Improving the Customer Experience


By Samuel Greengard

Over the last couple of weeks, I've spent a good deal of time shopping for a new convection wall oven and built-in microwave. Finding the right units has been an exercise in frustration.

My first stop was Best Buy. After about 30 minutes, the salesman handed me a printout of a GE oven and a Kitchen Aid microwave. Two problems: He couldn't order a trim kit for the microwave (I would have had to find that on my own), and I wasn't crazy about having two different brands—and styles—of appliances right next to each other.

At home, I pored over Websites for Kitchen Aid, GE and Electrolux. All looked good, but, again, I needed to find units that provided a consistent look. So I went back to Best Buy, where I spent more than an hour with another salesperson who couldn't match the oven, microwave and trim kit for Kitchen Aid or Electrolux.

Then I went to Home Depot, which carries neither Kitchen Aid nor the Electrolux combination I was interested in. That meant another 30 minutes went down the drain.

The next stop was Lowe's Home Improvement, where a patient, knowledgeable salesperson helped me sort through all the products. He presented options for the Kitchen Aid and Electrolux ovens --as well as a Bosh unit that could work. I spent more than an hour there.

Back home, I devoted another 45 minutes to poring over brands, features and options. I tried to assemble matching components at the Websites for Best Buy, Lowe's and Home Depot, but couldn't do it.

Seriously? I realize how difficult it is to support hundreds of products and thousands of combinations, but that's what a retailer must do. I'm not sure why manufacturer and merchant Websites don't do a better job of displaying items that might complement other products. After all, Amazon does it, so why can't they?

I also don't understand why these retailers can't better connect the dots in their databases and offer complete online and store solutions rather than piecemeal products. They should at least build an IT system that enables a salesperson or customer to figure things out. Lowe's was the only merchant that could assemble a package—but only in the store, not online.

The takeaway? Merchants must design systems and Websites that work in the real world. If they can't build IT systems capable of assembling the products a customer needs, the customer will go elsewhere.