The laundry basket looked just right. It’s hard to get excited about a laundry basket, but this one ticked all the boxes: portable, collapsible, the right size, made of canvas. (I didn’t want a plastic one because I don’t like the thought of my laundry basket lying in landfill thousands of years after my death.)
So when I saw a suitable laundry basket on the Dunelm website, I tried to buy it straight away. I clicked “Add to basket” and got a reassuring green tick telling me that the item was in my (metaphorical, online) basket. But when I went to the (metaphorical, online) checkout, I spotted that delivery wasn’t available for this item. (It had said so on the previous page, but I was blinded by laundry-lust and didn’t notice.)
The only option available, if I wanted this item, was Reserve & Collect. Clicking the orange Reserve button lets you “check stock, reserve online, collect & pay in-store”. The only Dunelm stores I knew about were in Cardiff and Lancashire, nowhere near my home, but I formulated a cunning plan: I would buy the item online, then get my Cardiff-dwelling mum to collect it from the Cardiff store and give it to me when we next met up. So I pressed the Reserve button, then checked the stock in the Cardiff store. It was definitely available. So I went ahead with reserving it, first checking that my mum would be able to collect it for me during the three-day period they allow for collection.
Within hours Dunelm emailed me to say that my item was ready for collection. They gave me a numerical code to quote on collection. I duly passed this code on to my mum, who went to the store. They didn’t ask for the code, but they gave her a laundry basket.
It all seemed to have gone swimmingly until I arrived in Cardiff two days later for a family get-together and found they’d given my mum a completely different laundry basket. This one was also canvas and confusingly also called the Cairo, but it was rectangular rather than round and striped rather than plain.
My mum drove us to the Dunelm store and we explained the issue. We tried to give them the collection code, but again they weren’t interested. The woman on the customer service desk suggested we get the correct laundry basket from the shop floor and bring it back for swapping. We searched the shop. There were lots of ugly baskets, but the nice basket I’d seen online was nowhere to be seen.
We returned to the customer service desk. I was furious. What’s the point of reserving something if you have to visit the shop and search for it yourself, only to find it’s not there? A nice man from the customer service desk did his own search of the shop but found nothing. The nice lady checked the stock lists on her computer – while I hopefully but fruitlessly tried to give her the item code again – but found nothing.
It turns out that Dunelm’s “Reserve & Collect” system is the most misleadingly-named thing since Oxford’s “London Airport”. You can’t really reserve anything, which means you can’t be sure you’ll be able to collect it. Reservation of items is “available subject to stock”, which is a fancy-pants way of saying: “If we run out, that’s your problem, pal.” “Reserved” items aren’t taken off the shop floor into a different area, or marked as reserved; they’re just left on the shop floor, and if someone else buys your item before you collect it... tough. My mum made the point that this is not actually what the word “reserve” means.
In the case of my laundry basket, the customer service lady speculated that whoever did the stock check probably noticed that the item I’d ordered wasn’t there, but had decided to substitute a similar one of equal value. But, I said, the website asked for my contact details when I ordered, purely so that Dunelm would be able to give me information about my order. What was the point of my handing over my personal info if they couldn’t tell me something important like “We’re going to give you a completely different item”? And what was the point of giving me that wretched collection code if it isn’t used for anything?
Dunelm’s Reserve & Collect service falls into the category of “worse than useless”. Reserving an item makes absolutely no difference to your chances of buying said item. You still have to go to the shop and take your chances on whether or not it’s in stock, just as you would if you’d turned up to the shop on a whim. That’s the “useless” bit. But you also have to jump through hoops: providing your personal details, ensuring you visit the shop within three days of “reserving”, writing down a pointless “collection code”, queueing up at the customer service counter. Deliberately wasting all that time and energy is the bit that makes it worse than useless.
The staff at the Cardiff store were excellent, but they were no match for a system that ensured they couldn’t help however much they wanted to. Tellingly, the woman behind the desk actually asked me to complain to head office. She said that the failing Reserve & Collect system has been causing lots of problems and that it might help to get it fixed if more customers complained. She gave me a card with the number of the complaints line. I won’t be ringing it, though – it’s an 0845 number, which means that many phone providers will charge you to ring it. (Using an 0845 number for complaints is a sure sign that you don’t really want to listen to any.)
Naturally, when my husband slagged them off on Twitter they were quick to respond. But that’s just boring old Twitterwashing, trying to get complaints out of the public domain and into a nice private DM chat, or maybe a phone call where the customer can be ignored and pay for the privilege.
Of course, attempts to get complaints out of the public domain are like a red rag to a bull for me. That’s why I’ve written the full story here for the world to read.