I don’t usually put companies on blast. At least not in a public forum. But I woke up this morning with the conversation I had with a Customer Service representative last night still on my mind.
Last weekend, @BathandBodyWorks held its annual candle sale. This wasn’t anything new to them, and I’ve been participating in the enormous savings on their 3-wick scented candles ever since I came across the sale many years ago. Every year, I’d wait patiently for that first weekend of December; get up early and go fight my way through the crowds with others who had done the same. Waiting too late in the day meant getting leftovers, and there were always certain holiday scents I wanted to make sure I got a hold of.
There are usually only two times of year that I actually stocked up on these candles. The December candle event, when I grab the various scents of the season. And the summer Semi-Annual sale, to refresh my house with some of the lighter scents. I’ve talked often about what great birthday, hostess, or housewarming gifts these made; and even for things like Administrative Assistant and Teacher Appreciation Day.
A couple of months ago, I asked a sales clerk if they were still going to have the sale this year, given the Covid-19 climate. She said she was pretty sure they would, but that they would probably be doing it a little differently. While she didn’t reveal what that was, I figured it would probably include a multi-day event; since the thought of trying to cram everyone into a one day event (knowing how high the past numbers of people who participated) seemed unlikely.
So I made my preparations in anticipation of the sale. I resisted participating in the Buy One, Get One Free campaign. Given that their candles are regularly priced at $24.50, that would mean I was paying $12.25 per candle. I even ignored the Buy Three Get Three storewide sale, because that would have meant paying $73.50 for six candles — which was the same thing as Buy One Get One (I guess they don’t think some of us actually do the math before pulling out our wallets).
I knew from previous years that the candles would be ten dollars or less. When I first started participating, they were on sale for $8.95. Last year, they were $9.95 — a price that, absent of a coupon, I was still willing to pay; not just for one, but for many. I even tried to persuade a friend from ordering some over Thanksgiving (at the “sale price of $14.50); and told her if she could wait just one more week, she could save a lot of money. She was battling pet odors and other smells in her house, and wanted to purchase one of the same scented candle I’d given her (hostess gift) a year ago when she invited me over for Thanksgiving dinner. Purchasing anything that involves scents for someone else can be tricky. So I was happy that she liked that one so much she was trying to replace it.
When the email arrived confirming that this year would be a multi-day, weekend event, I went to work on it. I started off trying to order through the company’s website. Time after time, I kept getting a “Technical Difficulties” message. It wasn’t just some “message” popping up. This was an official company designed, blue logo, with Bath & Body Works bags as artwork, type of page that kept popping up saying “try again!” And so I did “try again.” And each time I tried again, I would get a little further into the order before getting the same message. At one point I got far enough to get my credit card information in, but then it wouldn’t process it — and bam! That same pop-up landing page about the website’s technical difficulties appeared!
I wanted to walk away, and just forget about it. But the system already had my credit card information. So I tried again, and again, and again — each time something different — wouldn’t take my billing address; wouldn’t acknowledge the shipping address. I got so frustrated that I grabbed the phone, figuring I could not only make them aware of the website issues, but maybe try to do my order over the phone.
But low and behold…they already knew. While the outgoing message (you know, all the stuff you have to listen to when you call a company, before it finally gets you into the holding pattern where you can hold your breath on whether or not you’ll actually get to talk to a human being), encouraged people to make their orders online, it also acknowledged that “due to the overwhelming response…their website was having technical difficulties .”
You had just ONE job to do! And you had NINE months to prepare to do it!
When things are so bad that you have to acknowledge in your own outgoing phone message that your website is having technical difficulties — then let’s just all agree, YOU SCREWED UP! And you might need to replace your IT department!
Finally, I just got into the car. The nearest store was only two miles away, and I had other errands to run anyway. But the lines were as I expected; maybe worse (thank you very much Corona!). No way were candles worth hours of my time and increased Covid risk. I returned home and got back online. As I worked my way through the ongoing “technical difficulties,” I decided to also call at the same time. “Whichever came through first was fine with me.”
As I remain on hold, for what felt like hours, I was finally able to get back into my order; only now I was receiving a message that one of the candles I wanted was out of stock. I didn’t dare to return to the shopping page to try to find a replacement, so I removed it from my order, clicked all the right buttons, and finally — Success! Shortly afterwards, I received a confirmation email for my order. Once I double checked to make sure everything was in there, I hung up the phone. NO. No one ever ended up getting on the line the entire time I was holding. But with my confirmation email, I was free to get on with my day!
But then Monday came!
I received an email, subject line “an important update about your candle order.” The email said “due to overwhelming demand for the event, we’re unable to fulfill some of your 3-wick Candle order — so we wanted to send you an apology now…” That was the message, along with telling me I’ll be receiving a second email. I had no idea how many they couldn’t fulfill or which ones. And what bothered me the most was that their email didn’t offer me a chance to choose a different one to replace the out of stock items.
A couple of hours later, the second email arrived: “Item cancelled from your order,” was the subject line. And wouldn’t you know it, the one candle I wanted the most — “Holiday,” was the one missing from my order! Again, no option for replacing the candle with something else. So later that night, when I finally had a moment to call to inquire about a replacement candle, I did. And I think I’m still in shock as to what the Customer Service representative said.
“We’re completely out of the candle,” she said. After I told her I was aware they no longer had the Holiday candle in stock, but I wanted to replace it with an alternative, she repeated “we’re completely out of the candles.” The second time, I heard the plural in her response. But for clarification, since I hadn’t even told her which one I was hoping for, I asked “You mean to tell me your company is completely out of every single candle that you make, in all the scents?” I was being funny, and trying to make a point. Until she responded.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Bath and Body Works was completely out of every single 3-wick candle for their online order — no matter what scent!
How could this be? I thought. Certainly a company that’s been around this long; who’s held this sale and knows the typical response to it for this many years; who HAD to have known there would be a MUCH greater demand for online orders THIS year, given the Coronavirus pandemic…certainly this company would have been prepared with a bigger than normal supply in stock?! After all, people have been posting about putting up their Christmas decorations since Halloween! Even some Psychologists have encouraged people to start their holiday traditions early this year, if they wanted to (with research suggesting the calming effect of holiday decorating the house). And with so many people still working from home, the thought that many people may be burning through their candles at a much faster rate (me included) is like “Freshman Marketing 101” kinda sense!
Why weren’t they fully prepared for this deman?
In talking with Customer Service, I learned that they ran out of candles even before the 3-day event was over! Since my order was placed on the Friday morning (started with five and was already down to just four by the time the order processed through), the fact that I not only am not getting one of the other candles I wanted, but that there are no other candles to even choose from, is just mind-blowing!
What’s more confusing, as well as suspect and frustrating, is that the company held TWO different other candle sales within weeks of the big one (at a higher price, of course). So given that they knew in advance how many candles they’d already depleted from their inventory from those two events, why weren’t additional orders to restock that inventory done? Or the bigger question. Why even have two other events so close to the big one in the first place?!
This just doesn’t make sense. It’s like Starbucks saying they can’t fill your coffee order because the factory is completely out of all types of coffee beans! Who’d believe that?
So, back to last night’s customer service conversation. After determining that what she was saying was indeed that there were ZERO candles in stock, and her hearing my disbelief over that proclamation, she actually said to me “well, it does say ‘while supplies last.'”
I tried to contain myself and measure my next words, understanding that I was talking to an hourly employee whose fault it was not, that the company had run out of product. But I said to her, “don’t say that to another customer!” I went on to tell her that when a company advertises a 3-day sales event, and then runs out of stock within 24 hours; and a customer receives an email saying their item has been cancelled; even after originally getting an email indicating their order had been confirmed, the last thing they want or need to hear from that company is any reference to the “only while supplies last” notion. Because in my mind, the moment they took my credit card information and email confirmed my order, then supplies must have been available at that time. What happened after that is their fault, not mine, or the next customer, who might not respond as nicely as I tried to!
So here we are a week into December, and I’m already halfway through burning the last of my holiday candles from last year. What’s left of my now three of five Bath and Body Works order isn’t scheduled to arrive for another week. And that makes me sad. But I did see that @Kirklands has their holidays candles for $9.99. Maybe they’ll become my new supplier.