Circuit City’s broken sales process

Maybe I’m just ultra-sensitive to particularly stupid business processes that I run across because I spend so much of my time helping customers to fix their processes, but yesterday I ran afoul of a completely inane sales process at Circuit City that probably would have had most people walk away.

I’m in San Francisco for a few days of R&R before BlogHer (although I’ve had both conference calls and business meetings in the past two days so not sure if this really qualifies as vacation). Tuesday, when I arrvied, was great weather and I toured around town, but yesterday was cool and foggy in the morning, and I decided to do a bit of shopping. Clothes, shoes and other bits and pieces later, I hit a “discount” camera store to look at finally acquiring a digital camera. Although I want to replace my old Canon EOS 35mm film camera with a prosumer digital eventually, I was looking for a pocket-sized camera to just carry around with me and snap all the weird things that I see happening. The camera store was offering refurbished Canon Digital Elphs and I decided to check online to see if the prices were reasonable before buying, when I found that Circuit City had better prices on brand new models and offered a discount for ordering on the web. They also offer order for pickup, meaning that you order online to get the web price but can pick it up in a store in less than 30 minutes — perfect, since I don’t live here, and there was a store within walking distance.

I entered my order on the web, camera plus a bigger memory card, selected the store close to where I’m staying, then went to the checkout page. Uh-oh, only U.S. addresses accepted. Okay, I get that they would only deliver to a U.S. address, but I had already indicated that I was going to pick it up, so this was just the address to validate my credit card. I decided to call the 800 number listed on the page — the one that says “Order anytime at 1-800-843-2489” — and had a discussion with a customer service person who told me that it was true, only credit cards with a U.S. address can be used. He suggested that I just go to the store and make the purchase, but said that I wouldn’t get the web discount (about $125). I whined, and he suggested the following workaround: go to the store, buy a gift card for the amount of the order, call the 800 number from the store and place the order using the gift card, then hang around in the store and pick up the order. He said that talking to the manager in the store might help, since they would see that the gift card nonsense was just a time-waster, and give me the web price on the spot.

His suggested workaround seemed completely daft, and I was going to just give up on the whole thing, but thought that I’d try the store first. I called the local store and talked to someone in the camera department and explained the problem. He said that they couldn’t give me the web price, then amended that to say that a manager would have to approve it. I gently urged him to go get a flipping manager already, and a few minutes later I had a committment that they would honour the web price.

I hiked the 10 blocks to the store (the thing that I love about San Francisco is that you can walk from point A to point B and back, and it’s uphill both ways), found the manager, and she filled my order at the web price.

So what’s broken about this business process?

  • First of all, unnecessary restrictions on the customer-facing portion of the web order entry process, such as requiring a credit card with a U.S. address even if the purchaser has indicated that she will pick up the items at a U.S. store. Not only did this frustrate me, and probably caused some other non-Americans to just walk away from purchasing at Circuit City, but it took up the time of a customer service person who had to deal with me on the phone and couldn’t even solve my problem. Cost: some loss of sales with no feedback (i.e., shopping cart abandonment) and/or increased customer service time without added value.
  • Second, a suggested workaround for the process that most potential customers would be unwilling to do, and which causes a significant amount of extra work for the in-store staff. Cost: further loss of sales even after the aforementioned customer service person’s time was spent, since most people wouldn’t be willing to do the gift card/call to order/wait for pickup dance.
  • Lastly, the fact that the entire situation could have been avoided since the in-store manager had full authority to just give me the web price in the first place. Giving people the authority to create process exceptions is practically useless unless you make that exception path easily available during the process.

Definitely an interesting look at a process that is not resiliant to exceptions. Meanwhile, I’m happy snapping away.

3 thoughts on “Circuit City’s broken sales process”

  1. While I would place the majority of the problems you describe on Circuit City, the credit-card-from-Canada issue may not be. You know, things like their merchant account only authorized to take US-based cards, or others, like the exchange rate between the loonie and the buck. You know, small things like that…:)

  2. Bob, I order from U.S. companies all the time, so I can’t imagine that it’s the payment processor; I suspect that Circuit City has just created an overly restrictive form that does not reflect the capabilities of their payment processor because no one had the vision to imagine a non-U.S. customer using the web purchase form for pickup at a U.S. store.

    The payment processor doesn’t do the exchange rate, as far as I know, they just bill my card in $US and the exchange is done when it hits the Canadian Visa operation somewhere down the line.

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