It's one thing when the disconnect between a retailer's e-commerce engine and its shipping company results in a Christmas present going astray. But it's quite another when the product is one that you need to have in hand before winter comes in earnest. That's certainly how one reader felt when a series of mix-ups between Home Depot and HomeDirectUSA threatened to leave him snowbound.
"I live in southern California and recently purchased a house in the mountains," the reader wrote. "I've been trying to get it ready for habitation, and one of the things needed was a snowthrower for the wintertime. As you can imagine, there are very few snowthrowers available in hardware stores in southern California. So, I hop online, and see what Home Depot has available. They had a decent snowthrower available for about $500, and it was apparently in stock, so I ordered one."
"I received a confirmation e-mail almost immediately, and my credit card was also charged almost immediately," the reader wrote. "Two days later, I received an e-mail confirming that the item had been shipped and supplying the name of the shipping company (HomeDirectUSA), along with a tracking number. I clicked on the tracking information to see if it was in the shipping company's system, and, not unexpectedly, it wasn't. I figured I'd try the next day, as Home Depot had probably jumped the gun on the shipping information."
When the reader checked the next day, the tracking information was still not available on HomeDirectUSA's system. "Checking the day after, it still wasn't there. No problem, I figured -- I'd ordered things in the past through online retailers, and sometimes they show up before the tracking information is updated. After a week had passed with no information, I spent about an hour trying every online method I could find to track the item, to no avail. So, I called HomeDirectUSA to see where my item was. They did not have any record of that tracking number, no record of my phone number, my name, or my order. The person I spoke to said that Home Depot often made mistakes like this, listing HomeDirectUSA as the shipping company when in fact they had shipped by some other vendor."
"So, I called Home Depot, and waded through the morass of phone menus to reach a customer service person," the reader wrote. "They started off by telling me the exact information that I had from the Internet. When I explained that HomeDirectUSA had absolutely no knowledge of the order, they started looking further. After about an hour on the phone they admitted that they had no idea where it was, and would put out a tracer on the unit, and someone would call me back in two days. Life is hectic, and it wasn't until a week later that I realized that I still hadn't heard back from them. I re-checked online, found no new information, and called them again. After an extremely similar routine, I was AGAIN told that it would be necessary to send out a tracer, but since this was the second one, they would 'make sure' that it was sent out that afternoon, and assured me that I would be called back no later than 48 hours from the phone call. See any pattern yet?"
Yes, soon another week had gone by with winter storms looming but no snowthrower. "I'd had no phone call or e-mail with any news. I called Home Depot once again, and told them in no uncertain terms that before I got off the phone they would either give me full information as to where the unit was, or refund my money. It took quite a while, but they eventually gave me another tracking number for the same shipper, and absolutely assured me that it was enroute, and would be delivered within two days. Interestingly enough, the tracking number format did not even remotely represent the original HomeDirectUSA tracking number I'd had, having a different amount of digits, etc."
"The following day, I attempted to log on to HomeDirectUSA's website, and entered the tracking number. No luck. So I entered my phone number, and voila, it appeared! Success at last, I think (ha, ha). It was showing that the unit was supposed to be delivered the following day. Time passes, two days pass, and no unit. I call them, and they tell me that the final delivery didn't occur because the eventual final trucking firm did not have my phone number to schedule the delivery. (Remember, the only way I was even able to log on to find and track the item on HomeDirectUSA's website was with my phone number). They gave me the phone number of the local shipper, and I gave them a call. After some back-and-forth, they located my order and told me that they would call the following day to schedule the delivery. Don't know why they couldn't simply schedule it then, but ..."
Finally the trucking firm called the reader back and scheduled the delivery for the following Monday. "Monday morning I get a phone call confirming the delivery, and telling me that it's on the way," the reader wrote. "The trucking company is about a half hour from my house. No problem, I'm thinking this is finally over. The truck pulls up, and I go outside to get the unit and put it in my van. They open the back of the truck, and what do I see? The snowthrower, which weighs over 100 pounds, is in a cardboard carton that is marked very clearly with 'this end up' and 'fragile' indicators -- both in words and graphics -- which was important, since only one of the two delivery guys spoke any English. It's sitting on the pallet completely upside down. Did I mention that I had ordered a snowthrower? Did you know that the top piece of a snowthrower is a big plastic chute that is used to throw the snow in various directions? Did you know that gas-powered items that are shipped by special carrier are often shipped full of oil in the engine? I now know all of these things."
The reader knew however that the blizzards were still on their way. "By this point, I was completely exasperated, but I needed the snowthrower so badly (as it turned out, the snow season started about three days later) that I elected to take it as is -- you know, covered with oil, with the box destroyed by the oil -- with the caveat that if there were any problems, they were going to come back, pack it up, and take it away themselves. I was happy to learn that the manufacturer used strong enough plastic on the chute that it was able to support the weight of the snowthrower without breaking, but it was a mess trying to clean things up and get it working. I called both HomeDirectUSA and Home Depot to register complaints -- and make sure they knew that the unit might be coming back, at their expense, to them -- but have not heard a single word from either of them since. No apology, no 'customer service' follow-up, no anything. On the positive side, the unit appears to work -- but I will NEVER buy anything online from Home Depot again, nor will I buy from a vendor who uses HomeDirectUSA as a shipper."