Sunday, February 28, 2010


Well, I am afraid I was too harsh on the local baby furniture purveyor that I blasted in my last posting. Their third-party delivery firm was prompt and courteous, and the order was filled without mistakes or complaints.

I was also too quick to judge about their payment policy. I wrongfully assumed that they were already protected by my having paid a deposit on the furniture. When I dug a little deeper, I learned that this particular store follows proper credit card consumer protection protocols by not keeping any record of cardholder data from previous transactions.

Having written about this very topic for one of my clients in the high-tech security sector, I should have known, or at least suspected, that this was the case. No merchant worth their salt would keep that kind of data laying around, because of the liability. Furthermore, the payment card providers (VISA, MasterCard, AmEx, etc) demand that merchants strictly adhere to this policy.

That said, I want to highly recommend Lullaby Baby ( in Columbia, MD. They have terrific merchandise, knowledgeable (and patient) staff, and are the antidote to tired superstores like Babies-R-Us. I'm also really enjoying my experience shopping online at The Natural Baby ( The owner is extremely helpful (and also patient, especially with aging parents), and knows the answer to just about everything you could think to ask about her product lines.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Retail Needs Therapy

I make an effort to support small businesses, rather than large, national corporations, and I'm willing to pay a little more for their products because, generally, independent companies offer higher quality and greater selection. In most cases they also offer better customer service, which is why I will continue to shop at Indoor Furniture in Columbia, MD. They get it. They also handle their own deliveries, so product does not get lost or damaged, and customers only deal with one merchant.

Unfortunately, what inspired me to bang out this rant was an experience with a local, independent baby furnishings store, which shall remain unnamed because I want to give them a chance to fix the situation. Back in December, we ordered a crib and dresser set, along with a painting and a nightlight for the baby's room. To-date we've only received the painting. I know that it takes time for things to come into stock, especially with the snow, so I have not been in a big hurry. However, when I got the message that the furniture had arrived, I promptly called back, expecting to schedule a date/time for delivery.

Instead, I was told that the store itself does not handle the actual delivery. This is done through a third party, and I would now need to wait for their call before I could actually schedule a time to receive my order. Then the clerk asked me when I would be available. I wasn't annoyed yet, so I gave her a range of days and times. The clerk proceeded to inform me that she could not guarantee that her delivery firm would honor any of my preferred delivery times, however, she was prepared to accept my final payment for the entire order. Eh?

When I stated that I expected to actually receive the goods before paying (they already had a deposit and my card number, so it's not like I wasn't committed), the clerk explained that, unfortunately, the furniture could not be delivered until the store received my payment in full. Oh, and by the way, she was very sorry, but the nightlight was still en route, because her supplier forgot to ship it.

I find this frustrating on several levels. First of all, in a two-part transaction I do not want to pay for something until I receive it. What if it's damaged, incorrect, or incomplete? If I've already paid-in-full, what is my recourse? Secondly, when you call me to schedule a delivery time, be prepared to actually schedule the delivery, especially if you want to get paid. Do not tell me that I have to coordinate the actual transaction with a third-party, and (yes, it gets worse) include a warning that your delivery firm might drop the ball and not call, so if I don't hear from them in the next two days I should call you back. Seriously? WTF?!

I realize that the world has bigger problems than these, but given the state of our economy, one would hope that customer service might take a higher priority. Sadly, that has not been the case for me when purchasing large items from area vendors.

The following is a list of purchases gone wrong in the past three years:
  1. Bought a new bed from Mattress Discounters. Mattress arrived without the box spring. Good thing I took the entire day off work, because after arguing with the delivery personnel, and making multiple calls to the retailer, I had to wait six more hours for them to show up with both parts of the bed. Why this was so difficult, I cannot say. It seemed like a no-brainer to me, especially given that I had a receipt for a complete mattress set!
  2. Pool table from the now-defunct Champion Billiards arrived with the wrong felt and wood finish. After much grumbling on behalf of the delivery folks, and more time off work for me, we received the correct table.
  3. Booked the Clipper City Tall Ship for our wedding. They required a 50% deposit. We paid with a check. They went out of business, and we lost the entire deposit (over $3K).
  4. Purchased a wedding dress from Columbia Bridal and Tuxedo. Dress shop called to schedule the final fitting three weeks before the wedding. I took a half day off work, only to be told that it was a "mix up" and my dress wasn't even in the store. Did I get a discount, or a break on the alternation charges? Heck no!
  5. Furniture retailer, Scan, went out of business before filling our order. Fortunately, the manufacturer received partial payment prior to the bankruptcy, so they agreed to fill our order. Item arrived twelve weeks later, on top of the eight weeks we'd already waited.
  6. Furniture manufacturer went out of business before filling our order. Fortunately, the retailer (Indoor Furniture) was happy to refund our money, and it worked out to be a no-harm, no-foul situation. I include this example, simply to illustrate how frequently, even under the best of circumstances, various elements of the supply chain fail to make good on their promises.