Sunday, May 06, 2007

A tale of two music stores

Or: how to get your customer to buy from the competition in five easy steps.

[Warning: A long, boring post about troubles purchasing a guitar follows. If you're interested in problems with new Washburn D10SBs, or a comparison of Musician's Friend's and's customer service, read on. If not, don't.]

Regular readers will remember that back in March I decided to start learning to play the guitar. The first step was to obtain a guitar, which I attempted to do by placing an order for a Washburn D10SB from Musician's Friend back in late March. It took me until yesterday to actually finally have a working guitar; in this post I'll recount this tale of woe, and review the customer service of both companies I dealt with.

Musician's Friend shipped my package the day after I placed the order, and it arrived via UPS ground in the usual time. The order consisted of my guitar (which came in a hard case), another hard case I ordered for a friend, and some other miscellaneous items (a guitar stand, extra strings, and some picks). Unfortunately, Musician's Friend had packed everything into one (giant) box, and had put exactly two sheets of paper into the box as padding (my guitar's hardcase wasn't even in a plastic bag). As one might expect, the UPS elephants had had a blast with the package, and thus virtually everything in the order was damaged. Even the box of picks had been broken open during shipment, and thanks to a minimal taping job of the box's seams, most of the picks had fallen out during transport. Most distressing was that the two cases had rubbed against each other, leaving large gouges on both.

Musician's Friend was quick to respond to all of my e-mails, but unfortunately their responses were often uninformative. For instance, the first e-mail they sent said that I should ship everything that was damaged back to them, and that they could either exchange everything for new items or give me a full refund. I still wanted a guitar, so I said that I wanted to do an exchange. Only later did I find out that by "exchange" they meant "send us back your guitar and four days after we receive it we'll place a new order for you," while by "refund" they meant "we can place an order for a replacement guitar immediately for you."

I packed the guitar up and sent it back the next day; it took the usual time to get back, and then a few days later I got a notice that they'd placed a new order (X') for me for the replacement items. The next day I got this:
Dear Radagast:

Thanks again for your recent order #X'. The items which were in stock have been shipped, and we've sent your package tracking information via a previous email.

As you may recall from the Item Status on our website or from speaking with us when you placed your order, the item(s) listed below are not in stock. Our orders for this gear have been expedited through the manufacturer, and we are still expecting to ship your products within the timeframe originally quoted. If we anticipate an extended delay, we will contact you again to verify any changes you may wish to make.
As you might guess, at no point before this did Musician's Friend ever mention that they were out of stock. In fact, I'm fairly certain that they had a D10SB in stock when I initially shipped back my damaged guitar to them. At the end of the e-mail they informed me that the soonest they'd ship the guitar was now May 11.

I was furious. It didn't help matters that Musician's Friend had never once apologized for anything; the words "apologize" and "sorry" are completely lacking from any of the numerous e-mails they sent me. While the other replacement items did ship the next day, they arrived with the same mediocre packaging (no bubble wrap, and all the small items were put loose into the same box as a guitar case, which led to the new pick package breaking open and spewing its contents all through the box).

After doing some shopping around, I found, another online music store that seemed to be fairly large, had a good return policy posted, and had the D10SB in stock, albeit for a higher price. SameDayMusic had a price match policy on their website, and within a day of finding their site I had a URL available to purchase an in-stock D10SB for $5 less than I had paid at Musician's Friend. I placed an order with SameDayMusic, and took great pleasure in cancelling my Musician's Friend order (though I only later found out that the customer service representative "incorrectly" cancelled my order the first time, and thus it took me multiple e-mails and more than a week before the money was refunded to my credit card).

SameDayMusic lived up to their name and shipped the guitar out the same day I ordered it. It arrived the usual time later, and I was ecstatic to find that they actually knew what bubble wrap was1. Unfortunately, the guitar case arrived missing one of its feet, and the guitar had a few small scratches on the side. The case was packaged in what appeared to be the manufacturer's bag, and there wasn't a foot in sight, so it seems likely that the foot was broken before shipping.

SameDayMusic's response to my e-mail was refreshingly thorough and kind. The very first sentence of their e-mail was apologetic (including "apologize" prominently), and they clearly explained all of the options for either exchanging or returning the guitar. Unlike Musician's Friend, they made it clear that they would ship out a replacement item the very same day, even saying that they'd only charge my card if they didn't get the return item within a few weeks.

SameDayMusic did indeed ship out a replacement guitar the very same day, and they did one better: they shipped it out second-day air (Musician's Friend shipped out their replacement items standard ground). This replacement (the third guitar and case I was to receive) arrived two business days later, and again was packaged with bubble wrap.

The case was in great shape this time, but the guitar had a dent on the front. The guitar and case both appeared to be packaged in the manufacturer's bag, and there was nothing in the case that could have caused the damage, so this damage again appeared to have happened before shipping. I informed SameDayMusic of the damage, but unfortunately by this time they were out of stock of the D10SB as well, and wouldn't have it in stock until June. To their credit, SameDayMusic apologized profusely, and reported this problem to me in the very first e-mail they sent after I told them of my damaged shipment.

At this point I had two guitars and two cases (as SameDayMusic's return shipping label hadn't arrived yet), but fortunately one of each was in fairly good shape. One case was perfect, and I could live with the scratched guitar (as the scratch wasn't too noticeable, and was only in the finish). I proposed that I'd be OK with keeping the better set of items if I got a small discount; SameDayMusic wrote back the next day saying that they'd be happy to give me a 20% discount for the trouble. That was more than I expected, and thus I'm pleased to say that as of yesterday I finally have a guitar I can keep.

Thanks to their excellent customer service, SameDayMusic has now won a customer for life. Musician's Friend, on the other hand, won't see my money again. It's amazing what an apology, a speedy replacement shipment, and some flexible thinking will do for you.

1 To clarify, while SameDayMusic's packing was better than Musician's Friend's, it was still sub-optimal. The guitar was packed in its hardcase, which was put in a plastic bag, but then the case was put into a box just barely bigger than it was, with bubble wrap was stuffed into one end of the box to attempt to lock the case into place. I would have preferred it if the entire case had been wrapped in bubble wrap, or if it had been double-boxed.

1 comment:

Radagast said...

Importing comments:

I did actually go to a local store (not McCabe's, though; I'll have to check it out at some point) and try a number of guitars, but quickly determined that I couldn't hear a difference between them. Of course, at that point I didn't even know how to play any notes, so didn't know what to listen for. Once I know what I'm doing with the thing, I plan on going back and comparing different guitars
May 8, 2007, 10:16:08 AM PDT – Like – Reply

I've gotta say that a musical instrument is something that I'd never buy online. As you gain experience, you'll discover that two guitars of the same model will have differences.

I don't know how far away you are, but I can recommend the folks at McCabe's Guitar Shop, on Pico, near the boundary between Santa Monica and West L.A. Excellent shop, and a good place for lessons as well.
May 7, 2007, 1:22:00 PM PDT