Giving e-tailers some stick

Maybe the NHL really doesn't care about one hockey fan from New Zealand. A friend of mine has tried for months to order an authentic jersey from the NHL website. But they don't seem to want to sell it to him.

Watching my kids at hockey last weekend I spotted a kid wearing a Philadelphia jersey. I was reminded of an amusing thing that’s been happening to a good friend and workmate. I know, I know, I’m writing about (a) sport and (b) my friends again but this makes an amusing cautionary tale, so bear with me.

My pal Brandon is a sports nut. He follows the NHL like it’s a religion and like all religious zealots he desires artefacts. Being a Montreal Canadiens fan the artefact he desires most of all is an authentic (a replica just wouldn’t do) Canadiens jersey. Now, Scott McNealy is a huge hockey fan, so the NHL and various teams have extensive (Sun-powered, of course) websites full of exciting stuff like results, news, photos, videos, player bios and the like. You can even see and hear games live over the internet. Pretty cool, huh? And, of course, they have the NHL shop where you can go and buy stickers, caps, beanies, shot-glasses, pucks and a bazillion other things including, of course, authentic team jerseys.

So, our hero navigates to shop.nhl.com. He adds an Authentic Canadiens Home Jersey ($US199.99) to his shopping basket and goes to check out. Uh oh, when you’re filling in the shipping address section, you have to select your country from a drop-box. Guess what’s missing? New Zealand. Bugger! So, he emails shop.nhl.com asking why they don't ship to New Zealand. Almost immediately, he gets an automated response back that says:

"Thank you for contacting the Official Online Store of the NHL. Our fans are our number one priority and will do our best to make your shopping experience a pleasant one. We take your comments very seriously and have forwarded them to the appropriate individuals. We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience this has caused to you. If we can be of further assistance, please contact customer support at CustomerSupport@Shop.NHL.com."

Uh-huh. Sure. Several days later he got the real, un-automated response back which said words to the effect of "no, sorry, we don’t ship to New Zealand". Brandon, not being one to give up (and really, really wanting his Canadiens jersey), wrote back again. He asked them why they couldn’t ship to New Zealand when they do ship to Australia and just about every other place. The next day he got the same automated response. A few days later he got the same un-automated response. He wrote back again and again asking nicely if someone, anyone, could pretty, pretty please just pop down to the post office with a jersey for him. Same responses.

This email ping-pong has been going on since April. By the beginning of June Brandon was starting to find it all just a bit tedious. He decided not to let the stupidity of the NHL shop prevent his getting his jersey, so he went back to shop.nhl.com and ordered his Canadiens jersey again, but this time entered the delivery address of a friend living in Boston (the idea being that the friend would take delivery of the jersey and send it on via DHL, UPS, Fed-Ex or any one of the dozens of international carriers operating out of the US). All was going well until he was filling in his credit card details and got to the billing address bit and found that New Zealand wasn’t in the country drop-box.

Aaaaaaargh! He fudged his billing address as best he could but it’s now mid-August and he’s had no response to subsequent emails -- and his jersey hasn’t turned up in Boston.

Maybe the NHL really doesn’t care about one hockey fan from New Zealand. Unfortunately, the way they’ve set themselves up with the websites and everything makes us think they do. I saw web guru Jim Sterne speak at the NZ E-Commerce Summit a couple of years ago and he’s got a million stories just like Brandon’s NHL one. Have a look at www.targeting.com for some really good tips on how to avoid doing an NHL to your customers.

Swanson is IT manager at W Stevenson & Sons in South Auckland. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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