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Web 1, CompUSA 0

Several months ago I wrote about how the Web has changed customer/retailer relations. At that time I was speaking about a mattress company, but the last week has seen something similar take place, this time involving CompUSA.

Terry Heaton, a CompUSA customer and a blogger, made an entry in his very popular PoMo blog on June 2 regarding a digital camera purchase he had made. It seems the factory-sealed box he received at a CompUSA store was empty, but he did not realize this until some time after he took the item home. The blog entries on the days following June 2 are very interesting, but even more so is the reaction to Heaton’s plight on the Web.

His blog received hundreds of comments and his story eventually spread to where Heaton’s photo was placed on the homepage.

Read through all the blog entries. This case should put the fear of the customer in every retailer for two reasons.

First, Heaton’s analysis of the situation is dead on. For better or worse, the Web can act as the ultimate arbiter for what is right or wrong. Retailers should be prepared and not send off a standard missive to deal with customer complaints because you never know where they will end up. Actually, we do know where it will appear: on the Web.

Heaton did say he was somewhat surprised that many people wrote to him saying he was trying to pull a fast one over on CompUSA. With all the illegal activity the Web has spawned, I would say his reaction was naïve, although nobody enjoys having their honor questioned.

Second, retailers must learn to differentiate between scams and true customer problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if a dozen people have emailed CompUSA saying they too have received empty boxes.

I don’t envy any retailer stuck in this position. One must either cave in to the lies and lose money or make a stand and possibly suffer a public drubbing.