Canadians Holiday Shopping Online, 2014: Which Retailers Made The Grade?

By Sally Seston and Vicky Applebaum

It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it: we went holiday shopping online so that we could report back on which retailers made the Naughty and Nice lists this year. We graded retailers on the following criteria:

  • Click-to-order
  • Consumer communication
  • Delivery

Find out here who made the grade and why!


Click-to-order: We ordered a single item. This was an order placed on from Canada, to be shipped to a U.S. address.  While many American shopping sites won’t allow a cross-border purchase because they require a U.S. billing address, we were able to circumvent this by using PayPal, which had our Canadian address in its files. The website navigation was easy to use and checkout was fast.

Consumer communication: We received notification of shipping the same day, less than eight hours after the order was processed. E-mail communication was prompt and clear, with a simple link to track the package.

Delivery: The order shipped and arrived within five business days.

Final Grade: A


Click-to-order: We ordered a physical gift card. These were very easy to shop on the site, which also carried a very broad selection of designs. This was another order placed from Canada on an American shopping site, paid via PayPal.

Customer communication: It took two business days for to confirm that the order was shipping, which we found surprising, given the nature of the item we had ordered.

Delivery: The item shipped via USPS standard mail so, tracking was not possible.

Final Grade: B+


Click-to-order: We ordered 3 items.  The online descriptions did not accurately reflect the items.  For example, we ordered what we’d believed to be a wool skirt but received a wool knit instead.  This was not specified in the item description, nor was it clear from the images. Checkout was simple.  We were given the option of a gift box, but there was an extra charge for this.

Customer communication: As soon as the order was processed, we were notified that it would be split into two shipments (although no reason was given). Communication from order through delivery was excellent.

Delivery: The order was split into 2 shipments.  While we had labelled the items as gifts, they still arrived with price labels intact.  Returns can be made in store or by mail.  Return by mail is free (customer needs to take the package to a UPS location).

Final Grade: C

The Children’s Place

Click-to-order: Navigation seemed easy but became difficult when we wanted to add items into our cart.  We chose ‘outfits’ which were shown online as an outfit of 3 or more items, but each item had to be ordered individually.  We had added 2 of the 3 items into our basket when we learned that the 3rd item was 100% out of stock (no sizes at all).  Order processing was smooth and the product arrived promptly. The product definitely matched the online pictures and descriptions.

Customer communication: Overall communication was great and products were described as shown.

Delivery: Returns are easy by mail and can be dropped off at US Postal Service location.

Final Grade: B+


Click-to-order: In Canada, we ordered two items. The first item was a custom pet tag. The second order was a plate.

Customer communication: For the first item, we did not receive any direct, personal communication from the vendor, which we found surprising, given the nature of Etsy. While response times for small artisans vary depending on their time zones, most customers will still expect the same level of prompt service that they receive from a large retailer.

Delivery: The first item was shipped by Canada Post and took four days to fulfill and about five business days to ship. The second order was trickier to deliver. The artisan was located just a 20-minute drive away, but on its page, quoted a $25 shipping fee, which was more than half the price of the item. When we contacted the artisan to ask if we could pick up, she instead offered to deliver it for $10 via a driver, and the item was delivered within three days.

For an independent merchant selling larger items on Etsy, shipping charges are clearly going to be the biggest hurdle to overcome since major retailers offer free or nominal shipping. The consumer has to be willing to make the trade-off between hand-made with expensive shipping, and mass-produced but shipped for free.

Final Grade: B


Click-to-order: We placed an order for two versions of photo calendars which we created in iTunes and ordered within minutes of each other.  The two orders showed as separate orders and there was no way to combine them into one.  There was no visible option to send each calendar to a different address.  As they were purchased as gifts, this would have been a nice option.

Customer communication:  Because photo calendars are a custom product, Apple does not allow returns.  In the past, there have been checks to ensure that you were 100% happy with what you’d created – e.g. Apple notified you if any photos were too low quality.  Since they didn’t offer that this time (and the end result suggests that we might have benefitted from it!), we were stuck with a product that could have been better.

Delivery: Both orders were scheduled for a December 16-18 delivery, but one arrived December 11 and the other was still pending as of December 17.

Final Grade: D

Best Buy

Click-to-order: We ordered an iPad Mini from the Canadian shopping site. We wanted to pick up the item at our local store. When browsing the item, we were told there was inventory in stock at our store, so we placed the order, expecting to be able to pick it up the next day.

Customer communication: The next morning, we received an e-mail notifying us that the order was cancelled because there was no stock in-store, and that we had to place an order online for home delivery if we still wanted it, however, the item was also on backorder online.

Delivery: While they were able to ship the product 3 days later, this didn’t feel like it made up for the initial letdown. Best Buy had set a level of expectation and we feel they had completely dropped the ball.  We had the exact same experience when shopping on the U.S. site for a camera, so Best Buy has some work to do on supply chain visibility.

Final Grade: D

E-commerce has come a long way since its inception and the customer experience has evolved over time. There are higher expectations of retailers now: customers want their goods fast and shipped for free. Hiccups in the process – such as out-of-stock notification after the order has been processed – detract from the experience.

Remember: you can do ten things right, but if you get one thing wrong, the negative impression will always linger for longer.

While it seems very obvious, it doesn’t appear that all retailers have framed the online customer experience around the customer. This points to the importance of rigorous user testing and building every single interaction around the question “What would our customer want?”

Sally Seston is a Director with Retail Category Consultants Inc., where she is involved in a variety of projects to drive sales growth and build loyalty for retail clients.  A seasoned retail executive with over 20 years of experience, she has held several senior leadership positions with major Canadian retailers, having risen through the ranks of the merchant organization.

Prior to joining Retail Category Consultants, she led marketing, business improvement and innovation initiatives for Loblaw Companies Limited.  Her career there started in 1992 when she joined the Category Management Team. She holds a Masters Business Administration (MBA) from the Ivey Business School at the University of Western Ontario and a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Computer Science from Queen’s University.  A sought after speaker, Sally has presented at many conferences throughout North America. In addition, Sally is a member of the Advisory Board for the Payments Exchange.  With little sleep and much humour, Sally juggles three children and life split between homes in Canada and the US.

Vicky Applebaum is a consultant with Retail Category Consultants Inc. and helps clients develop and implement retail strategy, marketing and innovation projects.  Vicky has over 15 years of progressive retail experience in Canada in multiple disciplines.

Her experience includes advertising and merchandising at Loblaw Companies, and marketing, merchandising and category management with Shoppers Drug Mart.  Her love for all things marketing also led her to work on the agency side and in independent consulting in advertising, event marketing, direct marketing, new product launches and loyalty.Born in Montreal, Quebec, Vicky holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing) from Concordia University.  She and her husband live with their daughter in Richmond Hill, Ontario where they operate a rental moving box business,

Today's Retail News From Around The Web: January 9, 2015