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Effective December 31, 2012, articles are no longer being updated on this web site.
The site is now maintained as an historical archive, covering articles from the period 1999 to 2012.


HOW E-TAILERS MEASURE UP

Source: The Globe and Mail

Posted on December 8, 2000

      Three big-name retailers launched on-line shopping sites over the past month, cautiously venturing into e-commerce well after others had made the move -- and still others had stumbled.

      With the crucial holiday season under way, my family and a colleague decided to test out the new sites at Eatons (eatons.com), Hudson's Bay Co., which is the Bay and Zellers (http://www.hbc.com), and Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. (http://www.canadiantire.ca). The goal was to see whether they had learned from others' mistakes.

      How was the experience? Imperfect. There were flaws in the process at all the e-tailers: headaches involved in culling information about a product or understanding the gift wrapping or delivery rules. At some points, the on-line shops provided incorrect, or inadequate, feedback about items.

      As for cost, there is generally no free ride on the Web this season compared with last year, when many e-tailers didn't charge for shipping and gift wrapping.

      The bottom line was that they all delivered the goods. Canadian Tire was the slowest, shipping a hockey goalie glove in 10 days, which seems like an eternity to an eight-year-old.

      The other orders arrived promptly, within two or three business days. Because nobody was home, we ultimately had to trek to the closest post office the following day to pick up the parcels.

      Hudson's Bay actually overdelivered by shipping a scooter and a "magic screen" toy by Expresspost for $14.99, rather than by the requested regular postal service for only $5.49. It was kind enough to charge the lesser amount. Even with the express service, the goods didn't arrive any faster than yet another scooter shipped by standard mail (for $4.99) from Canadian Tire.

      And there were a few on-line bargains: Canadian Tire just cut its gift wrapping fee to $1 from $5.95 until Dec. 31; Eatons allows the option of picking up the package at a nearby depot, at no charge.

      The biggest annoyance was Canadian Tire's confusion about the $34.99 hockey glove. A left-handed glove was ordered, but a customer service representative told us by e-mail (in response to a query) that the company had appeared to have sent the right-handed version. The rep suggested we take the package to our local store and exchange it. We were taken aback: Why should we have to do more work?

      In a subsequent e-mail, another customer service rep clarified the situation, somewhat.

      "Regarding if the glove is actually left-handed, it probably is," this Nov. 23 e-mail message said. "Our product codes have parent directories, and often they are displayed incorrectly on the Web store. But in the end, the right product ends up being shipped out. We hope to work out this problem with the Web store as soon as possible."

      The shopping spree at these three Internet upstarts was something of a dry run for the busy holiday season, when e-commerce in Canada is estimated to hit as much as $1-billion in sales, more than double from a year ago.

      Last Yuletide, thousands of customers across North America were disappointed, having had to tangle with late deliveries, lack of product and poor communications.

      Some of those e-tailers aren't around any more, having blown their budgets and closed. The remainder will be put to the test over the next few weeks.

      So far, the newest crop has a way to go. Then again, Eatons, Hudson's Bay and Canadian Tire have set modest goals, starting with just a fraction of their products on the Internet -- which also limits the appeal.

      Here are more details about how each service responded:

  • Eatons.com. We ordered a red cable-knit jewel neck cotton top ($29.99) on Nov. 21 and it arrived at a nearby Sears depot three days later. (Eatons is now owned by Sears Canada Inc.) We e-mailed customer service to ask if the cabling was on the front and back of the sweater. The next day's reply said the pattern was on both sides. Wrong. It is only on the front.

    Some e-shoppers, including this one, find the Eatons Web site's fancy "flash" technology a nuisance. It can make it difficult to click onto a product quickly as it floats across the screen.

  • Hbc.com. The Web site describes the $9.97 magic screen as having "small pieces" which "make this toy inappropriate for younger children." What ages? A call to customer service didn't produce an answer; we were transferred to a local Zellers store, but it didn't carry the product. After further questioning, an hbc.com e-mail arrived six hours later saying it was unsuitable for children under 3.

  • Canadiantire.ca. The challenge was to get a $79.99 collapsible scooter gift-wrapped in its box. We couldn't find anywhere on the site to do it. A call to a service rep finally revealed that Canadian Tire doesn't offer customers the gift-wrapping option for large or odd-shaped parcels. "We've had a lot of calls about this," the rep said.

      All in all, shopping at these three high-profile e-tailers had its frustrations, but there were no disasters. We'll try again, maybe when on-line shoppers can choose from a wider selection of goods.




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