December 30th, 2013 by Sarah Sluis

Four days before Christmas, I happened to witness firsthand the effects of Target’s holiday retail mess. I had an appointment with someone who showed up late and harried. Target had just canceled her online order, which happened to contain all her kids’ Christmas presents. She had three kids, preschool-age twins and a seven-year-old, that age when Santa is real and Christmas is magical. Instead of taking my appointment, she ended up passing me on to someone else so she could call Target to try to fix the holiday mess.

Whether Target’s security breach was related to the order cancellation was unclear, but the deluge of callers made it impossible for her to get through to customer service. She had already stopped by a physical store, where items were out-of-stock or priced differently from when she had purchased them online. This woman had ordered her kids’ most important holiday presents online, something she now clearly regretted.

Many shoppers have steered clear of the retailer since it was announced that 40 million accounts were breached. Target saw sales decline three to four percent in the final weekend before Christmas, according to the Wall Street Journal. Target’s Buzz score, as measured by YouGov, dropped from 26 to negative 19. The lowest it had ever had before was positive 10. It will take time for them to rebuild trust. Security breaches are now announced with regularity–Adobe had one just months before Target’s. For Target to regain trust, they need to become a leader in the field, with better security than anyone else. But is that level of security out there and consumer-friendly?

Holiday Shipping Delays
Other consumers, ordering with their credit card information still intact, have  been struck by shipping delays. Many retailers extended their “arrive by Christmas” deadlines, only to be unable to deliver by the holiday when demand outstripped supply. A couple of my gifts arrived after Christmas, though the most important items arrived just in time—one, in fact, arrived from Amazon on Christmas Eve.

What to do? In an interview with the New York Times, Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru suggests surge pricing, where shipping providers charge more for delivering during peak times. On Entrepreneur.com, Ray Hennessey opines that the United States Postal Service needs an overhaul to better compete with FedEx and UPS. Over at Time.com, Harry McCracken, who  endured a number of comic Amazon and UPS missed connections this holiday season, thinks that Amazon may have to take ownership of shipping itself to preserve its image, instead of relying on UPS, FedEx, and OnTrac to deliver. If anyone can take on creating their own, self-run shipping network, it’s Amazon. Their recent talk of delivery drones suggest that this concern is part of their long-term strategy, a tantalizing look at the future of ecommerce and holiday shopping.

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