process was seamless. has an excellent website, enabling me to find the line of Adidas Trails easily and efficiently. They also provide great zoom and pan functionality once you are on the product detail page. Sure, I couldn’t try them on, but I’ve been wearing Adidas Trails for 15 years. I was confident that the sneakers would fit. I hoped anyway… In 10 minutes, I had found sneakers that I liked, purchased them online, and now I just needed to wait a few days to receive them. They arrived 3 days later (definitely within my e-commerce shipping window of tolerance), and yes, they fit perfectly! Excellent. Keep in mind, my focus was on how they fit and not how they looked. It’s funny how our eyes can play tricks on us… I didn’t even notice the front piece of the shoe, you know, the one that stares you right in the face when you look down!

Are You Kidding Me? This is what went wrong??
Never in a million years would I have thought that an improperly manufactured sneaker would the problem.

I was entirely prepared for the following e-commerce issues:

* A bad shopping experience
* Poor pricing or high shipping charges
* Not being able to track my order properly
* Shipping taking too long
* The sneakers not fitting properly

But none of these things happened. The experience was great until I put on the sneakers, actually went for a run, drank a Gatorade, and then looked down….What? The front of one sneaker is green and the other is grey! Customer Service:
What would they say, right? The quick facts: I already wore the sneakers, the box is gone, but the sneakers weren’t put together correctly. Let’s see how this goes over at I called and spoke with a great customer service rep. She completely understood my situation and didn’t care that I wore the sneakers already. Not once did I hear a hint of skepticism, which I was completely prepared to hear… The call took 10 minutes and the customer service rep issued an RMA# (return authorization) which I received via email (with a shipping label) a few days later. Note, I think the email should have arrived immediately, but that’s the way it goes. Also, I would still need to purchase another pair of sneakers online, since they can only credit my account. I think they need to be able to issue a replacement, but their system cannot handle it yet...

The Positive Note:
It is amazing what a good customer service experience will do. At least they stepped up, admitted that it was their problem, and handled it quickly. I think many other companies need to follow when it comes to accountability. I will buy from them again, but for me, there aren’t 3 strikes in my e-commerce game. There are only 2 (and sometimes 1 if the customer service experience doesn’t go so well…) I hope my next experience is a better one.

So what’s the lesson here?
I guess there are a few, and I’ll try and summarize them below:

* Buying online has improved dramatically over the past few years, but don’t get too confident. Until you can reach through your screen and hold the actual product that you are going to buy, there are still times where you can benefit from buying at a brick and mortar store.

* Customer service can make or break a buying experience. If the rep didn’t act so quickly and understand my situation so well, I’m confident that they would have lost my business for a long time.

* The hassle of buying online, waiting for a product to arrive, finding a problem, contacting customer service, waiting for the RMA#, boxing up the product to return, dropping off the package at UPS, and then having to reorder the product again, takes a lot more time than running out to a store and buying sneakers. Aren’t the core benefits of buying online speed, selection, and efficiency? I guess only when it works perfectly, right?

So now I have a decision to make (and one that I’ve had to make in the past – see my post about Best Buy In Store Pickup). Do I purchase the sneakers online again and hope for the best or do I run out to the store and just pick them up? I’m a busy guy, so I might actually purchase them again online.

Am I a glutton for punishment? You’ll need to check back to find out…


{UPDATE} OK, so when I left off, I had to ship my sneakers back to Adidas and then wait for a credit (which I found out could take 30 days after receiving the shipment). I went ahead and trusted that Adidas would follow through and issue the credit, and I ordered a new pair. The funny part was that now didn’t have my size in stock! So, I visited a shopping engine to find out pricing and availability at several online stores. I found the sneakers I wanted in my size (and at a $12 discount from what I originally had paid). They should arrive early this week. As for Adidas, I received an email on Friday explaining that they did issue the credit. So, it all ended up ok. Sounds like an e-commerce soap opera, doesn't it?? The problem is...I don't like soap operas. :-)

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