When retailers fail to connect and serve the needs of their customers, they're in trouble. When internal sales and fulfillment mechanisms prevent sales rather than enable them, the condition worsens. When personnel fail to address unhappy customers, customers are lost.
I don't think that's any different than it's been for decades. A former colleague used to call this consequences of the sales prevention department. I call it a failure to serve the customer. What is different, is the modern consumer's expectations. Retailers have the internet and the rise of technology to blame for that.
The age of the customer has been documented widely. I've a written book about the rise of consumer expectations and how retailers must adapt. For this story I'll assume you're up to speed with where we're at. I'm also assuming that O'Reilly Auto Parts still hasn't quite put it all together.
How my quick trip to the parts store led to this article
My family's annual vacation was right around the corner. I was scrambling to get the maintenance and light repairs done on my Jeep ready for a week on the Rubicon Trail in California. On my last trip I'd snapped the center pin bolt on a front leaf spring and replaced it with a an inferior replacement as a trail fix. It would require a couple hours of labor, and a small part. I went to my local O'Reilly to get the part.
I've been shopping at the local O'Reilly for years, all the way back to when it was a Checker, which O'Reilly acquired. When I need parts, I go to O'Reilly. I break a lot of shit when I go Jeeping, so I go there a lot. I'm a rewards member for a reason.
When I make it to the register I tell the man what I'm looking for. From there, the conversation went something like this:
Dude: "Make and model?"
Me: "It's not that simple, I'm looking for a universal part."
Dude: "We don't have universal parts."
Me: "That can't be true, I've bought this exact item here before."
Dude, beginning to cop an attitude: "I can't help you without a make and model."
I know they have it, and I desperately need it. I persist, with all solutions in mind. After 10 minutes of trying different searches with no luck, I'm stuck. I'm also irritated because he's irritated. I saw it as his job to try to help me, and he was doing anything but that. I leave, pissed I wasted my time, and go home.
Next, I go to O'Reilly Auto's website, do a simple phrase search:
OK, looks like they do have leaf spring bolts after all (I told him!). I click the green search button, and get let down again:
Unbelievable. How can O'Reilly misunderstand how to help me this bad? How can they have over-engineered their stuff to this level of failure? There's no way I should have to fill out this much information to see a selection of universal replacement parts that match my search term. I did what anyone else would do, I bounce.
O'Reilly lost my business when I called to express my frustration
I decided to call the store and talk to a manager. I explained myself, asked him to look me up on his computer and see my history, and reach out if he cared to keep my business. In the 2-3 minutes on the phone with him I didn't get an apology, a solution, or any explanation. I never heard from anyone again.
I don't shop at O'Reilly anymore. After my experience I've sworn to never spend another dollar with their company.
They had the part I needed (I later confirmed that on their website); they just couldn't find it for me. Their people and system failed me. Worse, their inability to recognize anything or try to make it right, lost me. Their inability to serve the needs of their customer made me take my consumer dollars elsewhere.
O'Reilly's problem is with their inability to serve the total customer experience
Whether I went to a local store, or their website, it was the same thing: "Make and model" Trying to tell either of 'them' what I actually needed so they could help was worthless.
- I go to the store and their personnel is trained to follow process, not solve for the customer. "That's a universal replacement part Sir, we don't carry replacement parts." Wait, what? You're an auto parts store that doesn't carry universal replacement parts? I find that hard to believe.
- I go to their online store and use the search box. "Sorry, we can't show you those until you give us your make and model." What!? This can't be happening.
Is the answer really to give me the same shitty experience online as I just got from their store? Why should I pay more for shipping charges to be inconvenienced? The guy in the store with no desire and antiquated technology at his finger tips can't help. So I'll just go online, get the similar treatment (without the attitude at least), and pay more to have them ship it to me next week instead of picking it up while I was at the store?
Super. I'll take my business elsewhere. And I did.
I didn't go to a local competitor, I went to the retail-killer, Amazon:
The user experience was completely different than what I found on oreillyauto.com from the search field on. Amazon understand how to display results broadly and allow the consumer to improve the results with a variety of custom filters. Instead of forcing me into improper logic, they allow the consumer to apply the logic. Duh.
In just a few minutes of refining my search I find exactly what I'm looking for:
Result - I bought from Amazon even though I never considered them initially
This is where Amazon crushes the competition. Amazon isn't evil, they're the answer. Who's fault is it that they're the only one's figuring out how consumers want to buy?
- They have everything.
- They make it easy to find exactly what I'm looking for.
- They make it easy to buy.
- They don't punish me with additional charges for the convenience.
Amazon has truly built the consumer's dream marketplace. They've built a storefront that's secure and trustworthy, with a great customer service and return policy. The user experience is intuitive. Their search functionality is fantastic. The ability to compare a myriad of options and make a sound purchase decision inspires confidence. They remember me so i don't have to fill out 45 fields in check out. Shit shows up at my door in two days. I never have to commute through 'new Denver' to a store. I never have to stand in line behind 4 people with 14 questions. I never have to interact with unprepared sales representatives with shitty attitudes and no solutions.
As I write this, I'm embarrassed that I didn't think to look for that stupid spring pin on Amazon first. For some reason I didn't think they'd possibly have it. I certainly won't make that mistake again. I go to Amazon first for almost every purchase. I can't wait until they bring their model to grocery. Later Safeway. Sorry Kroger.
My total experience with O'Reilly Auto Parts was so bad that I never want to buy from them again. I tell my friends the story. I write about it with the authority and reach of a digital marketing agency owner. I have influence, and so do the rest of us as consumers in the age of the customer. It's bigger than just my business they're losing. It's O'Reilly's business that's losing. They're losing because they fail to understand and serve the needs of their consumer.