Catharsis: Of store searches and inventory, part II

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I would like to begin this post by saying a HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who helped me locate the Behind-the-Clouds Dress (now $70, no longer online). I haven't craved an item that much in awhile and you all contributed to my success in finding it. This post expands upon my advice from this morning by recounting my two most recent store search experiences and drawing some conclusions.

The first one involves the Behind-the-Clouds Dress. After calling a few stores with no success I took your advice and called the 1-800 number. The rep was able to locate the dress in a size 8 at the Aventura, Fla store. A very knowledgeable gentleman knew exactly the dress I wanted and was able to locate the dress and put it on hold for me. Later on that day I completed the purchase over the phone. It arrived well-packaged and with a nice note from one of the staff members. Aventura, you rock! I plan on winterizing the dress by wearing a heather grey turtleneck underneath the dress and adding a pair of tights.

My second experience was with the Flaxen Wedges ($138, out of stock online). I found these to run small and since they only run in whole sizes I found myself needing a 10. Silly me -- I tried these on at the Cherry Creek store in Colorado but left them behind. A week later I decided I needed them so again I called the 1-800 number and the only 10 left was in (you guessed it) Cheery Creek. Ha! I called up the store and had them sent East. This time I was armed with the store SKU, though as I said this morning it's much easier to distinguish shoes than dresses. Once again the item arrived well-packed (no nice note this time though). Thanks to the MOD at Cherry Creek for helping me complete the transaction. OOTD with these coming soon.

Neither purchase was without wrinkles though. Aventura left me on hold at one point for almost 20 minutes. Yes, I am dumb enough to sit on hold for that long. There was some confusion in finding the dress after I'd put it on hold. The story ends happily so I'm not hung up on it. Heh. With Cherry Creek I made the mistake of calling during peak hours and was shuffled around to 5 different people before someone could actually help me. These pitfalls more closely resemble my past store-send orders. In 2008 I was sent the wrong item in one case and charged double in another (that was very hard to fix too, I was almost de-Anthroized by the experience). So I'm glad to see things have gotten much better since then.

Anthropologie at ShopStyle

I think that this brings up a larger point: Anthropologie really needs to straighten out their inventory system. I don't blame the stores for the issues I've had, I blame the inventory tracking system. Maybe you've noticed that when you purchase an Anthro item in-store your receipt has a boring descriptive name. It's not the Wind Rippled Tee ($58, review here), it's the 25"3/4 Ruffle Trim Fit. We know it as the Many Moods Skirt ($78, review here) but in inventory it's the Denim Pencil W Ruffle Trim Back.

Yeah, I get it. The inventory names are boring and take away from the experience Anthropologie works so hard to create. And those names are probably based on the manufacturer's descriptions/names. So when Anthro scans those items off a purchase order that's how they are received into the system. But for crying out loud! Is it really that hard to add a description line with the online product name? Do there have to be two different SKUs for each product (online and store/catalogue)?

And most importantly: why are you introducing so much friction into your sales process? What a hassle it is that if I want an item that's out of stock/sold out online I have to call your 1-800 number only to have to call a store only to have to provide my payment information by phone only to have an item shipped to me only to have no tracking number. Holy unnecessary process, Batman. If I'm a store associate I would be so annoyed about having to drag my ass to a cash register to look up an item on the website. Assuming it's even on the website -- my store-sends are almost always items that are hidden on the site.

I realize that as things go Anthropologie is still a small to medium-sized company. And I know inventory management is very expensive and likewise the systems that manage said inventory. I feel like the ROI would be tremendous here though. As someone who increases my Anthro spend year over year I would increase it that much more if I could go to the product page, do a store search and have an item shipped to me from a store -- all completed online. At the very least Anthro needs a "Find it in a Store" button.

If I do have to call a store it'd be really nice to at least get an order confirmation via email with an order number and maybe a tracking number. Yes I get a receipt when I get the order. But that is a week away from when I place the order. I like having proof in my hand right away.

Are these obstacles enough to stop me from buying an item I want? In some cases yes. I decide the hassle isn't worth it. Anthropologie, enable me some more. Iron out the kinks.

Oh, PS Anthro, please don't ever kill your catalogues. If someone even tries to make them read this.