Written by Misc

White Goods Via The Internet

At work a few weeks ago, we had a nice chap come in to talk to us about the consumer behaviour at the moment, in light of the credit crunch and a falling housing market as people tightened their belts. It was all a little gloomy if you work for a company who depends on advertising as I do.
He also talked about who he thought might do well, and obviously internet companies are set to do even better. One of his examples was white goods retailers who have struggled with the internet so far in his opinion.
I’ve got a couple of recent experiences with white goods retailers to share in light of this.
A few days after I his talk I was due to take delivery of a washing machine, and seeing how strongly retailers had grasped the digital domain was to prove interesting.
First off, I had been expecting the washing machine the previous weekend, but Comet had called me at work to let me know that it’d be delayed a week as they’d run out of stock. Since the particular model I had chosen was a special offer, this wasn’t perhaps surprising.
Ordering the machine had been reasonably painless. They’d offered a fitting service and could take away my old machine both at modest additional cost. But since I live on the second floor, this is a useful service to which I had to avail myself. In fact, this had been the main reason for choosing Comet ahead of other retailers. I don’t simply want a washing machine to be delivered – they have concrete blocks built into their bases, and my old one isn’t going to leave my flat on its own.
As is the way of these things, you get a delivery window – in this instance it was Sunday 8am-12pm. I must admit that offering a Sunday delivery is somewhat surprising, but the four hour window is less so. I obviously had to be up and ready to receive them at 8am, but guess which end of the window they arrived?
I was expecting a call to let me know when they’d arrive, however I didn’t get one. This wasn’t surprsing because on arriving at the following Monday morning, I discovered a recorded message on my work phone, despite having supplied both mobile and home numbers as well.
Delivery of the new machine and the collection of the old one was painless, and there were two of them so I didn’t have to help out. Indeed overall, I’d probably use Comet again despite communication issues.
What I would suggest is that considering I ordered the product online, they should also communicate with me electronically – at the very least sending email confirmations of my new delivery details alongside the phone call. They later emailed me a post-delivery service questionnaire and I told them this.
Then yesterday, I needed to replace a DVD player. My first DVD player was a Samsung and it cost £250. I’d had a £50 voucher, but that still made it pretty expensive.
More recently, with the exception of my very nice Sony Freeview hard disk/DVD recorder, my DVD players have been closer to £20. But then you get what you pay for and my third cheapo failed on me. What should I replace it with? DivX playback is useful (my Sony does this) and obviously it should be trivially easy to make multi-region. I settled on a Philips DVP5980 which ticks all of the above boxes with the added advantage of a front mounted USB socket from which you can play movies, music and JPGs from a memory stick. It also upscales to HD TVs – not much use for me currently, but worthwhile for the future.
It was available in-store from Currys for a reasonable £40. Like the other major electrical firms, Currys allows you to reserve online. Frankly, unless you have serious stock issues, every retailer should allow this. It means that I can go to the store safe in the knowledge that the product I want is in stock. Otherwise, I might as well just buy online. With my confirmation slip in hand, I headed off to the retail park where my nearest Currys sits.
Inside, on a Bank Holiday Saturday afternoon, the place was deserted. This is a sector that’s in real trouble. Before making my purchase, I thought I’d check out the other DVD players they had onsale. They had a reasonable range, but curiously, the model I’d come in to purchase wasn’t there. I double checked, but no, it wasn’t on display anywhere in the store.
I began to worry. Perhaps the computer system had lied to me and they were out of stock. I went to the tills where at least three sales assistants were milling around with little to do (me being the only customer). Much typing on the computer and a failed attempt to get me take out an extended warranty (never!), and I was in possession of a receipt. I simply had to go to the collection point to complete my purchase.
I headed to the back of the store where two assistants were chatting. One immediately took my receipt and disappeared off behind a locked door. The other returned to some administrative computer-based task. Another customer came over and when he approached this second assistant, he was simply told to ring the bell. He, personally, wasn’t able to help.
He rang the bell and waited.
We both waited.
I stared at washing machines and fridges to relieve the boredom. Eventually five to ten minutes later, the first assistant appeared with my DVD player, and took the receipt from the other customer to find his purchase. I left the store without much good feeling.
Why was my model not on display? You’re not going to sell stock that isn’t displayed. Why were the tills over-manned, and the warehouse under-manned? If there’s nobody buying anything, at least make the process comfortable and quick for those who are actually contributing to your bottom line. It’s just very poor all around.
With Best Buy taking a stake in Carphone Warehouse before it expands into the UK, the whole marketplace is ripe for being thoroughly shaken up in this country. Shopping should be pleasant. If you can do that, then more people will end up going online. At the moment, the big-box retailers still have a bit of an advantage in that they have trained employees who can install a washing machine for me. Much as I love Amazon, that’s not yet something I’d give to them. But they can do better. Supermarkets’ delivery windows are pretty tight these days – albeit the service they providing is simpler. But it won’t take much to improve on what we currently have, and then the retailers will be in big trouble.