In the World of Online Ordering in Stock Means Nothing

Marni

By Marni Jameson

Two months ago, I moved to a new office. The one-room, 15 x 24-foot space needed TLC. The dated textured wallpaper was peeling, the ceiling tiles were stained (how?), and the light fixtures predated the Nixon Administration.

“Call when you’re ready to update,” the landlord said. I would, but I wasn’t. I first needed a design direction, so I could choose a wall color. No default Navajo White for me.

Soon, I found inspiration in the GrandinRoad catalog, a large 50”x 60” painting of a single, blown-up flower blossom in shades ranging from aqua to dark teal — art I could design around. Two smaller coordinating paintings in the same catalog, and an area rug would tie it all together. I order all online March 28.

“In stock,” the website promises. YAY! Because I’d just learned some VIPs were coming to my office mid-May. My digs would be all dressed up.

The order confirmation brings mixed news: the smaller art and rug will arrive soon; the centerpiece painting not till early May – cutting it close.

“What’s with the delay?” I’m on the phone with GrandinRoad.

“It’s made to order.”

“But the website said ‘in stock.’”

Is that the sound of a nail file in the background?

“I’ve designed my entire room around that art.”

“You can return the other items,” the bored person says.

“And I have this meeting…”

Not caring.

The smaller art and rug arrive. I picture the room clicking together when the main event arrives, but have this sick feeling reminiscent of the time I took a rocky boat to Catalina.

On May 4, delivery day, the shipping company calls. The piece arrived damaged. It’s going back.

“Nooooo! Can you fix it?” I sound pathetic.

“You need to call GrandinRoad about a replacement.”

I call and speak to Angela, who issues a robotic apology, which she must get tired of doing all day. The next shipment will go out June 9.

“June 9?? I’ve been waiting five weeks. Now, because of someone else’s carelessness, I have to wait five more? And I have this meeting…”

Not caring.

I ask for her supervisor, and wait on hold long enough for an elephant to get pregnant and deliver. Rhonda gets on the line and further assures me she can do nothing.

Times like these I wish the whole world were run by Nordstrom.

A few days later, I call GrandinRoad from a different phone. They know my number. When I call, caller ID pops up: “Brace yourself. It’s that lunatic.” I know this is true because whenever I tell them I don’t have my order number, they say, “Is this Marni?” Why ask me? They know my whole story. So I call from my office’s third line, which doesn’t yet have a reputation.

“What’s the availability of this item?” I give Marisa the item number for the blue flower painting.

“We can ship that May 11,” she says, knocking me off my chair.

“Really?”

“We can express ship to arrive two days later.” In time for my meeting!

“Wonderful!” I can barely breathe.

When I don’t receive a confirming email, however, my joy fades.

I call back and get Mary, who looks into the whole sorry mess, and regrets to inform me that Marisa was wrong. She replaces the order. Now the soonest the item can ship is June 19, later than Rhonda promised.

“Aaach! Can you at least reinstate the order I had before Marisa messed it up?”

Mary puts me on hold for the time it takes a glacier to become a lake to talk to her supervisor. Meanwhile, the VIPs are looming like a heart attack. She can get the shipment date of June 9. For some reason news that my painting is coming as late as I initially thought is a relief. I get a confirmation number, but never the confirming email she promised.

We repair the wallpaper and paint it Sherwin-Williams Opaline, an aqua-tinged white, to coordinate with the painting I do not have, and replace ceiling tiles, and light fixtures.

The VIPs arrive. The room looks fresh, and sort of furnished, but for one large and very blank wall, waiting for art, as if waiting for Godot.

Afterward, my office neighbor, Ken Olsen, who happens to be an interior designer, stops in. “Looking nice in here,” he says, then gets assailed with my missing art rant.

“Most online companies are umbrella companies that sell items they get from other companies,” says Olsen, with a been-there air. “They don’t know what’s in stock until they check after the order is placed.”

“So they’re a front?” I haven’t been so disillusioned since I learned the bricks on my last house were filled with Styrofoam.

“They say they have it, take your credit card number, then you learn it’s weeks out. Happens to all of us.” I feel sort of better.

Still, Olsen, like me, orders a lot of furniture online. The selection, convenience, and front-door delivery are definite pluses, but it requires fortitude, flexibility and faith. Here are some of Olsen’s online-ordering insights:

  • In stock is relative. Just because the website says in stock, you won’t know for sure until you get the confirmation. But you can start by asking “Is this an item you carry or do you order it from another company?”
  • Comparison shop. When you find an item you like online, find out the manufacturer and search online to see who else carries it. You can also search using the item’s SKU number or description to help surface other more reliable sources who can offer it faster or for less.
  • Get confirmation. If ordering over the phone, ask for the confirmation number. If you order online, and don’t get an order-confirmation email shortly, call. Next, get a tracking number. Keep tabs on the package and hold your breath until it arrives.
  • Call back. Like so much in life, a lot of online ordering depends on whom you get on the phone. If you don’t like the service you’re getting, call back. Note names of those you talk to.
  • Ask for concessions. If I ever do get my painting, I am told I won’t have to pay shipping.
  • Note damage immediately. If the box arrives damaged, take photos before you open it, and of the damaged item while it’s in the packaging. If the driver is there, put it back on the truck. Don’t accept the merchandise.
  • Vote with your mouse. Online companies rely on your satisfaction. If products arrive and are not well made, or the source proves unreliable, another option is just a mouse click away.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).

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