Equestrian Blog

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Mostly Smooth Sale-ing

As you’re probably aware, we’ve been rather occupied this week by the effects of our Winter Sale, which started last Tuesday (15th). In recent years, we’ve become better able to harness the power of the internet to ensure that as many people as possible get a fair chance to order the products they want. Even so, this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds – as I shall explain. But first, let me tell you about our very first experience of running a Sale. At retail.
In a store, a Sale is a fairly straightforward, basic, proposition. There, each customer takes up physical space so we can only fit so many people in a shop at once. As this is Britain, a Sale is an invitation to queue patiently but it’s not quite true to say that has always been the case. In days gone by, there have been a few instances of ‘I saw it first’ physical confrontation and what I should euphemistically call ‘jostling’ over some bargain or another. Opening Day Internal
In the world of mail order, two fundamental problems have always needed to be addressed in order to hold a successful Sale. First, in order to stimulate the calls, we needed to produce a catalogue of some form or other - which immediately creates the potential to increase the problems of the stock-out. Unlike in retail, a picture of a product in a catalogue is a promise on our part that we have it waiting for you. If we then sell out of that product, the catalogue doesn’t remove it from your view and because you can still see it, you still expect (understandably) our promise to be fulfilled. If we can’t deliver on our promise, you feel let down. The lesson we learned was that if we’re going to use catalogues to spark your interest, we also have to accept our obligation not to disappoint you. WS09 cover
We were also for many years lumbered with the wholly unsatisfactory ‘solution’ of the telephone. In those days, our routine for handling Sale demand was simple: we crammed as many people onto the phones as we could. The calls came at us like a tidal wave and we dealt with as many as we could. We knew it was difficult for customers to get through because those who did get through told us so - but because we had no idea of the scale of that problem, it was difficult to think of it as something we could really do anything about.
Of course, the lack of call-handling clarity was the same for customers too so in many ways, very little had changed since the late 70’s and the disappointment I had felt because my calls never got through to ‘Swap Shop’. I saw the answered calls on TV but I never saw the thousands of kids trying to get through. Everything told me my call should get through but I had to work out for myself why it wasn’t happening. swapshop
In the first year of our 0870 number, we had access to statistics which showed us just how many calls we didn’t answer – and that number scared us silly. Even when we found that on average, customers make ten attempts each (call, engaged tone, hang up, redial button, engaged tone, hang up, redial button, engaged tone… etc.) it still provided little solace. We all asked ourselves: what must people think of us? Thankfully, the internet was just about to ride to our rescue. We weren’t able to gear up a call centre big enough to deal with the demands we could only put on it once or twice each year. There are even today loads of companies who offer to ‘contract out our call handling capability’ (answer the phones for us and place the order on our system - for a fee) but whose operators wouldn’t know one end of a horse from another. We needed a proper website to handle the demand we had generated and we got one just at the right time. Of course, that’s not the end of the story – it’s more like the beginning. Now we have the capability to handle more orders in a day than we ever could, it’s only natural that we attempt to make our Sales bigger and better every year. Every website has a capacity but unlike with a shop, it can usually be increased by buying more servers and other such boxes with twinkly lights to live in our IT room. There are other ways, unglamorous but necessary techniques to ‘optimise’ our site, keeping file sizes to a minimum and sometimes switching off customer service lookups like ‘people who bought this item also bought the following’ as a means of helping the site to deal with as many customers at a time as it can. In a few short years, such considerations have grown in importance from being little more than an afterthought to almost a science in its own right. Also – and I must acknowledge this point – it would be misleading for me to give the impression that with all our recent technological progress, we now get everything else right all the time. We are not immune today from making mistakes in our product selection, misjudging the quantities to buy and therefore selling out too soon (which is I hope more forgivable) or occasionally not even getting the product here in time (which I agree is less forgivable). With every Sale, we gain more experience and by and large, we use it to do what we can to make the next one better. Whenever we fail to live up to your expectations, please believe me when I say that we are as disappointed as you are. It is of no advantage to us to disappoint customers and it’s always a source of regret.
It may be helpful for me to give you an idea of the scale of the demand we can attract - and must service - these days: You could take every individual who has visited our site in the nine days since Saturday 13th December – the day our Sale reminder email went out – and between them, they would fill Wembley Stadium. Modesty prevents me from quoting specifics but you’re welcome to find out here what kind of number that relates to. New Wembley Nov 06
I would defy any other equestrian retailer to come anywhere close to attracting that level of interest in so short a period of time and it’s just as impressive to me because last year, we ‘only’ managed a ‘Millennium Stadium’ figure! What’s just as important is that we live up to our delivery promises too. For the last two Winter Sales, we’ve stated that we would ensure all orders placed by 7:00pm of the first day of the Sale would be delivered in time for Christmas. Since the Sale began, it’s been great to read comments on our Facebook page and on the chatrooms that show just how much we’ve been able to impress customers with our speed and our service.  As always, I would say to anyone expressing dissatisfaction with us on chatrooms to contact us directly as well - we'll always do what we can to help. As I type, I can confirm that all these orders have left our building and should be with you in time for the big day. We have certainly done all we could do to give our couriers enough time to deliver for Christmas - ordinarily. I only hesitate slightly because I’ve just seen more weather warnings for parts of the UK. I very much hope that the wintry weather does not disrupt the delivery services and if it does, that customers accept that this was a factor outside of our control. Anyway, I hope your Sale experience was a good one. I apologise for the slow running of the site in the first few hours. We think we know why it happened and we’ll do all we can to ensure we can handle that level of traffic better in future. If you ordered last Tuesday, you should have it by now or tomorrow at worst. If you were less than impressed, please let us know by emailing customer.service@robinsons-uk.com but whatever your experience, thank you as ever for your interest in Robinsons and for reading this rather lengthy blog. From everyone here to everyone out there, have a wonderful Christmas and a happy, horsey, New Year!

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