Woolies online promo just doesn't add up
There's nothing quite like waking to the "ping!" of a debit order SMS notification from your bank at 7.22am on New Year's Day to drive home the fact that the party's over.
So happy new year, dear readers, and commiserations if you were similarly awoken on Friday morning.
Whether we consumers are doing business with companies via bricks (in traditional retail stores) or clicks (online), we constantly come up against policies and procedures clearly designed to suit the business, not the customer.
For example, too many till points and bank counters left empty during lunch hour, resulting in long queues.
Such scenarios always bring to mind a frame from a Dilbert comic strip. "Our highest priority is satisfying our customers," he says. "Except when it is hard . or unprofitable ... or we're busy."
Hazel Gace's experience with Woolworths' online site shortly before Christmas is a classic example of this phenomenon.
"Do you know," she told me, "that if you place an online groceries order for delivery with Woolies, and they phone you to ask if you'd like to add anything to the order, or offer you a substitute, anything that gets added on to your original order doesn't get charged at the promotional price?
"I asked if they had any of those ready-to-eat prawn rings, and was told they didn't, but I was offered the 350g pack of prawns at a special price - two for R90.
"So I said: 'Okay, send me two'."
But when she got the invoice, Gace was incensed to discover that she was charged R124.95 for each pack of prawns - around R250 for both, instead of R90.
Naturally, she called the online customer help line, assuming it was a billing error.
"But a woman told me it was right, the promotion didn't apply because the prawns were an 'add-on product'.
"She asked if I still wanted the item, to which I said no, I'd be better off going back online and doing a second order for the two prawn packs, thereby saving myself R160. It was then that she offered to refund my credit card."
What happened to Gace was in contravention of the Consumer Protection Act, as she was misled by the first agent to whom she spoke with regard to the promotional offer on the prawns.
The agent had a duty to disclose the actual price.
Woolworths offered a very technical response.
"When purchasing items online, the price of items is fixed at the point of check-out. Any promotion applied is calculated at check-out and applied to the basket.
"Unfortunately, any item added later in the process is treated like a base-priced item and no promotion is applied. No matter what the ruling conditions are for that product, the online shopping portal treats it as a stand-alone item.
"We acknowledge that this is not the desired customer experience and so a solution is part of our future improvements to our online shopping system."
I should think so!
Woolworths added: "A member of the store team made an error by adding a promotional item as a substitution, not realising that the items would be charged at their base price.
"This is a training issue and we will continue to train our staff to ensure less mistakes of this nature are made."