Why Ulta.com is doomed for failure: They could learn from Zappos
ROMEOVILLE, ILLINOIS -- The following is the letter I sent directly to the senior management at Ulta.com, Chuck Rubin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
I was an Ulta customer until today. Briefly, on Friday I ordered a 100 dollar gift card for my daughter's 20th birthday tomorrow. I paid for expedited shipping because I had to be sure it arrived on time. My daughter is a college student on her own and too far away and Ulta is, or was, a favorite of hers. The gift card was meant to mark a special birthday at a special time in her life. She never received it.
I am not sure if you realize that your products aren't just functional, they sometimes carry weightier significance and that was certainly the case for this particular purchase. Nor am I sure you how important it is that some orders arrive on time, in the case of birthdays and other special events. (What is the point of offering expedited shipping?)
I called Ulta last night, expressed my situation and received a wooden response. I asked to speak with a supervisor and was told that would be impossible. I called again this morning since there is still time to make this right--the birthday is tomorrow and we're only talking about a simple gift card that can easily be slipped into an envelope and shipped overnight. The hold wait was so long that I actually had the time to Google "Ulta complaints" and read through hundreds of comments from unhappy customers and many of these complaints were strikingly similar to my own. Expedited shipping fees. Still nothing. No tracking available for gift cards. Orders that remained in the purgatory of "still processing." Terrible customer service.
And as I waited on hold, I reflected on the remarkable customer service difference between Ulta and Zappos, a company so successful that its founder teaches customer service to other companies and organizations. (It should go without saying that Ulta might consider inviting him to corporate offices for a seminar. Or two.) I also reflected on what impact it might have if Ulta investors, or prospective investors, could read through printed out pages and pages of the complaints I found online.
Eventually, someone picked up my call, but not until the muzak was interrupted by a recorded voice suggesting I download that same unbearable muzak. That's right: after waiting on hold interminably, you folks then had the chutzpah to hawk your own muzak. Seriously?
Finally, a CSR got on the line and tried, given extremely limited resources, to help me. I could hear her shuffling through scripts while I attempted to explain the urgency and uniqueness of my situation...sick daughter... birthday tomorrow...expedited shipping... And then, unfortunately, I began to cry. If you're a father you may know the stress of a sick child. I couldn't help myself. I apologized. To her credit, she tried to console me. But she, too, had limited resources available to her. She said she would send my request to "corporate" marked urgent/critical. And she told me that things really do get better with time, and wished me luck with my daughter.
So what's left for me to do? Pray that by some miracle my request makes it through the layers of bureaucracy and a girl who turns 20 tomorrow gets the birthday gift I promised her. I can also search for the email of the head of Ulta and hope this letter actually reaches him. My advice to other Ulta customers. Don't order anything online.