While the tradition of stores being veritable zoos on Black Friday continued this year – news reports describe consumers getting pepper sprayed, trampled, and even shot – many people turned to the Web for their Thanksgiving purchasing, hoping to score the same deals without the lines, bodily harm, and overall hassle. Unfortunately, this approach did not help Walmart.com customers save money or live better, as we all learned the hard way. You see, before learning of the technical problems that plagued the retailer’s website on Black Friday, forcing shoppers to look elsewhere to complete their purchases, I had quite the adventure when trying to purchase a digital gift card.
My ordeal began on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving when I placed my Wal-Mart electronic gift card order. It’s important to note from the start that I opted to get a digital gift card precisely because the person I was buying it for wanted to purchase a TV from Walmart.com on Black Friday. In order words, time was a factor. After providing my payment information and completing the transaction, I received an e-mail confirmation, saying that the gift card would be delivered to the recipient’s inbox within a few hours. Everything was going according to plan.
But hours came and went, with no gift card to be found in the recipient’s inbox or spam folder. On Wednesday afternoon, I sent a message to Walmart.com technical support asking for an update. Not only did the response come in the form of an automated message, but it was an automated message that did nothing to answer my primary question: Where is the gift card that I paid for?
I therefore had to send a message to inquire about my message, which finally resulted in me getting a call from a real live person looking to verify some basic information a few hours later. This is when the real fun began.
When I returned the call less than an hour later, I found that their verification department had closed for the day and would not reopen until Black Friday. Are you kidding me? During one of the busiest retail periods of the year, there was no customer service? When did Black Friday turn into April Fools Day?
With no one from the verification department to be found, I called Wal-Mart.com’s main customer service department, at which point I started receiving random excuses for why the gift card had yet to be delivered, including the contention that my credit card was to blame. A quick call to my credit card company proved this idea false, however.
After calling customer service yet again, I was told that it would take 1-2 business days to process my order. Not only did this stand to prevent the recipient of my gift from taking advantage of a Black Friday deal and defeat the purpose of getting a digital gift card to begin with, but it also completely contradicted the original confirmation e-mail I received which promised delivery in hours, rather than processing in days. In addition, the idea that it takes 1-2 days to process a digital gift card order is completely out of whack with the policies of every other major online retailer.
So, to make a long, long story short, I had talked to four different Wal-Mart customer service reps by this point, including a supervisor named Marie (the rudest and least informed of the bunch, by the way) and was no closer to getting my gift card.
Eventually, on my final Hail Mary phone call on Wednesday night, a nice representative who knew what to look for confirmed that the card had been e-mailed. Finally, my ordeal was over. Guess what I received two days later though? An e-mail saying to allow 24-48 hours for delivery of the card. Though the recipient had already received the card, this communication simply serves to underscore the issues Wal-Mart.com has been having and the need for significant changes to be made.
Ultimately, it’s clear that Wal-Mart.com’s customer service and e-commerce departments are significantly flawed, with the biggest issues being the following:
- Multiple systems/departments that don’t communicate with one another: In the course of trying to buy a single e-gift card, I received a number of contradictory e-mails and statements from employees, clearly displaying how disjointed different Wal-Mart departments are. The fact that this continued even after the recipient had received the gift card is certainly not a good sign either.
- Lack of experience with digital goods: A company with a deep e-commerce background does not experience widespread server failures and website issues on an expectedly busy shopping holiday, nor does it need 1-2 days to process an e-gift card (basically sending an e-mail).
- Horrendous customer service: Not only were Wal-Mart’s customer service representatives poorly trained, but some of them were even rude and completely unable to resolve a simple issue.
I think it’s fair to say that unless Walmart.com significantly overhauls its e-commerce operations, this aspect of the company’s business will shrink rather than grow moving forward. They better produce some quick results too or more and more consumers will have negative experiences trying to do their holiday shopping and, like me, will decide not to shop with Walmart.com again.