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Buying a Halloween costume at the last minute can be a horrifying experience. Long lines, limited selections, and costumes bearing deodorant stains of prior shoppers are not exactly things to get excited about.
With Halloween right around the corner, don’t settle for the last few costumes at your local store. Bigger, better selections, with wallet-friendly shipping and returns policies can be found online. Awesome online features like 360 degree videos and accessory checklists help ensure you find the perfect costume for the big day.
To help procrastinators avoid the crowds and look ghastly good on Halloween, STELLAService evaluated 18 of the top “big-box” and specialty retailers online and found that features like free exchanges and 24/7 call support were a treat, while some return policies were more of a trick. Check out our findings below, and be sure to order soon so your package arrives before the big costume contest!
Amazon.com bests the rest for its shipping and returns policies, but even more relevant is its super smart product recommendation engine. Below is a great example of how easy it is to add a Captain America shield, boot covers, and gloves with the standard costume to ensure you get the full package.
A Jack Sparrow costume without the dreads, pistol, and sword might as well be just….well, a sparrow. CostumeExpress.com has a “complete the look” list to make sure the Sparrow ensemble doesn’t lack its iconic earrings and weapons. As with BuyCostumes.com, there are free exchanges, and 360 degree product videos of models in costumes ensure you know exactly what you’re buying.
“How does my butt look in this hoop skirt?” Not to worry, since BuyCostumes.com also has a 360 degree video of most costumes. If you’re ghoulish about how your ensemble fits, they’ll even let you exchange it for free.
Whether you order today via standard shipping or lay down the dough for overnight delivery, there’s still time to get that perfect Halloween costume online.
After an extensive evaluation of all online retailers who (seemingly) sell iPhones, as well as a deep dive into the online features, policies and customer service performance of the “authorized” online stores to sell the iPhone, we found there’s no reason to shop anywhere else but Apple.com for the new iPhone 4S.
Below are the details of our findings:
With lines for buying the iPhone 4S expected to wrap around city blocks (even internationally already!), and with no guarantees you will even get the new phone after waiting hours on line, you’re far better off purchasing the iPhone 4S over the Web from the comfort of your own home (or wherever you might be).
Since the price of the phone is the same across all online sellers, it’s a no-brainer to buy from the online retailer with the best service. When it comes to the iPhone, there’s no site better than Apple.com.
For all of the simple and elegant ways Apple makes our lives easier as consumers, the world’s largest tech company seems to be going out of its way to confuse shoppers when it comes to buying an iPhone online.
There are currently numerous online retailers that sell the original iPhone 4 (or at least it looked that way at first glance). With the iPhone 4S going on sale this Friday (and pre-orders already breaking records), we wanted to find out firsthand which retailers serve as the best destination for purchasing an iPhone over the Web.
Given Apple’s recent crack-down on brick-and-mortar stores not officially authorized to sell Apple products, as well as reports of fake iPhones hitting the online market, we think it’s even more important to provide consumers with better guidance on this critical buying decision.
Surprisingly, the root of the confusion around buying an iPhone online lies with Apple. The company makes it abundantly clear which online retailers are “Authorized Resellers” for Apple’s most popular items, such as the iPod and iPad, but there is somehow one product category conspicuously missing from the Authorized Reseller chart: iPhone.
First, we evaluated Apple’s Authorized Resellers list (shown above). None of the Authorized Resellers actually sell the iPhone 4 over the Web (we define “selling over the Web” as being able to purchase the phone and having it shipped to you). At first glance, it looked like Amazon.com, Target.com and Frys.com sold the iPhone, but a deeper dive into each site confirmed that they do not.
Amazon.com: iPhone’s are only sold through marketplace sellers, not Amazon.com.
Frys.com: iPhone’s are only sold through physical store locations, not via the Internet.
Next, we checked stores from the Internet Retailer’s Top 100 list that appeared to sell iPhones but were not listed on Apple’s Authorized Reseller list. We uncovered seven additional online stores that initially seemed to sell iPhones, but further investigation highlighted wrinkles with each site.
Newegg.com: sells a limited selection of “no contract” phones.
Etronics.com: sells a limited selection of “no contract” iPhone 3G’s (yet all are out of stock).
Walmart.com: iPhone’s are only sold through physical store locations, not via the Internet.
Sears.com: iPhone’s are only sold through marketplace sellers.
O.co (AKA Overstock.com): sells a limited number of “no-contract” iPhone 3Gs (refurbished)
BestBuy.com: a genuine online reseller of the iPhone…? Not so fast – see below.
Finally, we looked at BestBuy.com, which claims to be an Authorized Reseller of Apple products.
This is where things really get confusing.
Despite a clear message on BestBuy.com that the iPhone 4 (and iPhone 4S) are available for sale through the site as an “Authorized Reseller” of Apple products, Apple’s site does not recognize BestBuy.com as an Authorized Reseller. You could argue that Best Buy is a big enough brand that it does not require cross-referencing on Apple’s site, but if that’s the case, why is Amazon.com, the world’s largest Internet retailer, listed on Apple’s site?
Making matters more complex, not all iPhones 4 models are available for purchase (with shipping and delivery) through BestBuy.com. Can you have it shipped (free shipping), or do you have to pick it up in-store (IN STORE ONLY)?
Online shoppers wishing to purchase any AT&T iPhone will find a disappointing message when they reach the end of their checkout process (see below).
Policies, offerings and reseller arrangements seem to be changing by the hour as the release of the iPhone 4S approaches. With so many online retailers quasi-selling the iPhone (or reselling it through a marketplace seller), it’s no wonder consumers are confused, and in some cases getting scammed as they look to the Web to get their hands on a new iPhone.
Consumers are left with three big and obvious questions:
Ultimately, it appears the only online retailers truly “authorized” to sell iPhones through their sites are: Apple.com, BestBuy.com (sort-of), Att.com, Verizon.com and Sprint.com.
Now that we know (or at least we think we know as of 10/11) who the authorized iPhone sellers are online, we’ve decided to rigorously evaluate each site to uncover which online business is the most customer-friendly. STELLAService assessed each site’s policies, features and quality of live customer support to help consumers make a more informed online buying decision. With pricing for the new iPhone standardized across all retailers, the overall customer experience should be the deciding factor in choosing where to buy your iPhone.
Stay tuned, as we plan to share the full results of our study tomorrow!
I cannot see much reason in following the goings-on of 10 million dollar wedding ceremonies, but if such resources are to be spent on such a lavish event, you’d be crazy not to spend it at these 7 top-rated retailers.
1. For the ring: BlueNile.com, STELLAService Elite
It is not just Aron Ralston who has access to large rocks. BlueNile.com has a 20+ carat diamond that users can customize online, from the diamond shape and size to the setting and clarity. You can even choose the delivery date, then prepare your video camera to record the endless, totally deserved gawking.
2. For the groom’s and groomsmen’s suits: RalphLauren.com, STELLAService Excellent
While the bridesmaids will only wear their dresses once (contrary to popular belief, you can rarely shorten a bridesmaid’s dress and wear it again!), the groomsmen can wear their suits again and again without fear of being called out when the suit resurfaces on Facebook pictures. Who wants $3,000-$4,000 custom Zenga suits that look like grandpa’s when you can get impeccable suits and service from RalphLauren.com?
3. For the bride’s and bridesmaids’ dresses: JCrew.com, STELLAService Elite
JCrew.com has a specific wedding section on their site where you can view bridesmaids dresses in several colors – one dress (left) had 12 different color options! While you may not find a $25,000 wedding gown on there, you can find bridal dresses that are equally beautiful and glamorous.
4. For the accessories: Artbeads.com, STELLAService Elite
Not only does this site carry all the beads, rhinestones, and craft supplies for the perfect tiara or bracelet, but they have a blog post that shows how to make Kim Kardashian’s headpiece. I just saved you $2.5 Million!
5. For the ring bearer: Petco.com, STELLAService Elite
One thing that was unmemorable about the Kardashian wedding was the ring bearer. Kim’s 21-month old nephew reportedly struggled down the aisle to bear the bands of eternal love. Now here is your chance to one-up the wedding people won’t stop talking about - have an elephant or white horse walk down the aisle. While Petco.com doesn’t sell elephants nor horses, they sell the pooper scoopers to clean up behind them.
6. For the flowers: 1800Flowers.com, STELLAService Elite
With perhaps the easiest number to remember (1800-FLOWERS), 1800Flowers.com can provide everything from exotic orchids to classic roses.
7. For the favors: Favorfavor.com, STELLAService Excellent
So nice you got to say it twice. STELLAService Excellent retailer favorfavor.com has a “great selection, fast shipping, and reliable service all at the best prices on the web - GUARANTEED!” What more could you want? Oh, maybe customized heart-shaped Krispy Kreme donuts and cookies.
John (my co-founder) and I started to get nervous last Wednesday that our weekend travel plans would get canceled due to Hurricane Irene, so we did what most people did: we called the airlines to check on flight status, cancellation policies and airport closures.
While we waited on hold for several minutes, we thought what any entrepreneur in the customer service space would think: how will the contact centers of the country’s largest airlines perform under the stresses and high inquiry volumes caused by Hurricane Irene?
Well, since it just so happens we are in the business of evaluating and rating customer service performance, we mobilized our network of “mystery shoppers on steroids” to find out, and here’s what we found:STELLAService originally excluded replies from tweets sent to Continental’s Twitter account since it stated that its Twitter account is no longer active. Even though United and Continental have merged and now use a single active Twitter handle, @United, we have updated our findings as of 8/31/11 to reflect the 58% response rate to tweets directed to the inactive @Continental Twitter account. The tweets sent to American Airlines were sent to an account they deem to be inactive, so we have removed their Twitter findings and updated the above chart for that as well.
Kudos to U.S. Airways for keeping average hold times under three minutes the day before the storm hit. Most of the wait times at other airlines ranged from 10 minutes to over an hour (American Airlines took an average of 1 hour and 32 minutes to answer our calls)!
As for leveraging Twitter to provide service to travelers in despair, Delta, Frontier and jetBlue proved their social media savviness. Delta and jetBlue even responded to customer service-related tweets within 14 minutes and 11 minutes, respectively. Delta took it one step further and personalized it’s Twitter support by denoting the initials of the specific agent at Delta who replied to each tweet. This is time saving and convenient in the event the issue needed to be taken to the phones and that agent’s name could be referenced as someone who was already aware of the problem / issue.
Considering the major challenges in reaching a customer service agent over the phone and the conversational nature of twitter as a channel for customer support, it was great to see these airlines use Twitter so effectively to help their customers. AirTran responded to none of the tweets we sent the day before Irene made landfall.
It’s obvious we have choices when it comes to choosing an airline, and while there are sometimes slight price differences that make us lean one way or another, at the end of the day it’s all about the customer experience. When things are calm or when things are crazy, we need our airline of choice to be able to help us quickly, confidently and in a genuine way.
It’s easy (and quite common) to take frustration out on the customer service rep who isn’t fixing your problem or addressing your issue. We’ve all done it, been rude or short with an employee of a company that is causing us a headache. But it never seems to get people anywhere really, and it makes sense why. The person on the other end of the line is a also a human being (most of the time) and it’s important not to forget to treat them with respect just as you would anyone else. Who wants to help someone out who is being a jerk?
A few tips from an 18-year customer service rep were highlighted in this article on how to make the best of a situation when you need someone’s help over the phone. Bottom line, treat the person with respect, even if you are a bit upset about the wrong sneakers arriving in the mail. Odds are the experience for both parties will be much more enjoyable and you’ll feel better about it too.
It’s that time of year again when millions of people, young and old, are racing to prepare for the first day back to school. For many, this is an exciting time, when personal aspirations meet opportunity and anything seems possible.
However, we know that this is also an anxious and nerve-racking time, when the “to-do” list seems to command all the attention. At STELLAService, we understand that students (and parents, of course) have enough to worry about, so we wanted to help by evaluating the Internet’s biggest one-stop shops for hassle-free back-to-school shopping.
We evaluated 15 of the Internet’s leading online retailers, including Amazon, Costco, Walmart, Buy.com, and Overstock.com. We measured the retailers according to six best practices exemplifying both speed and convenience during the back-to-school crunch, including shipping, returns, and payment options.
We’re excited to share these results below:
Costco.com offers the most hassle-free shopping features (6) and outpaces the others when it comes to shipping (see additional information below). Aside from fast shipping, Coscto.com makes it easy to return a product, offering a 90-day return window and no requirement for a Return Merchandise Authorization number (RMA#) should you need to send back any part of your order.
From school supplies to dorm accessories, the convenience of the shopping experience at Costco.com is an A+. We hope you find this information helpful, and feel free to share with us your own back-to-school shopping experiences at retailers beyond these one-stop shops.
Here’s to a successful school year!
I’m not sure how old I will be until I start feeling totally comfortable buying my undergarments in-person. I can only imagine how men must feel buying these kinds of presents!
It is no surprise then that VictoriasSecret.com has been the highest in sales for the Apparel/Accessories category the past two years, as ranked by Internet Retailer. Women need bras, and men know where they like to get them, thanks to the brand’s famous models featured in their free catalog and annual runway show.
However, there is a brand that really stands out for its customer service excellence. The Leonisa brand, which originates in Latin America, is the
Ricky Martin Shakira Enrique Iglesias of over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders (or “sobre los hombros tenedor de rocas” – though that phrase isn’t quite as catchy in Spanish.)
Naturally, Leonisa.com is seamlessly navigable in both Spanish and English. Unsure if your flopper stoppers will fit? Use the return address label provided with the packaging to easily exchange or return your item. Our mystery shoppers were impressed with the incredibly fast turnaround from the date they returned their undergarments until they received a refund on their credit card.
What if you want to wait before testing your britches? Leonisa.com boasts a generous 60-day return policy. So long as you return them new and with tags attached, you will receive a refund.
Are you a gentleman who wishes there was something like this for men? Wish no more, because Leonisa offers men’s underthings too.
Leonisa always has free shipping for orders over $50, but through 7/25 there is no order minimum at all, so there’s no better time to get all the support you need.
A few years ago my grandma called to ask if I could come over and help her out with some ”computer stuff.” Dutifully, I dropped by to lend a hand. She informed me that she’d seen a beautiful bird feeder at a friend’s house in Florida and wanted one like it for her yard. The trouble was, she couldn’t find it anywhere. After an exhaustive search of our town’s Main Street shops yielded nothing, she turned to a new and unfamiliar medium for her shopping needs: the internet. After a few minutes of browsing, I was able to locate the exact model she wanted, put it in a shopping cart, and proceed to the checkout. Then, with credit card in hand, she told me to stop. Why? She was worried that after she bought it the feeder, it might simply get lost in “the ether.” For her, it was suspicious to pay in advance for an unseen product from a complete stranger and expect to receive it several days later. She told me she even avoided buying items from catalogs for the same reason. To her, reliability and ecommerce were incompatible.
STELLAService exists to ensure that customers never have to distrust their online retailers. One of STELLA’s criteria for outstanding service is shipment tracking. We believe that vendors who offer easy access to package tracking services make online commerce more transparent and dependable. For my grandma, who was used to in-person transactions of physical currency and goods, these types of services gave her the confidence to shop the web without fear of being ripped off or having her product get lost. As it turned out, the shipment information she received wasn’t entirely truthful. Her bird feeder arrived a day early. It has graced her back patio ever since then.
The term ‘Invisible Hand’ is a term originally coined by the economist Adam Smith. Boiled down, this term is meant to describe how in free markets, people are free to pursue their own self-interests. Smith believed that when people pursued their own self-interests, the free market would provide for these interests and society would therefore be better off.
While the invisible forces of the market may be difficult to spot, the product that goes by the same name as Adam Smith’s infamous term is anything but. InvisibleHand is a browser plug-in that subtly lets a shopper know whether the product they’re looking at is available for different prices at other e-retailers. It’s helpful for casual shoppers who may not always know the different sites where a product can be bought on the web.
It seems the plugin is helping consumers reign in some serious savings. So far their homepage lists their total savings found for consumers to be $410,049,783, with an average savings per product of $11.65.
However, while InvisibleHand does offer great savings to its users, it also helps illustrate a major trend in e-commerce: pricing convergence. A simple search for a Samsung flat-screen television reveals the number of retailers selling the same product for more or less the same price.
Below you can see the InvisibleHand (the yellow bar at the top of the page, and the corresponding drop-down menu) listing the prices different retailers are offering for that same product.
In addition to the Amazon.com price of $807.00, you’ll notice that the circled prices deviate at most by two dollars. Including Amazon.com, that’s a total of 10 sites with a near identical price (and we’re not even displaying all of the search results). Next, take a look at some of the sites offering the television: Walmart.com, CompUsa.com, Newegg.com, Bestbuy.com, Sears.com and Buy.com. Given the enormity of these retailers, we’re willing to bet that in addition to this particular television, they offer many identical products at near identical prices.
While pricing may not be identical for EVERY product across the web, it’s becoming increasingly true for mass-produced items. With that in mind, pretend you’re in the market for a television and you see several different models available for the same price across 10 different sites. At that point, what information would YOU use to make your decision? Here at STELLAService, we’d like to think we know…