My Wish List for A Happy E-Holiday

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Santa, I want to give you my wish list for the season far in advance so I can be sure I get the items I need for myself and my loved ones.


Though online and offline retailers tell me their top priority is to get me through their doors (or home page) and on to finding items of interest quickly and easily, my needs go far beyond simplicity of use and effective navigation. You see, though I enjoy the convenience of online shopping, I have had those elements provided for me for years now, and frankly, Santa, I need more this year.


Inventory monitoring. First things first, Santa. As I am pressed for time this holiday season as always, I am visiting a retailer's site with the intent of checking my options, making a purchase and getting out. Remember, I have grown accustomed to visiting the shelves of my favorite offline merchants where I can determine availability. I don't want to waste my time. What frustrates me most is going through the process of purchasing gifts, only to discover elsewhere in the process that the retailer is out of stock.


Instead, I want to be able to monitor a merchant's inventory in real time to ensure availability before I go through with the purchase. If, by chance, Santa, a merchant does run out of that item before it ships my package, please have the merchant tell me immediately and give me the option of a full refund if I don't receive the item on time. When merchants don't do this, I feel they don't respect my time or patronage.


Real-time order and shipment status. Another thing, Santa. Since I want to know when I can expect my much-anticipated gift, it is vital that the merchant provide me with the ability to check the status of the shipment in real time -- from the time my order is entered, to the time it arrives in my hands. I know merchants have the ability to do this. I myself have sampled the direct access that United Parcel Service and other freight services provide; help me help myself by sharing this all-important information.


Furthermore, please have merchants keep me up-to-date with periodic e-mail updates. I find this information reassuring. Better yet, how about answering my e-mails? (It's hard to believe that, according to the GartnerGroup, Stamford, CT, only 28 percent of online companies acknowledge e-mail inquiries; that's just rude.) After all, my goal is to be a hero in the eyes (and hearts) of my loved ones this holiday season; merchants can help me achieve this goal. The ones that don't support me are the ones I won't do business with, nor will I recommend them in the future; in fact, I am happy to tell the world what their service is really like.


Returns process and policies. Finally, while I hope my loved ones will appreciate and enjoy my gift, I have long grown accustomed to simply returning my gift to the physical store should that not be the case. I expect the same treatment from online retailers. A simple return from my online merchant should include: the ability to call someone who can be sympathetic to my needs and help me with the return process; retrieval of the package at my address of choice (sometimes it is more convenient to have it picked up at my office rather than at home); and instant credit to my credit card once the package is returned to the merchant's warehouse (please don't allow the merchant to hold my money for weeks or months because it is disorganized). Lastly, don't let the merchant give me the third degree because I decide to return the item.


For those retailers that operate both online and offline, allow me to return my online purchase to one of its physical stores. I don't care if the retailer's system does not allow it to do this -- it is the same company, isn't it?


One final wish, dear Santa. Most importantly, Santa, forget all the hype, lip service and lack of substance. I need convenient, reliable and responsive sources for my needs this holiday season. Ones that can help me resolve my problems and not hide behind a cyber curtain. Ones that can make full use of the speed on the Internet and process my needs quickly. Ones that are integrated across all customer touch points.


Maybe, if I can accomplish this, I will return to these special merchants time and again for my future needs, holiday season or not.


P.S. Please find a glass of milk and your favorite cookies on the small table by the front door!


• Ed Hinde is vice president of consumer marketing at eCustomers Inc., Austin, TX. Reach him at ehinde@ecustomers.com.
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