Why It's Not Called Web Depot


By Samuel Greengard

It's not difficult to spot minor glitches and shortcomings at almost any e-commerce site. But it's shocking to visit a major retailer's site and experience functionality that works more like 1996 than 2012.

Welcome to Home Depot online.

Recently, I clicked to Home Depot to buy an electronic touchpad lock for my house. I found the item, added it to my shopping cart and headed to check out. I entered my credit card information and submitted the order. The purchase went flawlessly.

That's when the trouble began. When I received an order confirmation at the website, it included a notification that the item was on backorder. Why wasn't I notified of this before the purchase? I went to Lowe's, saw that the same item was in stock and placed an order there.

About 20 minutes later, I went back to the Home Depot website to cancel the original order. However, there seemed to be no option to cancel online. So, I dialed Home Depot. A rep informed me that she couldn't cancel the order because it hadn't entered the system yet. I'd have to wait for an e-mail confirmation.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Another 45 minutes passed. Finally, after receiving an order confirmation I called Home Depot again. The rep told me that she would submit a cancellation request. However, she could not guarantee that the item wouldn't ship and my credit card wouldn't be charged. It would take 24 hours or more for the Resolution Department to officially cancel the order, she explained.

Apparently, Home Depot lacks real-time inventory visibility and functionality at its website. This is perplexing.

Worse, there seems to be no way to cancel an order at the website, and placing a prompt call to a customer service rep doesn't provide any assurance that the order won't ship. This type of experience doesn't engender any trust in the retailer. At this point, it's safe to say that I won't think of Home Depot as my first online choice.

I'm not sure why Home Depot's e-commerce capabilities are operating in the digital equivalent of the Stone Age. I like the company and its stores but there are a couple of lessons to be learned here: 1) Reputations are often made and broken based on exceptions--and it doesn't matter how efficient your processes are if you can't handle non-standard situations; 2) Offer a customer experience that's clunky and difficult and, over time, the problems go away...because customers go away.

Oh, and three days after I spoke to the customer service rep and received a confirmed cancellation number...the item shipped.