Huge letdown by Zappos

November 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm 3 comments

Unhappy customers are the loudest. And today, I’m going to be pretty loud.

I’m a major advocate of Zappos, and historically I’ve told all my friends about them – their shoe inventory (and now other products as well) is exhaustive, their customer service is typically un-matched, and they provide free overnight shipping to their VIP customers.

But now I’m wondering if they’re getting too big for their britches, and perhaps customers may suffer the consequences.

From what I can gather, Zappos seem to have gone through a software upgrade which caused some orders to get backlogged and delayed in showing up for the warehouse. As such, my order that was placed 2 days ago has still not arrived, and is not due to arrive until Monday (7 days after the order was placed,  and definitely not in keeping with guaranteed overnight delivery for VIP customers). Being in software myself, this is totally understandable to me, and I’m sympathetic.

Long story short, while customer service can see that my order is in the system, they can’t tell whether its been packed and shipped. And in the words of the customer service supervisor, “we have no way to validate the status at this time.”

What?! Your entire business is predicated on proper inventory management, and you don’t have a way to validate the status of my order with the warehouse? Furthermore, customer service, while nice enough to talk to me on chat for an entire hour, didn’t seem empowered to do anything about it except give me a credit, which really doesn’t help me with  my current dilemma.

For the company that prides itself on customer service, this is a huge fail. And maybe the credit they gave me will entice me to give them money one more time, but this experience does nothing to engender my long term loyalty (and others who have experienced the same).

So does this most recent software glitch at Zappos affect the lifetime value of a Zappos customer? Only time will tell, but I guarantee my lifetime value to Zappos has definitely decreased.

[full customer service transcript provided below]

Please wait while we find an agent to assist you…

Thank you for chatting it up with Zappos today, my name is Clarissa and I’m happy to assist you.

Clarissa:  Good Morning Robin.

Clarissa:  How are you?

Clarissa:  I’m sorry Robin, the order still has not yet shipped.

Robin Zaragoza:  Hey Clarissa. I’m feeling a little let down. I’ve been a Zappos customer since 2006 and this is the first time this has happened.

Clarissa:  I understand you are leaving the country soon. Is that correct?

Robin Zaragoza:  Yes. I’m headed out of town today, I come back on Saturday night, and then I fly back to London on Sunday.

Clarissa:  I’m very sorry. It has been released to the fulfillment cent but not yet processed.

Robin Zaragoza:  What does that mean? Can you please explain?

Robin Zaragoza:  Meaning they haven’t picked and boxed them yet?

Clarissa:  Correct.

Robin Zaragoza:  Has someone actually been in touch with them to understand when it will happen?

Robin Zaragoza:  (and that it’s on their radar?)

Clarissa:  If you asking if the warehouse has been notified of your order number and to place a rush on it. No, I don’t believe they have.

Robin Zaragoza:  Ok, well I feel like waiting for them to notice the order isn’t going to help the situation. Is there anything you can do?

Clarissa:  No, I’m, sorry. I’m in a different state from the fulfillment center.

Clarissa:  It is queued to be filled soon but I can’t say what time. Most likely it will arrive on Friday.

Clarissa:  Sorry, delivery will most likely be on Monday.

Robin Zaragoza:  So the guaranteed free shipping means nothing here?

Robin Zaragoza:  I’m not really sure how a Monday delivery fits in with that

Robin Zaragoza:  sorry, meant guaranteed free overnight shipping

Robin Zaragoza:  I placed this as a VIP customer

Clarissa:  If you no longer want the order, I can put in a request for UPS to return the order to us and give you a refund.

Robin Zaragoza:  hold on a sec…..I’m not really sure what UPS has to do with this. You said earlier that the order hasn’t even been packed yet.

Robin Zaragoza:  So I don’t know why UPS would need to return the order if it hasn’t been shipped.

Clarissa:  Robin, if Monday delivery will be too late for you due to leaving the country, Once this order ships, I can put in for UPS to return the order before delivery.

Clarissa:  You asked what does UPS have to do with it. UPS is the delivery service. I have to set a reminder to check the order. Once it has been processed to ship and has a tracking number, I will need to notify UPS.

Robin Zaragoza:  I see, ok. Yes, it would definitely be too late, I will no longer be in the country. But I also feel like you’re not answering my question. As a VIP customer your site offers free next day shipping. I’d really like to understand why this does not hold true in this circumstance. And I’d also like to understand if there is someone else who would be able to check on this order directly with the warehouse.

Clarissa:  I’m sorry, we had a system upgrade several weeks ago and all of the bugs have not been ironed out. They are doing their best but many of the orders, even VIP gets caught in a back log. I do apologize.

Clarissa:  I have emailed a coupon for $75.00 off a future order because of the delay.

Robin Zaragoza:  That is understandable, but it feels like you’re telling me we’ll just have to wait for the warehouse to see the order, rather than doing something about it.

Clarissa:  Unfortunately, no one is able to speak directly to the warehouse We are here in Las Vegas, NV and the warehouse is in Kentucky. Again, because of the system upgrade of our parent company, we are saddened by the fact that we cannot always meet all of the requests. We do our best.

Robin Zaragoza:  So there is no escalation process when agents are unsure whether an order is showing up in the system for the warehouse?

Clarissa:  I know it is showing because it states released to the fulfillment center. Robin, again, your order is queued. At this present time, I am the highest you can receive in live chat.

Clarissa:  You are welcome to call and speak with a superviser. Customer service is 1-800-927-7671.

Robin Zaragoza:  Are there supervisors working at this time?

Robin Zaragoza:  Also, can you tell me the date on which the status showed “released to the fulfillment center”?

Clarissa:  Yes. your order was released 11/21/11 at 12:46 PM PST.

Robin Zaragoza:  Thank you.

Robin Zaragoza:  I will speak with a supervisor before cancelling the order.

Clarissa:  Sorry, Robin, I was in deed speaking with a supervisor. I

Clarissa:  You are welcome to.

Clarissa:  I had to call by phone.

Robin Zaragoza:  ok

Clarissa:  She will be with you in a moment.

Robin Zaragoza:  How does that work? Do you transfer this chat to her, or shall I call?

Alicia B:  Hello Robin! Thank you for being so patient and waiting. I see that there is a problem with the delivery of your order and your leaving town soon.

Alicia B:  My name is Alicia and I am the Supervisor on duty.

Robin Zaragoza:  Hello Alicia, yes, that is correct

Alicia B:  I want to apologize for the inconvenience. Clarissa is correct, we recently updated our systems and are having a few hiccups along the way. However, a few orders are a still being affected. I totally apologize.

Robin Zaragoza:  Alicia, I totally understand the problems software can cause.

Robin Zaragoza:  Where I’m a bit mifffed is that Clarissa tells me the software glitch has caused some orders to get backlogged, but at the same time she’s telling me she’s sure the warehouse has seen my order since the system says it was released to them 2 days ago, almost immediately after I placed the order.

Robin Zaragoza:  Those statements don’t match up. It seems to me that if the normal process is an order is packed when its released to the warehouse, and my order hasn’t been packed yet, its highly likely my order is not showing up for the warehouse

Robin Zaragoza:  Especially since I’m being told the new software has some bugs and is causing some problems, my expectation is that there is something that can be done to confirm with the warehouse that my order is showing up.

Robin Zaragoza:  Just waiting for it to show up for them isn’t what I would expect from Zappos.

Robin Zaragoza:  I realize I’m being a bit demanding, but I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I have to believe Zappos is quite a sofisticated company that there are business processes to support investigating orders that seem to be “lost” in the system.

Alicia B:  Robin, you are not being unreasonable at all. I can understand where things got a little confused. Your order was placed and went into processing (which is picking) but never left that status. At this time I don’t know if the order was picked, processed and shipped out. That where the glitch in the system. Again, I totally apologize.

Robin Zaragoza:  Ok, so is there a process to try to validate the status with the warehouse?

Alicia B:  Robyn, unfortunately we have no way to validate the status at this time. Our warehouse is shipping over 100,000 orders a day or more at this time and the glitch has made it where we can’t confirm at this time. I apologize.

Robin Zaragoza:  If I were to place an order today, and assuming the software glitch did not affect the order, when would you expect it to arrive. Secondly, how likely is it that the software glitch would impact a new order (i.e. how prevalent is this bug?). What I’m wondering is….what if we cancelled my existing order, and placed the order again today. Is it likely enough that it would arrive on Friday or Saturday and that is possibly how we solve the problem? Is this worth doing?

Alicia B:  Robin if were to place the order for your today the order will not arrive on Monday because of the Holiday. We have gotten word from the warehouse that the glitches are all worked out. No more should be occurring.

Robin Zaragoza:  UPS is not delivering Friday and Saturday?

Alicia B:  I apologize for the delayed response time. I was trying to make sure I was giving you correct information regarding the update. UPS is attempting to make delivery on Friday but I can-not gurantee is on Friday. Monday I can. Unfortunately we do not deliver on Saturdays.

Robin Zaragoza:  This is unfortunate Alicia. I feel pretty helpless in this situation, and I feel let down by Zappos customer service as well. I only visit the US several times a year, and Monday I will no longer be in the country. So my order is pretty useless at this point.

Alicia B:  Again Robin, I apologize. This is the first time Zappos has done anything that effected some of our customer’s in the past 11 years we have been in business. We pride ourselves on our service and there is really no excuse for what has taken place. I wish their was something that I can do to make sure that you get this on Friday but with the Holiday and the time of year that it is, I just don’t want to disappoint you again if it arrives on Monday.

Robin Zaragoza:  Go ahead and cancel it.

Alicia B:  I will go ahead and cancel it. I also want to extend instead of a $75.00 coupon, one for $150.00 for your next Zappos order. I really and truly feel bad that you can’t receive this order. I know that doesn’t help you know but I hope it will give you faith to shop with us again in the future.

Robin Zaragoza:  ok, thanks.

Alicia B:  Thank you Robin, I will email you the coupon. The coupon is good for 90 days but if you don’t use it, please call us and we will reinstate it for you. We are open 24/7.

Alicia B:  You will receive conformation of the order being cancelled. The Authorization will take 72 hours to drop off.

Alicia B:  Is there anything else I can assist you with this morning?

Robin Zaragoza:  No, thanks. Have a nice day.

Alicia B:  Have a wonderful Holiday!! Thank you for shopping at


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Dude  |  November 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Wow. Just wow. For a company that has had HBR articles about their unflinching devotion to the customer experience and satisfaction this is stunning.

    Me thinks that they need to re-evaluate their WIP system, and use something a bit more heavyweight (just speculation here, but not being able to get a status of an object in progress is just so basic a failure. Even mainframes from the 70’s handled WIP well).

    That said, VIP customers (assumption, loyal, high value consumers) should always have a shortcut to issue resolutions. Nordstrom gets this by empowering their associates with the ability to make the customer right.

    From the interaction with the supervisor, it is clear that she was powerless to get on the phone and choke someone’s throat.

    This reminds me that effective Product Managers often have that “Get it done NOW, and worry about the ramifications LATER”. We do just find a way, and then adjust the process after the fact. Perhaps a blog post will be coming as “Product Managers vs. Nordstrom Associates”.

    Thanks for sharing your frustrations.

    • 2. bstnmelody  |  November 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm

      I love the way you brought this back to product management, nicely done!

      I totally agree…PMs must have a “just get it done” attitude. I actually just unblocked a huge bug for an eBay UK customer, (eBay is where I work now), in an area that I have no control over, specifically because as PMs we are empowered (and expected) to be problem solvers.

      So are you writing the PMs v. Nordstrom associates post, or am I? 😉

  • 3. Ruth  |  November 23, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    WOW! I’m in awe that they couldn’t simply “verify” the status of your order!! Completely un-exceptable.


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