Practical Ecommerce

The Shopping Experience: OfficeDepot.com Offers Free Shipping, After a Twist

Office Depot is well known as a brick-and-mortar store, but I had never purchased products from its ecommerce site, OfficeDepot.com. Since I was looking for a new desk, I decided to give the site a try. OfficeDepot.com is much like a typical office; it is utilitarian without much in the way of design or grace. Nonetheless, it is functional and useful, and who really needs elegance when shopping for office supplies?

Easy Navigation

I tend to use internal site search for a quick method to find what I’m looking for. But, in this case, “Furniture” is on the site’s main, top-hat navigation, and I used that navigation to quickly filter down to desks. The main navigation is well organized with categories and sub-subcategories quickly accessible via a drop-down menu. I was able to get down to a “Small Office/Home Office Desks” landing page quickly, and I began perusing the options.

Screenshot of Office Depot's product description of a computer desk.

Screenshot of Office Depot’s product description of a computer desk.

Product Descriptions Good; Glitch in Sorting

The product descriptions are clear and concise, and usually have measurements included, sometimes in graphical format as well. The “Sort By” function worked well to order my results by price, low to high, which is my preference. Unfortunately, the first results were not desks at all, but by skipping to the second page of results, I swiftly found my price point and found a desk to suit my needs. It was described well and had nice photos of the unit.

Shipping Explanations Confusing

After placing the desk in my cart, a zip code was required, seemingly to see if the desk was available for shipping in my area. The desk was available to me, and the shipping was free, or so it seemed. But there was a discrepancy on my checkout page. While the previous screen had indicated that my shipping was free, the screen (below) said, “Shipping charges apply.” It was not until I clicked on a textual link that said “View shipping charges” that I was informed again that shipping was, in fact, free.

Screenshot of Office Depot shopping cart showing estimated shipping charges as "FREE."

Screenshot of Office Depot shopping cart showing estimated shipping charges as “FREE.”

However, as I moved through the checkout process, another contradiction presented itself. I was given an estimated shipping date; the same screen also showed a “warning box” that indicated my estimated shipping date was potentially inaccurate and I would be contacted. At that point, I was getting ready to abandon the process.

Screenshot of Office Depot checkout process with an alert that says shipping date is only an estimate.

Screenshot of Office Depot checkout process with an alert that says shipping date is only an estimate.

But in the spirit of finishing this story, I took a leap of faith and went through with the order. Lo and behold, an employee of the local Office Depot called me and we arranged for a delivery just two days out. So, the shipment came from my local Office Depot, and in theory I could have just driven over and picked it up.

From an online shopping experience, I’m not sure how to feel about this. I have mixed reactions and would love to hear from readers. On one hand, having to receive a phone call in order to complete the shipping details, from a product purchased online, is quite an ecommerce flaw. On the other hand, a desk is a decidedly big item that may require special shipping needs. But, in my view, no matter what the item, delivery details should be automated online in spite of the fact that I appreciated the free delivery that ultimately occurred with my desk purchase.

Summary

Despite the glaring contradictions during the shipping process and the extra step of having to engage in a telephone call, the experience was positive. The delivery guys brought the desk box into my house and carried it into the room in which it will reside. And now I face the hardest part, which is assembling the darned thing.

 

Jeff Muendel

Jeff Muendel

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Comments ( 2 )

  1. blynn July 13, 2010 Reply

    I agree that there checkout process has room for improvement – making it less confusing for consumers to purchase. If you give a potential customer a reason to think about finishing their order; most of the times consumers will abandon the site. Their shipping method notice you received could have easily been made less confusing with better verbage. Such as this item can not be delivered by UPS or FEDEX due to it’s size and weight; therefore we will need to contact you to set up a convenient time for delivery. It is the lack of " proper engagement communication" that creates confusion.

    However, in defense for Office Depot if they did not have some eye catching alert box customers would be upset about not knowing about the delivery method. Customers would be calling Office Depot’s customer service department, which would / could have Office Depot remove their free shipping method.

    My concern is not so much the shipping method and the alert box that I will need to be notified regarding delivery as the word "estimated"! If the shipping charge shown or total amount shown is just an "estimate" what will I really be charged ~ and I am sure they have high abandonment on just this alone.

  2. Steve @Erraticblog July 15, 2010 Reply

    Warning boxes, having to get a phone call to complete shipping information… I think these would result in a huge cart abandonment rate. They should clear up these issues and make their warning boxes not look so intimidating. I think many average online shoppers would be nervous and confused when confronted with these things.