Christmas, Don't Be Late: A Target Shopper's Tale Of Woe

It's just like Bob Ross says - you have to have darkness in order to show light. The truth is you never really appreciate how good something is until you experience the complete polar opposite. That's particularly true with my recent (and at the time of this writing, still ongoing) experience with ordering a holiday gift from Target.com.

Our household has been an Amazon Prime household for a few years now, and it's almost now become one of those things that just exists in the background and you never really think about it. What? We need more of _____? Just order it from Amazon. We order it, and two days later, it just shows up. In the few years since we've had Amazon Prime, I can count the number of times on one hand where there was a hiccup or slight delay in that equation, and I'd still have most of my fingers left over.

We've also been a pretty loyal Target household for a long time. You could probably say they're the brick-and-morter ying to Amazon's yang, at least as far as our household is concerned. For as much as we buy on Amazon, we buy more at Target. We always without fail buy our diapers there because of their gift card specials, and I'm a pretty religious Cartwheel mobile app user.

So let's fast forward to this Christmas, and the story of the big, marquee centerpiece gift I intended to get for my wife. As I'm writing this before Christmas and before said item has arrived, I can't refer to it by name. But this is an item that behooved me to price shop for the best deal, and it just so happened that Target.com had a good enough deal to get me to pull the trigger on it. This particular deal brought together a sale price, a percent-off coupon, a $15 promotional gift card with a minimum purchase, and the 5% savings by using our Target Red Card. It really was the best deal I've probably ever put together on a gift in my life.

I don't mean to beat this saying to death, but I really could count on one hand the number of times in the past five years that I ordered something from Target's website. Their pricing is sporadically good enough to warrant a purchase there, but either I can price match that item in store or Amazon has similar pricing and the free 2-day shipping of Prime makes it a close call. This time around the item wasn't one they stock in store, and they were also offering free standard shipping because of using the Red Card.

So on December 14th, I pulled the trigger. The estimated delivery date fell between the 19th and 22nd, which was perfectly acceptable. I had even thought to myself that even if there happened to be a delay, it would still probably be here in time for Christmas. The order was placed, the obligatory confirmation email arrived and all seemed well in the world.

Now once you have Amazon Prime for a little while, any time an item doesn't ship within 12 or so hours after you order, you get a little twitchy. I mean, it's 2016 and this is just how e-commerce is supposed to work, right? Two days later and Friday came, and I got worried, but hopeful. I've had Amazon ship something on a Saturday before, and it is the Christmas season, so I'm sure Target's elves are on it, right?

Then I check the status of my order late in the day on Friday. I won't admit how many times I had checked the status of my order at this point, but it's a shameful number. It was still stuck at "preparing for shipment," to which I thought to myself that this is going to come in one fine and dandy box if it's been preparing for two whole days now. Amazon may stuff a watch battery in a box the size of a child's sandbox for no discernable reason, but at least it gets to my door two days later without fail. Upon checking the status again, the estimated delivery date shifted to "between Thursday December 22nd and Monday, December 26th." That's it. Christmas is canceled.

Come Monday, the different stages of grief began to set in. Denial - of course this is just a mistake, after all, Target wouldn't ruin Christmas! Anger - how the fudge does it take five days to stick one in-stock item in a box and put it on a UPS truck? Bargaining - maybe if I called and asked them nicely, they'd expedite things and save Christmas! Depression - this is my fault for ordering something from Target in the first place when Amazon's product page says "Arrives Before Christmas" right there in bold green letters! As for acceptance, that one came via my wife who says she could care less whether it comes late.

Tuesday morning (today) I woke up with an email from Target. Just when I thought redemption was at hand, I read the subject line, "Your order has been delayed." The e-mail inside read:

We just found out about an unexpected delay that affects your order placed on 12/14/2016.

We're sorry, but we may not be able to deliver your item(s) by the estimated delivery date you received with your original order.

If you still want your item(s), you will need to approve the new estimated delivery date(s) by visiting your order detail page. We will do our best to fulfill the delayed item(s) from your order, but if we can't, we will let you know as soon as possible.

If we don't hear from you, your item(s) will be canceled. You may also visit your order detail page to cancel item(s) if they are backordered or if you no longer want them.

Remember, you will not be charged for any item until it ships. If items need to ship separately, your shipping charges will not increase.

Thanks for shopping at Target.
Team Target

Let's take that one piece at a time. First of all, they did not just find out about a delay, as the estimated shipping date changed in their system late in the previous week. Secondly, it tells me to go affirm on their website whether I still want the item. I guess there's a larger-than-usual contingent of people who order stuff online right before the holiday not caring whether it ever shows up. The thing is, I go to their website and nowhere on my account or my order page does it give me any options to indicate I still want the item. So I guess that means that since I didn't explicitly give them the go-ahead to continue delaying my shipment, they're just going to forget about it altogether now? That's capital-T terrific.

What's even worse is this email indicates that the item in my order that's delayed (until Thursday the 22nd) is the e-mail deliverable promotional $15 gift card, an item that's not supposed to send until after the gift item ships. So does this mean that mean that I'm to believe that the gift itself will ship on the 22nd, or that Target is the first company in Internet history to run out of stock on intangible products like an e-mail deliverable gift card?

So against my better judgement, I decide to call the 800 number the website gives for contacting them about my order. While sitting on hold for ten minutes, I was silently chanting repeatedly in my head, "please give me someone who knows what they're talking about." That wasn't to be the case. I was expecting a little more of Target, but I ended up with the standard-issue call center drone from God only knows where. I say that not because of something discernable like an accent (and there definitely was one). I say that because this person - who I admit was a lovely human whose only fault is being sadly ill-prepared for any customer service function by Target itself - had absolutely zero information that I couldn't already glean from Target's bare-bones, useless website order summary. It was literally ten minutes of talking to someone who was literally reading off the same screen I was looking at, and who was clearly powerless to add any new useful information to the conversation or move things along. In fact, the only new information they could give me when prompted was that the item is indeed in-stock, which is something I could also see myself on the item's page on Target.com.

So, that's where I sit today, December 20th, six days after ordering this Christmas gift on Target.com. I find myself living the last few days of the Christmas season with one twitchy finger on an Amazon cart, waiting for Target to pull out a last minute save.  Each time I go back to Target's website to check my order status - which is still an embarrassing number of times in a day - I see a big fat banner across the homepage saying if I order something by 4 PM on December 21st, I can get it by standard shipping by December 23rd. I sit and look at that and feel sorry for all the other people who place orders at Target.com in the next 28 hours and wonder what they'll tell their loved ones when Santa doesn't come until the next business day after Christmas. I mean, really, how does it take a professional e-commerce retailer with the name, size and reputation of Target

I mean, really, how does it take a professional e-commerce retailer with the name, size and reputation of Target six freakin' days (or more, because who knows at this point) to pick an item, box it and get it on a damn truck? In an age where Amazon can get something to my doorstep two days later even when I order it late at night, and deliver it on a Sunday by honest-to-God US Postal Service carriers, and give me the entire series of The Sopranos to watch on-demand while I'm waiting - what's Target's excuse?

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