The Secret Shopper finds warehouse shelves only half full

In the last days before Christmas, CATALOG AGE’s Secret Shopper called 20 catalogers to order 60 items. Thirty-five of the desired items, or 58%, were in stock. That’s not much of a change from holiday 2000, when 56% of The Secret Shopper’s requested products were in stock, though down somewhat from holiday 1999, when 66% were available.

Among the catalogers contacted, only women’s apparel marketer Boston Proper had none of the requested items in stock. Women’s apparel cataloger/retailer Coldwater Creek, food gifts mailer Harry & David, apparel marketer J. Crew, healthy-lifestyle products cataloger Living Arts, and gifts title Terry’s Village were the only companies that had all the requested items available for Christmas delivery.

In terms of customer service, reps at Coldwater Creek, upscale gifts catalog Herrington, apparel and home goods catalog Lands’ End, and high-end gifts catalog Vivre were especially deserving of kudos (and holiday bonuses). Not so the customer service rep at storage products marketer Hold Everything. “We don’t have none of those” was her response to one Secret Shopper request. When asked, “Is it out of stock?” she replied, “We don’t show any available or none in stock.”

And the order-taker at gifts and home products marketer Martha by Mail put The Secret Shopper on hold for six minutes while she tried to hunt the status of a pizza kit. Worse, when the rep returned, she didn’t apologize for not having the product or for the long hold time.