I don’t think I’ll be shopping at wbshop.com any more.  They have had some sort of massive logistical breakdown.
Back on Tuesday, February 9, 2010, I made an $82 order for in-stock items, with two-day air shipping.  Since I ordered in the morning, I expected delivery Thursday, but I would have been only moderately disappointed with Friday, since almost everyone says “two day” when they mean “three days”.
It is now 13 days later, and the order has not shipped.  I had received an order acknowlegement email, but the online system says I have never ordered.  The telephone customer support center says the order is fine and is “in processing” at the warehouse, but they are running “a little behind”.
The gap between reasonable expectations and corporate performance is large.
Here are a few notes and suggestions.

  • The website continues to show items “in stock” and “ships in one day”, when this is obviously not true.
  • The website does not show my order at all.  According to the call center people, it will only show up after it is shipped.
  • My credit card was charged at the time of order.  Maybe my impression that mail order companies are only allowed to charge when they ship is out of date.  I have made an inquiry.
  • There have been no emails or calls from wbshop reporting delays or setting expectations.

I know a modest amount about systems for e-commerce, since I wrote a book on the subject (Designing Systems for Internet Commerce).  I have a few suggestions on technical aspects:

  • The online system can show all orders, completed and pending.
  • The online system can show current status, and contain links to make inquiries
  • The website can contain correct information about product availability
  • The online system can send email updates when previous promises become inoperative
  • There does not need to be any difference if the user account was created at the end of the first order or before it starts. The order is tied to the account and should show online.

And  I have some thoughts about public relations and customer satisfaction

  • Transparency works.  When you have a problem, coming clean about it and providing the best and most accurate information you have is nearly always better than becoming defensive, failing to respond, or stonewalling.
  • For an online store, logistics is everything.  Amazon gets this right.  Wbshop does not.
  • Customers have blogs.  Those blogs are indexed.  Maybe I can add some special index terms.

So what is happening?   I got one customer service rep to go off-script and mention “500 orders behind” but I doubt that is right.  500 is not a two-week problem, it is a few person-days of work at most. That doesn’t explain an ongoing two week delay.
Update 2/26/2010
The order still hasn’t shipped.  I’ve learned a few more things

  • Discover card says it is up to the merchant to charge on order or on shipment.  Discover is happy to help me dispute the charge if I want.
  • A supervisor at wbshop tells me their practice is to charge when items are in stock, and hope they ship soon.  That obviously isn’t working well.
  • “Escalation” consists of sending an open-loop inquiry to the warehouse, with no expectation of hearing back from them.  As far as I can tell, there is no way for the call center to even find out if the order has simply been lost.

I was told Tuesday that the backlog should be cleared by “the end of the week”.  Here it is Friday afternoon and that has not happened.
The call center also has a music on hold system. It interrupts the music every minute or so to tell you “please continue to hold.”  This is a really bad design, since the caller has to shift gears to listen to the message every time.  It would be much better to have the music uninterupted.
Update March 1, 2010
I received an email from wbshop.com this morning:

Dear Lawrence Stewart ,
We deeply apologize for any inconvenience, but your order number xxxxxxx-00 has been delayed due to warehousing issues and we have been unable to ship the merchandise in your order. Please note that our warehousing issues have been resolved and we will be able to ship your order by no later than March 2, 2010. We will send you an email confirming when the shipment leaves our warehouse.
WBshop.com values you as a customer and greatly appreciates your business. We regret that this delay has occurred, and will be refunding $5.00 from your order number xxxxxxx-00 and will issue the refund to your credit card by March 31, 2010.
Please note if you have any questions about your order or charges on your order, please feel free to email us at service@wbshop.com or call our toll-free customer service number, 1-866-373-4389. Customer service representatives are available Monday thru Friday between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm (EST), and on Saturdays between 8:00am and 6:00pm (EST).
Also, you may always call this customer support number to cancel your order prior to shipment of the order to receive a prompt refund. If we do not hear from you before we ship your order to you, we will assume that you have agreed to this shipment delay.
Again, thank you for your patronage.

After 20 days, they are able to tell me my order is planned to ship by 21 days.
I have some suggestions.

  • Send an email immediately when does not ship on schedule.
  • If a new ship date is available, provide it.
  • In any case, provide a date for the next informative email.
  • If the original delivery date can be maintained by upgraded shipping, do that at no charge
  • If the original delivery date cannot be maintained, provide free shipping
  • Provide online order status for pending orders
  • Build systems that give the call center visibility into the warehouse. Maybe you don’t want to tell people “there are 1200 orders ahead of yours” via the web, but telling people angry enough to call is a good idea.  We’re angry, but we realize that folks delayed longer than us should be cleared first.

But, after nearly three weeks, stating with such assurance that you will ship by tomorrow is unlikely to be believed.
Update March 3, 2010
Good News!  Amazingly, wbshop did ship on March first.  I only know this because I called.  They did not send an email to say so.  How hard is it to send an email?  In addition, I got another email announcing a 25% off sale on the very items I tried to buy.  After another call, wbshop issued a credit for the difference.

John Mucci

I am greatly saddened to report the passing of John Mucci this past Sunday.
As some of you know, I have an affinity for people when I cannot predict what they are going to say. I am not talking about randomness, but about folks who have an approach to thinking that is unlike my own and a depth of insight I rarely reach.  John was one of those people.
I first met John in 2004 when I got started talking to Matt Reilly and Jud Leonard about SiCortex. John was perhaps foremost a salesman, but he worked not only to understand the technology but to understand it well enough to see how it would apply in new situations.  At first I was surprised that the CEO wanted to interview every prospective team member, but I came to treasure the hiring meetings afterwards.  Not only could I not predict his opinion, but his assessments made sense.
As far as I could tell, John knew everyone involved with High Performance Computing and usually on a first name basis.  Walking the floor with John at Supercomputing was an experience.  The mean free path between people he knew was about 10 feet.
Prior to SiCortex, John had worked at Digital Equipment and at Thinking Machines, where our paths almost intersected, as I worked elsewhere at Digital, and later Open Market took over space in Cambridge previously occupied by TMC. I mention this because of another similarity between Thinking Machines and SiCortex – both were well liked by their customers.  I know that John Mucci was responsible for the good regard folks have of SiCortex, and I like to think the same was true at Thinking Machines.
He will be missed.