Sunday, December 30, 2012

NYT Times Versus Mickey Drexler {a holiday shopping tale}

"Thanks!" to so many of you, including Lizzy (in this post), cate & Susan (in this post), LemonFraternite, Raina, as well as emilybethzzz, who shared the following pieces of related news with us.

Over at the New York Times, there is an op-ed piece describing one customer's unpleasant online shopping experience with J.Crew (click here to read in its entirety). The following is just an excerpt of said piece:
The Hell of Online Shopping
By Delia Ephron
December 23, 2012

...I got an e-mail from my sister Amy in Los Angeles saying she and her husband had received boxes from J.Crew. Christmas presents from me, she assumed, since I had ordered them online and told her to expect them.

But for whom, she asked? The cards were buried deep in the packaging, and one of them was missing. Nothing was gift-wrapped, either (although I had requested and paid for it). The boxes contained two pairs of shoes (although I had ordered only one pair), a man’s pullover and a sparkly pink woman’s sweater. The sweater was for a friend who also lives in Los Angeles, but somehow ended up being sent to Amy’s husband.

I called J.Crew to complain, and what followed was tedious and time-consuming, as all Internet dramas are, involving a review of numerous e-mails — “your order has been received,” “your order has been shipped” — in this case to the wrong place and in the wrong ways, some of which I might have prevented if I’d been vigilant tracking the flurry of e-mails.

The customer-service representative, consulting records, assured me that the box for my friend had been delivered. It had been left at the front door, she said, and gave me the address, which turned out to be not my sister and her husband’s house but my friend’s office, a gigantic building in Beverly Hills. “Left outside the front door? Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she said, and, as an apology, she would send me a $50 gift card. I e-mailed my friend. Had she received a box from J.Crew? “No,” she said.

My sister offered to gift-wrap and deliver my friend’s present. This was especially kind because traffic in Los Angeles is awful, as bad as New York’s during the holidays, which is one reason I order on the Web. But rather than make life easier, Web shopping only complicates it in new, more frustrating ways. ...

When I ordered the presents on the J.Crew Web site and checked a box for the gift-wrapping, I received a message back that J.Crew did not wrap shoes, my sister’s present. As Amy and I were sorting things out, I wondered why in the world I thought it was O.K. to send a Christmas present that wasn’t gift-wrapped. ...

Precious holiday giving cannot be entrusted to a Web site. ...

Well, guess who also read that story? Mr. Mickey Drexler himself! He responded back and the paper posted it for us (click here to read in its entirety). The following is an excerpt:
Rating the Online Shopping Experience
December 26, 2012

Re “The Hell of Online Shopping,” by Delia Ephron (Op-Ed, Dec. 24): I was more than a little surprised that a customer complaint was elevated to an indictment of online retailing on your Op-Ed page.

While we are not excusing mistakes that were made in Ms. Ephron’s case, since Thanksgiving J.Crew has shipped more than a million packages around the world, and her experience is hardly the norm. Our customers know that we are personally committed to meeting their needs for quality, service and reliability.

While online shopping may not always offer the precise level of personalization Ms. Ephron requires, it is a growing part of retailing — and for good reason. It offers convenience, saves time, adds value and provides access to goods and services that might otherwise be difficult to obtain.

We certainly acknowledge that what is warranted in this situation is a sincere apology — but not a generalized defamation of an efficient and valuable way of shopping today.

MILLARD DREXLER
Chairman and Chief Executive
J. Crew Group 

Ms. Ephron's story does sound pretty terrible. I can only imagine the panic she felt when she found out out that her gift order was ending up in different place. Yikes!

I had my fair share of mistakes- sending me the wrong item or no item at all- with J.Crew. Since I tend to be a sale shopper, the item I wanted is usually no longer available afterwards. In fact, I received two mistake-orders in one day last week! At least J.Crew tried to make it right. (In my case, they offered a store search to locate the items.)

Frankly, I prefer shopping at a brick and mortar store. I like to see what the item looks like in person. With all that said, I shop online during the holiday season. I much rather stay home than deal with crowded parking lots and stores.

What are your thoughts on the op-ed pieces? Do you agree with either point-of-view? Do you prefer shopping online during the holidays?

35 comments:

  1. "Our customers know that we are personally committed to meeting their needs for quality, service and reliability."

    AH HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!

    *wipes eyes*

    Ha Ha ha haha... heeeeew.

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  2. I would love to see actual numbers on how many mistakes are made vs. how many orders are placed. I'm sure the mistakes are a low proportion, but how cool would it be if J.Crew (and other online retailers) cared enough to strive to beat their error rate each year? Quality control may not directly feed the bottom line but it's one of those intangibles that builds customer loyalty and therefore increases revenue.

    Well-written response by Mr. Drexler. I would expect nothing less!

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  3. His response is ridiculous. Given JCrew's ever-increasing price point, they should be able to manage their online orders. They believe themselves to be a boutique store, they need their in-store and online customer service to match.

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  4. I think Mickey comes across as sounding very defensive considering it was an op-ed piece in the first place and not a factual article reporting on the concept of online retailing. I can't imagine how he could be surprised that a bad experience can get elevated to this level, you read stories like this all of the time. Accounts of good experiences don't seem to go viral like bad ones.

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  5. Actually, I disagree with Mickey's assessment that this rarely happens. J. Crew screws up my online orders astonishingly regularly, and I'm sick of it. I shop online at several different retailers and NEVER experience the issues I have with J. Crew. I wish they would stop making excuses and strive to correct their warehouse problems.

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  6. I have a few thoughts...

    (1) I agree with many of you JCAs here that the tone of Mr. Drexler's response comes across as defensive. I am not sure if he meant it that way... I think he was trying to defend online shopping. But his main point seemed to get lost with the tone of his response.

    (2) We JCAs are all too familiar with these types of mishaps. The Weekly Looking to Vent posts are full of examples/ tales similar to those in the op-ed piece. Mickey & Co. might want to take a look. ;)

    (3) Although I see where Ms. Ephron is coming from with online shopping (especially considering her recent experiences), I see its benefits too. Yes, I have a preference for shopping in-stores, but online does offer convenience, a wider range of merchandise, etc. Plus, there is that weird sense of glee waiting for the package to arrive. It is like a gift to myself! :)

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  7. And he throws around terms like "defamation"? Defamation? Truth is a complete defense.

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  8. i get that the holidays are a stressful time, and the above might make a stressful situation worse. but mistake can and will continue to happen, especially with shipping around the holidays. this can happen, packages get lost in the frenzy and show up weeks later, etc. as customers, we should be somewhat flexible. its not the end of the world. the subsequent customer service means more than the original mistake, imo. they should try and make it up to the customer

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    1. Excellent point! West Elm and Zales both horribly screwed up Christmas gift orders for me this year. West Elm apologetically made up for it in a way that allowed my giftee to receive an alternate present. Zales had ZERO regard for the huge inconveniences they caused, and did nothing to make it better. Guess which one will get my money going forward? :)

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  9. I'll take Mickey's side on this one. I've encountered several online ordering mistakes this holiday season that were purchases from other retailers. They were happy to correct the problems and re-send the correct merchandise. This was fine because I shopped with plenty of time to identify and correct any problems, then wrap the gifts myself and hand-write cards before delivering them to their recipients. Ms. Ephron could have done the same. She allowed the problem by outsourcing her gift-giving to a web site. She admitted she made some mistakes in the article. I think this op-ed is as much an indictment of Ms. Ephron's bad decisions as it is about online retail errors and service.

    Mistakes happen with online retail, it is not just J. Crew. IMO, J. Crew offers some of the best customer service I have encountered amongst online retailers. Every employee of J. Crew isn't perfect, but the majority of those I have talked to about an issue have gone above and beyond to help me out and get it corrected.

    I do think J. Crew struggles with accuracy when they are doing high volume business such as during a big promotional percent off or a holiday (or recently, it has been both at once). Hopefully they learn from it and improve (I wouldn't want them to cut out the promos!). Specifically, I think they could improve on the real-time inventory/database updates with regards to item availability. Sometimes they sell me an item that they don't really have in stock (I assume someone else bought the item faster than I did but the inventory wasn't updated immediately). But they have located my items with a WWFIFY search and sent them free of charge to me when this has happened.

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  10. I had a good time this morning imagining MD reading his reply over the PA system.
    I have never had any luck with WWFIFY. I get automatic negative email reports for 3 days, then radio silence. I have had great luck with calling a store - any store - at random and asking if they can do a stock check. Most of the time whoever picks up the phone is very helpful. I disagree that we are somehow at fault if we don't shop defensively - don't let stores gift wrap, check for flaws/mistakes before sending gift, etc. Maybe at a dollar store, maybe at a clearance bin at Target, but JCrew holds itself out to be special. And to care. I'd like to see more real-life caring. Or alternatively, stop offering giftwrapping. And spend less on PR and more on quality control.

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    1. Here here, Fred--agreed! Esp about putting their money where their (quality control) mouths are! OT, but I used to call and have stores do stock checks with no problem. Lately, however, SA's have (over the phone) instructed me to call the 800 # instead. The 800# folks obliged, though one was begrudging. I wonder if this is a shift in policy or if I just spoke with seasonal staff that was clueless?

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  11. Waffle from a journo, they were just looking for a subject. The New York Times? It's not really the place is it?

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    1. I agree. The story is hardly worth it, it is actually kind of lame.

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    2. I agree too, I think the author blew it up into a drama to create a buzz for herself.

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    3. I agree. I've been mulling both articles and frankly feel as if someone pulled a "don't you know who I am" number and needed a subject matter for an article deadline. Two birds, one stone. Have I had wrong or used items shipped in all the years I've ordered? Yes, but I always receive my items within 3 days of ordering and compared to their competitors they still do a better job. The cut of the clothing is just right for the most part and when I try to find alternatives I am rarely satisfied. So, I come back. Anyway, I could go on, but I won't. Get over it, Delia. Last week 26 families in CT spent their Christmas Day without their babies and beloved teachers . Now that has truly been on my mind daily, not whether sister or stepmom liked their J Crew gifts.

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    4. CMG-I totally agree with you on this one. In the grande scheme of things, this article is lame and is really a non issue. There are so many important things to focus on. First world problems is what I always say.

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  12. I also think its not the end of the world if a mistake happens(if its not to often).
    I have been very pleased with my orders shipped to germany and most of them have been popbacks!

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  13. Lately J.Crew has been pissing me off. The sales associates in the stores are lazy and snobby, the prices keep increasing while the quality decreases, and the customer service sucks. I've been a J.Crew loyalist for 9 years- since the age of 15 when I could finally fit in women's clothing. Many of my original Peices I still own today.

    I got the JCrew Classic Ballet Flats in Tawny Sand(36243) , size 6, for Christmas. Unfortunately I needed a size 5.5 and they do not carry that size and my local JCrew store. My mom apparently scored these bad boys for $35. The sales associate made a "We Find It For You" request to find the shoes in the correct size elsewhere. Just got an email saying they couldn't find them... But the 5.5's are available online at full price in my size! http://www.jcrew.com/womens_category/shoes/ballets/PRDOVR~36243/36243.jsp

    I'm kinda irritated JCrew doesn't price match. I used to be a JCrew fiend, but latelyI've been buying more of my clothes at Nordstroms. They have wonderful customer service and will price match...

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    1. Did you try calling customer service? I needed a different size in something this week, but the item had jumped in price by $60 from the time that I bought it. I called the 800 # to re-order. They are sending me the new size at the original price I paid for the item. It's probably not a policy to do that because I can see how people could scam it, but they would probably do it if you called and asked.

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  14. ive only been ordering from J crew for about 2 yrs now but in those 2 yrs three of my orders have been hosed. once i was sent the correct size & color coat but wrong item *and of course by the time i rcvd it what i wanted was sold out*. another time i was sent the right item, correct color, wrong size & most recently i was shipped a crewcut item that was no where near the correct item. in contrast, ive been purchasing from the gap online for longer than i can recall & have only rcvd one incorrect item. the ppl in the warehouse @ jcrew really need to get it together...

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  15. I just want J. Crew to get their inventory/shipping act together. If a public call out is the push that's needed to get that ball rolling, then I say let Ms. Ephron and Mickey have it.

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  17. How many times have one of us had an item at a grocery store priced wrong? It's happened to me many times, both with a cashier and when I self check out.

    In both cases the errors seem to be due to human error. I can only imagine the volume of goods being pumped out by a warehouse like J.Crew. Have I had mistakes from them, you bet. From others too, Amazon to BR and on. The one good side we forget is it's just clothing, not a medical procedure.

    As a society we seem to worry more about who cuts our hair than who teaches our children. A wrong order is an inconvenience; but like Alexis commented it's better to do in person.

    I'm not defending J.Crew or damning them; but remembering that these are part of what happens all over the place.

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  18. I think that if JCrew wasn't so much in the news this past year-the slpashy ads, the CNBC segment Jenna's constant interviews- then they wouldn't be such a big target. I am sure the author wrote this when the wound were still fresh but she does have a point. The company does not have the internal infrastructure to handle it's sudden growth and I am sure these kind of mistakes occur fairly regularly. Mickey's point makes sense with regards to the number of mistakes vs total volume of transactions but that should not exonerate the company from trying to improve it's performance. As a local football coach ( with 2 Superbowls under his belt) says "the standard is the standard"- no excuses, just find a way to fix the problem.

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  19. You know it's funny - my dad ordered me a schoolboy blazer size 12 and was sent a navy peacoat size 2 - no idea how that happened! He got everything ironed out, but it just seemed like such a mind-boggling mistake. I don't think J. Crew was singled out - if it had been a different retailer, Delia would have discussed them.

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  20. a couple things:

    chances are, if you order from j.crew from the eastern half of the united states, your purchases are coming from warehouses in suburban north carolina and virginia. online orders are filled from asheville, and WWFIFY searches come from lynchburg, va. that is why you may notice some things available online that are sold out in stores (or vice versa). the warehouses do not share inventory.

    the people who fill your orders are most likely lower to middle class white and african american people, and middle aged. many of these people might not normally shop at j.crew and are not well versed in fashion. many of these people are hard workers, but not educated beyond high school. many of these people have little interaction with what goes on in the corporate j.crew office or in your local retail store. most of these people rely on the job j.crew provides them to put food on the table for their families.

    j.crew orders ship via UPS - j.crew relies on UPS to deliver packages. UPS tells j.crew what they can deliver and where, how long it will take and the route it will take to get there. a UPS employee has your package from the moment it leaves the warehouse to the moment it arrives at your doorstep. if you call j.crew customer service looking for a package, chances are they are consulting UPS on the locale of your package. j.crew only knows what UPS tells them in regards to your package.

    j.crew prices increase at the same rate any growing retailer would increase their prices (see anthropologie circa 2005). unfortunately, we consumers are now accustomed to companies like gap, banana republic, urban outfitters (lost 13% marketshare in 2011), etc. that are competing for a customer whose tastes have perhaps shifted from their brand... so their prices have dropped, and the rely on heavy sales to drive traffic. i was at the mall yesterday and gap was having a 50% off the entire store sale.

    j.crew is in a complex position: it shows at new york fashion week, jenna lyons sits on a half dozen prestigious fashion boards, j.crew collaborates with the cfda fund in a partnership with vogue magazine. j.crew sells purses for $500 dollars and socks for $10 in the same display. for customers that have been with the brand for decades, this can be disorienting.

    i think j.crew's policies and standards are great. they are growing so fast - faster than most retailers. they make mistakes. but more often than not, they hit the target dead on. however, that means that things sell out incredibly fast, and they can charge more because lots of people are clamoring for what they sell. j.crew does not mass produce most of their items - there is not one for everyone to go around. everything is made in limited quantity. its more sustainable. its more feasible. its safer in a down economy.

    if your order online or shop in a store, and they don't have what you're looking for... think about this. at any given moment someone somewhere is looking for the exact same thing you are with an associate or customer service personnel somewhere else. there is only so much. their clothes are not infinite. the warehouse workers often work through the dead of night during holiday, and the retail associates are often students, teachers, or have another part time job, or a family, or both. people come into j.crew stores in the dead of night to clean, unpack new items and refresh store displays for us.

    and if you are one that thinks the quality of j.crew is lacking - research the ludlow suit. research the vintage prints they use for their women's collection. milled in italy, cobbled in england...

    they sky is not falling. j.crew is cool.

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    Replies
    1. Well said Koozie. It's clothing; not health care, people need to keep that in mind.

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    2. I think the Op-ed was un called for. All retailers mess up on orders and to call one out in the NY times seems extreme. I have had maybe 2 errors out of hundreds of orders from JCrew. I personally run a business and we try to do everything right the first time, but occasionally we mess up, I would hate to be called out in the paper for a screw up that was accidental.

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  21. It isn't the end of the world to have an order messed up, but it is an inconveneince, and it happens for me at J Crew far more than it happens at other retailers.

    Based on my experiences this year alone, I would say that there are some issues with their quality control, inventory management and order fullfillment processes. On a good note, I have found customer service has been excellent at correcting the problems.

    As someone who ships gifts to family in Alaska from Florida on a regular basis, I need to be able to depend on my gifts to get shipped correctly from the online stores I use. Many times, it is time and cost prohibitive to buy an item, wait for delivery, wrap it, and then ship it. I have found several retailers that consistently get it right and they will continue to get my business for this purpose. As much as I love J Crew, they aren't on that list.

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  22. Oh my goodness. If it isn't a big deal and education and healthcare are more important then why is everyone frequenting a blog about J.Crew? Why does it even exist if people think it's not important? The bottom line is that it's important to someone and discounting someone's thoughts or feelings about something is the first thing people do when they don't have a better argument.

    That being said, I think Drexler's response is ludicrous. His tone is so disparaging. Outsourcing gift-giving? What is that even supposed to mean? If he's going to take such a dim view on gift wrapping then why do they even offer it?

    And in this case, I will agree that Ephron has a point. J.Crew does have a problem. I do all of my shopping online this season and didn't have any issues. Of course the stores I sent gifts from-Saks, Nordstrom, Sur La Table- are actually "luxury" stores that care about their customers and not wannabes like J.Crew!

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  23. Meh, sounds like a slow news day at the NYTimes and the last name "Ephron" pinged somebody's radar as a way to up some pageviews. Some orders got messed up during the busiest shopping period of the year? Shocking. I have my own complaints with declining quality at J.Crew, but I'd be annoyed, too, if my company got singled out as "having a problem" when other multinational retail stores have the same issues, they just might not have somebody who is related to somebody famous shopping there.

    Shipping gifts directly to the recipient is a really great perk of online shopping. I've done it plenty of times with gift cards and the occasional fruit basket. But clothing? At Christmas? I have it shipped directly to me, quality check it, and gift wrap it myself before I mail it out priority mail. Unless I'm sending it out from a true "boutique" (i.e., someplace with 1 or 2 locations where I've had direct contact with the owner/manager), I'm not going to trust a very personal gift like clothing or jewelry to a multinational retail chain.

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Dear J.Crew Aficionadas & Aficionados: Please feel free (and encouraged) to share your thoughts and opinions. :) However, please note that this is still a personal blog. So comments that are considered inappropriate (e.g. obscene, racist, homophobic, personal attacks, rude, and just plain mean) will be removed.

And now back to J.Crew! :)