Signed, Sealed... Delivered? My 'Free People' Free Shipping Fiasco

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Behold, free shipping! One of life's small victories, particularly during the holiday season. For some online retailers, such offers have become universal, while others make consumers earn their reward. In my case, I met Free People's minimum purchase requirement by mere dollars. But, what I saved in shipping costs, I inevitably spent in time.
Customer Engagement

Behold, free shipping! One of life's small victories, particularly during the holiday season. For some online retailers, such offers have become universal, while others make consumers earn their reward. In my case, I met Free People's minimum purchase requirement by mere dollars. But, what I saved in shipping costs, I inevitably spent in time. The fun all started when Free People chose to send my order via LaserShip. Unfamiliar with this delivery service, I monitored its shipment progress daily, but was limited by the lack of tracking details. I eagerly awaited its arrival on the designated delivery date, but the package never graced my doorstep. According to the tracking information, however, my order had been delivered around 2:30 p.m. that very afternoon. I contacted both Free People and LaserShip immediately, as I was worried that my item had gotten lost, or worse--stolen--but received no reply.

Luckily, the following morning, my neighbors returned the item to its rightful place. My order, as it turned out, had been delivered one street over by mistake. Though inconvenient, I was grateful for their honesty and willingness to aid my package on the last leg of its journey. Thus, my frustration moved from my lost order to the lack of communication and assistance from the brand itself.

Three days after my initial contact, LaserShip reached out via email and Twitter to say they'd "launched an investigation" into the whereabouts of my missing package. I promptly replied that it had been found, to which they never followed up. Free People also responded three days after the fact, but failed to engage in any sort of dialogue. They didn't inquire about how the situation had developed in the days between my original message and their eventual response. Instead, the customer service representative sent me an incredibly impersonal (and seemingly scripted) email to tell me they'd be sending another to take its place. I emailed back right away to inform them of the situation, urging them to refrain from shipping the replacement, but didn't received another reply until--you guess it--three days later.

Not only did the follow-up email tell me it was too late, that the item was already too deep in the shipping process to be stopped now, but it was from an entirely different representative, as the signatures varied on every bit of correspondence throughout this debacle. I informed them that I'd already begun return shipping on the first package, as I was disappointed by the product and service quality, to which they blankly apologized (three days later, once again) for my "frustrating" experience. Days later, the replacement arrived--via UPS, no less--and I sent the item packing once more.

But, while my refund has yet to process, I've learned many lessons money simply cannot buy:

1. You're only as good as your delivery service. Brands must be sure to partner with reliable companies, (preferably ones with up-to-date GPS systems), for said collaborators have the power to tarnish your reputation, too.
2. Don't be too hasty. While I truly appreciate Free People's willingness to resend my order no questions asked, the brand could've prevented frustration and saved money had they simply communicated before jumping to action.
3. Maintain some sort of consistency. Perhaps this email correspondence wouldn't have been so spotty had my messages reverted back to the same representative each time. Develop customer service practices that alleviate stress to prevent churn.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION