Published On: Tue, Oct 23rd, 2018

The Bay is doing better at customer service but still has a way to go

“Hudson’s Bay Co. needs to improve service,” is the headline of a column I wrote on Feb. 27, 2015. People keep finding it when doing an online search.

“The Bay is trying to turn things around,” I said at the time. “I can see it in the elaborate apologies my readers receive when they reach the right level. If only it were easier for customers to escalate complaints, I’d be happy.”

The Bay has improved its ability to handle customer complaints, writes Ellen Roseman, but after 349 years in business it should be doing better still.
The Bay has improved its ability to handle customer complaints, writes Ellen Roseman, but after 349 years in business it should be doing better still.  (NATHAN DENETTE / THE CANADIAN PRESS file photo)

Things do seem better. No longer do I get daily complaints from HBC customers whose online orders didn’t show up or whose packages contained mystery items they didn’t choose.

But I still hear from people whose stories sound depressingly familiar. Take Jack Jordan’s email with the subject line: “HBC poor customer service article of 2015, four years later and still a problem.”

Jordan ordered Vincent Teo shirts, advertised at $ 110.74. He paid via PayPal, but later found a charge of $ 149.10 on his credit card statement.

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PayPal said HBC had charged him $ 110.74 in U.S. dollars, which was converted to $ 149.10 (Canadian).

He found that calling HBC’s main customer service number or head office numbers did not resolve the billing issue. Emails asking to speak to a supervisor or manager were ignored.

I forwarded his email to HBC spokeswoman Tiffany Bourre. A few days later, he got an apology from Executive Services at HBC/Lord and Taylor (a U.S. retail affiliate).

“The amount charged to your PayPal account for the order was $ 110.74. As we are a Canadian company, we do not charge a U.S. dollar amount,” said the agent. “For all the frustration and time this has caused you, I have submitted to have a $ 30 refund sent back to your PayPal account as a one-time courtesy.”

I found this confusing. He was out of pocket by $ 38.36 in Canadian dollars. Why offer him a $ 30 refund, unless it was quoted in U.S. dollars?

Jordan pressed on. He felt HBC’s response did not deal with the communication issues he highlighted.

“Submitting an email on the website, you get an auto-response from someone who is not trained to deal with the issue and who refuses to escalate the problem or allow you to speak to a supervisor or manager. It’s obvious this is all intentional HBC policy to limit and ignore customers.”

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Three days later, HBC wrote back to Jordan. I called it a textbook case of an excellent recovery.

“We have voided out the charge ($ 110.74) for the order in full as our gift to you to let you know we do sincerely care about our customers and their experiences shopping with us. We cannot apologize enough for your experience.”

Customers are HBC’s top priority, Tiffany Bourre said in a written statement.

“We aim to make each customer experience memorable and positive, including reaching customer service support easily,” she said.

Other complaints I received this fall from frustrated Bay shoppers:

  • “I think I am invisible. Can you help?” asked Diana Bartlett.

She wanted a refund on the Total Guard Protection plan ($ 79.99) purchased for her Marshall mattress after her cat peed on it during a heat wave. She bought stuff from the vet when she could not reach anyone at the Bay.

“If the Bay won’t contact me to start the process, the protection service is useless.”

HBC executive services offered $ 50 in compensation for Bartlett’s inconvenience once I got involved. Even better, it gave a phone number and email address for Zucora (Total Guard) that she could use in future in case the retailer was unavailable.

  • Judy Davidson also had trouble getting a refund. “I have contacted Hudson’s Bay four times now, and although I have been promised a solution three times, I have lost faith in their commitment to customer service and fear this will be an ongoing battle,” she said.

After hearing from an HBC store manager about another matter already resolved, she explained her current problem and said she had written to me.

“Within 36 hours, I received two emails with profuse apologies from the manager and also from Executive Services,” she said. “My entire order was refunded with a promise of the missing item to be shipped ASAP at no charge.

“I am confident that including your name, which I am sure HBC is only too aware of, was instrumental in getting such a satisfying and quick result.”

So, here is my advice.

  • Double-check your credit card statements if you use Paypal for an HBC purchase. I found an online complaint almost identical to Jordan’s from the same time period (late September).
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau, which closed 235 complaints filed by HBC customers in the past three years (including 82 in the past year). You can find 53 customer reviews posted online, with an average rating of 1.5 out of 5 stars.

The BBB gives Hudson’s Bay Co. a C+ rating (on a scale of A to F) because five complaints were not resolved and one complaint did not receive a response. There’s also an unresolved legal action by the Competition Bureau about alleged deceptive marketing practices involving mattresses and sleep sets.

  • My view: HBC must set up a proper escalation process. As Canada’s oldest retailer with 349 years in business, it may not have a future unless it can assist customers without an outside intervention.

Ellen Roseman is a columnist based in Toronto covering consumer affairs. Reach her on email: eroseman@thestar.ca.

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The Bay is doing better at customer service but still has a way to go