Notes on MAIL ORDER & CHAINS & BRANDS
---- rewarding the good --------
I include specific problems, or identify locations not representative of a chain, to help foster change for the better by naming the bad. I do list a few good operations, we tend to overlook those as they just do what they should.
- DEPARTMENT STORES
- HARDWARE/BUILDING SUPPLIES
- JUNK MAIL
*** HIGHLIGHTING INCOMPETENCE ***
(businesses that clearly do not deserve your business)
Despite repeated requests to stop, their junk mail continued.
So I phoned Rhaspody Marketing, who put their name on Underhill's junk mail. (Good idea for publicity if competent, but they aren't - despite nicely agreeing to stop sending Underhill's junk mail they did not.)
SHORELINE WIDE SHOES
Despite repeated requests to stop, their junk mail continued.
I found Amazon excellent. Clear ordering and confirmation, plus an email when shipped. However, a friend had severe problems determining status of an order at a busy time. (He finds Barnes & Noble's mail-order service to be good.)
Unfortunately their web site has become cluttered and unclear - actually getting in the way of ordering more, and they have a wall of bureaucracy between customer and "Customer Service" - you have to phone head office to get meaningful communication. Clearly Jeff Bezos is missing something in implementing his claimed approach of "early on we decided to err on the side of the customer".
But I've seen a small improvement.
OTOH, Pritchett management consultants of Plano TX will not take you off their mailing
list. That shows disregard for customers, and possibly administrative incompetence. (And
their booklets have become shallow and filled with buzz-speak.)
Lands-End and LL Bean are the class of the mail order business.
(Note that Sears is buying Lands-End, and initially will add Lands-End product in Sears stores. (Sears operations in Canada may be different than in the U.S.)
For those ordering through the Internet, Verisign is sending misleading domain name renewal solicitations. The pitch reads as though Verisign is the current registrar for your domain, and only in the small print at the end does it acknowledge it is not. Doesn't sound like a company one wants to depend on for authenticity certificates.
Lenovo (new owner of IBM's excellent Thinkpad laptop computers) has shipping and customer service functions that are error-prone and uninformed.
Fred Meyer stores present an amazing contrast.
In Everett WA, on Evergreen Way, is a store so bad you'd never go near a Fred Meyer if that was your only experience with the company.
But only a few miles away in Mill Creek WA the store is good and the service excellent. (Honorable mention to the store in north Bothell, Kirkland and Bellevue are OK as well.)
Wal Mart stores vary but not as widely. Especially irritating to me is a store design with the entrance in one corner. From Lynnwood WA to Edmonton AB - all relatively new stores - they are the same. In contrast the store at Quil Ceda north of Everett WA is much better - and has a full grocery section.
Canadian Tire stores carry automotive, housewares, hardware, garden, and outdoor sports equipment. Their strength is being a department store limited to those categories, plus now owning the Marks Work Wearhouse clothing store chain, and having many unique products.
One of their weaknesses is crowded stores.
Another is varying quality of product. I've purchased automotive parts that came out of the same mold as what Chrysler dealers sell, but I've also purchased rebuilt parts that simply did not work due to mismatched internal parts or that were incorrectly represented as new (you can't rebuild brake drums to new thickness, all you do is clean and smooth them). I've purchased tools that, for example:
- a nifty measuring tool whose protractor scale read in one degree increments but having a detent every five degrees, so it wouldn't stay in the position you adjusted it to.
- a compact meter, 52-0059-8, whose display scale for voltage had ranges of 10, 50, and 250 but whose range selector switch had 10, 250 and 500. On top of that, it was wildly inaccurate (what read 9 volts on the 10 volt range/scale read 25 volts on the 250 volt range/scale!). But hey, don't complain, inside was a "QC Passed" sticker, and the manual said the product was suitable for hobby and professional work. Therefore it must be so?
I've never had a key copied correctly by the Axxess semi-automated system. Never. Looking at an unsatisfactory key, the cartridge the system uses, and the equipment, I can see an obvious cause for at least some of the problems.
I go out of my way to go to locksmith shops because they depend on quality.
A manual copying machine does fine if clean and operated with reasonable care - ensure master and blank are clamped in place correctly then cut slowly.
It seems as though sucker stores continue to be born - why do people keep using Axxess?
In the Seattle area, McLendon's Hardware outlets are large with much stock. A good alternative to Home Depot and Lowes, which are declining.
These people have used misleading statements on the envelope:
- American Express corporate card operations
- MNBA bank credit card operations
- Something called "GM Reimbursement Headquarters", soliciting vehicle trade-ins for a dealership. Suspect relationship to GMAC, the financial operation of General Motors the car company (who are not doing well financially, still and again).
- American Legion
These people are not competent enough to purchase up-to-date
mailing lists:These people are not caring enough to stop junk mail when you ask, or propagate your name & address to other organizations:
- Society for Human Resource Management
- In addition to buying out of date mailing lists, Quark uses a tracking cookie when you visit their web site (22 hits by it during a short session to get their names and address!)
- Career Track/Pryor
- Foot Zone, a shoe company operating in the Seattle area.
- US Postal Service
- Underhill's Furniture, in the Seattle WA area
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (sending junk packages! I junk them)
- Lenovo computers
- FootSmart, a mail order operation
- Shoreline Wide Shoes, Edmonds WA
- The Motley Fool (you'd be a Fool to register with that news web site)
- Kohl's clothing stores
- AARP (simply excessive, though I haven't seen any lately)
I've noted that charities are particularly bad junk mailers incurring high costs (how many sets of address labels is one individual actually going to purchase each year?).
But these are very accommodating:
- Land's End (classy)
- L.L. Bean (classy)
And ARRL (amateur radio enthusiasts) were responsive once I bluntly got their attention.
I am surprised at the age of some mailing lists when used by other organizations. It seems as though it is common to use the list for own mailings for a couple of years then sell it, charities being an exception (they quickly share it with other charities) - though in some cases the list is very old when used by others. In the junk mail businesses suckers are born every minute - the companies that pay money for old lists full of errors. It is a "junk" business, which the free market will address.
Especially galling are charitable organizations. Help them, and in return they fill your mailbox with junk and tell their friends about you.
Mail Boxes Etc.
Represented itself as a chain, with their name the only significant sign on each outlet, but headquarters disavowed any responsibility for failure of a local franchisee/licensee (I
have that in writing). If you depend on the local outlet for mail
and/or forwarding, you will be out of luck.
BUT: Mail Boxes Etc. was purchased by UPS so may have changed (UPS is a bureaucracy but we hope....). Outlets were renamed as UPS stores.
Kinko's copy centers spent a great deal of money on glitz and PR, but their performance declined. A store manager had no interest in fixing the Internet access computer problems. (Fedex has purchased Kinkos's, which may in the long term help - as of mid 2007 the staff were quite
helpful but store hours were shortening (it seems they do not follow FedEX who operate 24/7).)
Seattle area Kinkos stores were especially poorly managed, notably
Woodinville, but the Lynnwood/Alderwood location was not as bad
(the staff there actually cared).
And the Richmond Lansdowne location had a new manager who cared,
though she retreated to only trying the impossible - justifying
Mount Vernon, Everett and Bellingham seem better than many locations.
As well, Kinkos' copy paper has been too cheap - not at all white.
Management of Seattle area locations deteriorated (when hot water is not available in the morning, when toilets overflow repeatedly, there is a management shortfall).
Attempting to get real action I tried to contact the company, only to find an amazing bureaucracy - almost no one to contact, phone HQ in Texas and get put on hold.
The lights may be on, and the dogs barking in their PR department, but no one is home.
Great potential as an alternative fast-food restaurant chain, serving what I would call conventional Chinese food (what we oldies are accustomed to in Canada and the US) but perhaps with a bite of spice toward Mexican and Thai tastes.
But their Everett WA location is hopeless for accuracy - they don't listen well, don't talk clearly, and were slow to adjust to using the order screeen at the drive-through (a great invention listing what has been entered so far in the order so you can catch their errors).
PayPal has become bureaucratic - it is difficult to find things on their web site, forms don't work for all cases, and it is difficult to contact them (though security did respond).
But they are still a worthwhile service to protect your credit card, now owned by e-Bay.
Perfect Pens (NOT) - a division of National Pen
Their marketing weenies went to the cost of shipping me a sample pen, unsolicited. Problem was they put my name backwards and listed a phone number I have not had for 18 years! How to put one's best foot forward (up into mouth?). :-)
Known for good products supporting laptop computers, especially their power supplies with selection of tips to suit various computers. However....
Web site not well laid out to find products.
Customer service staff not knowledgeable enough about product range.
Warranty submittal and followup bad, they close claim if you don't provide more details quickly (you may be travelling thus delayed, for example), then don't respond to queries about it.
Another good company going bad.
United Parcel Service
Continues to demonstrate an excessive frequency of problems
- failing to deliver
- not recovering quickly from their errors
- forms with fundamental errors in key aspects
- inaccessability (offices closed though the recorded message
indicates they should be open for hours to come)
- not caring
With their worst problems in Canada. Instead of hustling to get an envelope to me - the one they forgot to load on the regular airplane at their Louisville sorting hub - they sent it by a mop-up flight that wandered its way across the US. Having reached Seattle, they did not put it on one of the many airline flights that go to Victoria - they sent it to Vancouver by means so slow it took two more days to reach Victoria. Their next-day guarantee means little - check what the remedies are.
Purolator Courier (big in Canada) is worse. I don't have
much recent experience with competitors but years ago DHL
did well for me - and they now own Airborne Express.
Most of those cases are major chains, long established, who
once knew how to perform. Those attributes are no assurance
they will continue to perform - bad management creeps in anywhere,
bigness does not prevent that. (Note the remarks of Jack Welch
and Bill Gates.) Bureacratic bigness probably facilitates it,
because people lose touch with reality - they tend to think that
the name or the organization has some intrinsic power that will
keep people coming in the door (at their convenience of course),
and they lose sight of the need to provide workable services for
On the good side, the Land's End and LLBean clothing mail order
operations are very good. And Amazon outperforms bookstores, in one
case providing a book in two weeks that a large vocally anti-Amazon
store could not produce in over a year of waiting by the customer.
(However I am concerned about a security flaw in Amazon.ca's customer
registration system, their shipping department spends too much
money on oversize boxes that are less convenient for the customer, and they lose business because they are difficult to contact.)
Many small operations are fine, including:
- Logitech, though slow
- Heirloom Labels, though slow
- FootSmart (good shoe stretcher, but really bad junk mailers).(
- Palm_DR.com for PDA accessories and parts, they communicate.
The web sites of many small operations work better than large ones.
Comment: it is amazing how most stores change only slowly - the
same problems year after year after year, many unique to the
particular outlet or chain. (There are common problems, notably
failure to communicate with potential customers.)
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