There are many ways to tell this story, and I’m sure that I’ll pick the wrong one…
Before I start railing, let me state that for the most part, Lois and I like Home Depot, and the majority of our in-store experiences have been very positive.
On to our tale of woe. We have outdoor space in the city that had an old (but very nice) wooden table on it when we moved in. There were benches on either side, and a chair at both heads, for a 6-person seating area. It could still be used, but it has required some quickie repairs the past few years, and it’s clearly headed south.
Last summer we seriously shopped (entirely online) for a new patio set. They ain’t cheap, by any measure. We almost pulled the trigger, but thankfully, something took hold as my index finger was hovering over the submit button, and we decided to hold off for another season.
I say thankfully, because shortly thereafter, we lost all use of our deck for a year, when our building was required to make repairs according to Local Law 11. Our furniture got beaten up a ton more as it got moved back-and-forth by the workers, and if that had been new stuff, we wouldn’t have been too pleased…
While the table had some issues, it was really the benches that bugged Lois. A month ago, we found ourselves in a Home Depot near our house, explicitly for the benefit of Laura and Chris who were picking up stuff to get their apartment spruced up. While they were shopping, Lois spotted two wrought iron benches (that even swung a bit). They were on end-of-season super sale. We decided to buy them, even though they might look a bit odd with the wooden table.
After loading them up on a cart, Chris pointed out that since we hadn’t measured, it’s possible that they simply wouldn’t work with the existing table. That was a good point, so we aborted.
A week later, Laura called me from a Home Depot in Richmond, VA, and told me that the last of the patio furniture was still out and on sale, and that we should probably check it out when we got to Fredericksburg (scheduled for a few days later).
We did. We ended up buying an oval wrought iron table and six wrought iron chairs (that rock gently on springs). It’s the same set that the benches belong to, but we much preferred the chairs, and with the matching table, all of our measuring problems (and matching looks problems) were solved.
Lois waited at the Home Depot while I drove the table and two chairs to the office. I returned and loaded up the remaining four chairs and drove them back to the office with Lois. A few hours later, we decided that the sale was very good, so we drove back and bought two more chairs.
A week later, we drove the table and six chairs back to NYC (it was quite a feat fitting them all in to the SUV), leaving two chairs for this next trip. We set the table and chairs up on the deck, and they were perfect. In the past two weeks of nearly perfect NYC weather, we’ve had quite a few meals on the new furtniture, and have enjoyed every single one.
Temporary switching of gears…
We had another (very old) table on the deck that seats six people. Two years ago, Lois spray painted it grey (it was white). Now, inspired by the new wrought iron stuff, she painted it (by hand, very messily) black. It looks reasonably good, but she’s not satisfied (at all). In addition, we have plastic chairs (blue and white, plenty of both colors) that we use around that table. She hates the mish-mash of color and texture between the chairs and table.
So, earlier this week, she had me look online, at homedepot.com, to see how much it would cost to buy more of the same chairs that we hauled up for our new table. For the eight chairs that we bought on sale at the store, we paid $79 per pair (plus tax), so just under $40 per chair. Online, they were $110/pair, but I believe that included shipping (tax would still be separate). Not an outrageous markup, but slightly annoying that it was more expensive.
We decided to hold off and check the local store again. Two days later, we visited the original store (where we saw the matching benches) and they were completely out of this particular set (tables and chairs). When we got home, I went online again, willing to pay the $110. Amazingly, it was now $199/pair. This was just two days later. That was more than I was willing to pay, so we decided to forget the idea.
Now the real part of the story begins, with humble apologies for the length of the intro…
Lois decided to call around to some other nearby Home Depots, to see if they had any chairs in stock. We had the SKU (both from the online system, and from the receipt from the Fredericksburg store). She called at least five different Home Depots, all within an hour’s drive of the house, and only one claimed to have any in stock.
OK, it’s in stock, so Lois tells the guy who answered the phone that we’re on the way up. He tells her not to come, because they are not for sale! What? You have something in stock that you refuse to sell? Lois asks him if she can speak to a manager. After a minute, the manager gets on the phone. He tells Lois that indeed the system shows the chairs in stock, but without a visual inspection, he wouldn’t be comfortable telling us to make the drive.
He takes our number and says he’ll call back. We wait quite a while, with no callback. Lois calls again, gets the same original person. Again, he’s as nice as can be, even though he told her the chairs weren’t for sale. This time, he connects her with someone in the Garden department. The woman seemed to be aware of the search, so the manager likely asked her to do it.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t yet confirm that the chairs were there, and she too said she would call back.
In the meantime, we continued calling around. I found a store in NJ that claimed to have 16 boxes of the pair of chairs in stock. We decided to take the shot and head straight there. When we were driving up the lane in our development (just a minute from the house), Lois got a call from the first store (the woman in Gardens) who said she had eight chairs there. That store was supposedly 15 minutes closer, and the woman visually confirmed the chairs, so we headed there.
Sure enough, they had them. After struggling with the decision, instead of buying four chairs (which is what our plan was), we decided to take six. While we knew for sure that six chairs would fit in the SUV, having done it already, this time, four of the chairs were still in the two large boxes, so we didn’t know if we’d have to unpack them before getting them in the car. Luckily, it all fit in (barely) without needing to open the boxes.
One of the reasons we bought six chairs was the price. They were reduced again, to $66/pair in the store. So, online they cost $199/pair, and in the store, $66. That’s just nuts…
OK, so all’s well that ends well, right? Wrong…
Once we got home, Lois started conjecturing that they also carried a round table (44″) in this style, and that given the magnitude of the sale, we would be better off buying it and throwing out the one she just painted this past weekend!
I looked online, and the table had doubled in price (just like the chairs did) to a whopping $239! We called back the store we had just visited, and they had none. The in-store price, if they had it in stock, was down to $45. That’s practically a $200 savings, again, nuts! Now the saga really begins…
Lois asked the woman if any other area stores showed the table in stock. Indeed, a store roughly an hour from us showed two in stock. Lois called. They confirmed that the computer showed two in stock. Having learned the lesson earlier that a visual check is a good thing to ask for, Lois aked. They put her on hold, came back a few minutes later, and said that there were none in stock.
Lois asked if they could check if any other stores in their area had any. They checked, and yes, another store (also an hour from us) had six in stock. Lois called. They performed a visual check, and none were in stock. No one had a plausible explanation for how the computer showed so many in stock, but none were actually there.
Between last night and this morning, Lois called at least a dozen (yes, I’m not exaggerating!) Home Depot’s, all within an hour’s drive of our house (across three states!). None had the table in stock. 1/2 of them didn’t have it in the computer, but the other 1/2 all showed some in stock (with one store showing nine!), but none of those passed a visual check.
All-in-all, Lois was on the phone for roughly two hours, with tons of frustration along the way. Most (the majority) of the people she spoke to were very nice. A few weren’t. In the end, nice didn’t matter anyway. It was better to have two hours of phone frustration than two hours of round-trip driving to discover that the computer was wrong, but still, it was no fun.
So, what are our beefs?
First and foremost, get the darn inventory correct. If the computer shows the item (or nine items!) to be in stock, it should be in stock!
Second, visual checks shouldn’t take so long either. There are many people in the store, and someone is usually near the Garden section, so a quick two-way radio check should be able to get a definitive answer.
Third, if you solve the first problem, then make sure that I, as a consumer, can see the inventory via the web, and don’t have to waste my time, and the store personnel’s time, with a phone call to check what the computer obviously knows!
Moreover (still on point #3), I should be able to type a SKU and ask for all stores within some radius that have it in stock. I should be able to trust the answer. I should be able to buy it on the spot, and have it pulled and waiting for me to pick it up. Many other retailers provide such a service, or will have the item sent to the store of your choice for pickup.
- We love this particular style of patio furniture (Napa Plantation Patterns), which appears to be available only at Home Depot (kudos to the buyers at Home Depot for picking this out and for scoring an exclusive)
- We love the end-of-season sale
- We hate that it’s way more expensive online than the remainders that are in the stores
- We hate that we can’t see what’s in stock in a specific store
- We hate that we can’t ask which stores have it in stock, online
- We can’t fathom how so many appear in stock, but none actually are
- Most people in the stores are wonderful and truly helpful
- Most people on the phone try to be helpful, but the process is so awkward as to rarely end up achieving that goal
We now have plenty of chairs, and a new main table that will give us years of enjoyment. Perhaps next season, we will pick up the round table, without paying an arm and a leg, when the season is 1/2 over.