Archive for September, 2008

Why Macy’s wedding registry is an idiot. And Amazon rules even when it doesn’t know who’s getting married.

September 11th, 2008, by Peter Hirshberg | located in Conversations | Comments off | trackback

Macys_wedding_registry You have to be especially clueless to run an online wedding registry and piss off both bride and wedding guest alike. But Macy's and its partner the Wedding Channel seem to know the magic formula to deliver both a hostile site and 1995 style web marketing in a 2.0 world where merchants can and must do so much better.

I went online last night to buy Andreia and Justin a wedding gift. Ahh: they want an espresso maker from Macy's! And its on sale! How perfect. But before I buy the thing, I figure I should ask Andreia about it. A decent espresso machine is a considered purchase, and since this is a gift I figured I ought to hit pause  and ask some questions of the coffee-drinkers-to-be: would they prefer a machine that grinds its own coffee, or do they really prefer the one that uses pods? Did anyone else give them one? Were they considering another model? Standard stuff before you buy something.

I reach the bride a few hours later and we  conclude yes, this is the perfect machine. So I go back to Macy's... and the price just went up 20%. I'm suddenly not so happy about coffee. Sure sale prices end, but it helps to post things like, "Hurry... its the last day...buy me now."  Isn't this the first thing they teach you in merchandising school?  If you don't tell someone the sale is ending you loose both the urgency of the close and you create an unhappy prospect a moment later. Plus, when you're buying a gift for someone and you wanna check with them and make sure its a good thing, there's a bit more going on in the sales cycle. I fire off an email to Macy's asking if they'll extend the sale price to me. I get back a form letter telling me how to use the wedding registry function at any of the many merchants owned by Macy's. Retail demerits are rapidly stacking up.

So I Google the item and find that the Macy's (now expired) sale price is everybody else's retail price.  Amazon has it for a whole lot less than Macy's sale price; $100 less when you include no tax and no shipping. And then I realize that all those Amazon reviews are even more useful when you're buying a gift in a category you know little about. All the questions I discussed with the bride are covered in the Amazon user reviews.  More than ever before I realize, "Why do business with some merchant who only gives you a teensy product description when smart web merchants tell you what the world thinks of a product and items like it."

These days great cataloging and merchandising is no longer just about a product detail page with a picture,  brief description  and a brand like Macy's that says, "Ask no more questions. Were Macy's. Buy the thing.  Trust us!" No, I'm not going to.  Not only do you have a deceptively bad price and about the worst sale price merchandising practice imaginable,  but you are cutting me off from the oxygen of the whole social conversation of what people think about the product. So please, go back to 1961 and leave me alone.

Long story short, Amazon is delivering the espresso machine Monday. I'm happy. Andreia is happy. Amazon is doing its thing. And I've got no time for Macy's.

Sure these issues aren't an issue if you're helping a couple complete a set of Champagne flutes, but there is no reason for gift registries to be the low IQ end of online  retailing.

But it gets worse. Because really,  what could be worse than a  bride scorned?  I  call up Andreia to tell her about my Macy's experiece . And she exclaims, " Those guys are so lame I never want to deal with them again!"

Item: Andreia wanted to return a wedding gift from Macy's registry  because she got the same thing from someone who bought it elsewhere. Macy's would only credit the return back to the original purchaser, not to the bride's account. In other words, the system made it impossible to exchange a wedding  gift if the transaction started on line and ended up in the store. Which is where most gift exchanges do end up.  Great for CFO's, lazy IT guys and rigid policy makers. Enough to recuse yourself from the wedding registry business if you want to delight your customer. After talking to three different people Andreia finally got what she was after. Sure this is a multichannel sale--- online transaction, in store return--- but these days that's a lousy excuse for lousy service. After all, retailers had at least ten e-years to fix problems like this.

Item: Andrea wanted to remove some knives from the registry. This requires a call to customer service to get it right. And the customer service person manages to mark the knives as purchased rather than deleting them.  Sure this means no one will get her the knives she doesn't want. But it also means folks will think she already has the cutlery she needs, so she'll end up with no knives at all. I don't want to tell you what Andreia wanted to do with her knives when she finally got them.

Before posting this I wanted to check with a couple of other very savvy friends whose weddings I attended  to make sure these weren't one off experiences. From Donna: "The whole experience was arduous at best. Wait until the part where crappy wares rip, rust and tarnish in week one of the marriage and they tell you to mail a microwave back to the manufacturer! " And for my benefit she adds, "Just get us a Home Depot gift certificate. Thats what we really need!" I got the most succinct response from Ali, who must have done her research: "Did not register at lame Macy's or Bloomingdales!"

Note to Macy's CEO Terry J. Lundgren: unaided two out of three brides used the word lame to describe your service. The other called it arduous. At best.

A big part of the problem is Macy's and the Wedding Channel (which operates the Macy's and many merchant's wedding registries ) are separate companies.  And Macy's stores and its online operations are operated separately. But if you're a busy bride-to-be you don't want all this separateness,  you'd like a little seamless integration to make life easy.  And in a world of API's, mash-ups, social media and the rapid development of systems that keep up with customers, this seems like so much corporate cluelessness. If   I were Macy's I'd appoint a wedding czar--- probably a bride with a lot of friends--- and ask her to come up with something that worked better for brides and wedding guests alike.

If you're a bride or groom and have had similar experiences, I'd love to hear about them.