GardenSite's senior partner Robert Hall explains the actions we're taking in order to beat the challenges surrounding Covid-19 as well as handy information for customers who are still awaiting the delivery of their order during these unprecedented times.
Let’s be honest, nobody really saw it coming or could predict how it would impact us all. Coronavirus became Covid-19 and is now referred to as C-19. A tiny word, with massive implications. But medicine is not what I do, so I will move on quickly. Retailing greenhouses, sheds and thousands of garden related products online is. And I can only write about what I know.
‘Where’s my greenhouse?’ ‘You have had my money for weeks.’ ‘What shocking customer service, I will be posting everywhere’. This is some of what I know as the senior partner at GardenSite and these are some of the questions I need to answer. When Boris Johnson initiated the lockdown in March and advised us all to shop online wherever we could it was the start of the ‘perfect storm’ for online garden related websites such as GardenSite. The weather turned beautiful; we could only go into our own gardens, if we were lucky enough to have one; and the over 70’s were advised even more strongly to self-isolate. Many decided that a new greenhouse would enable them to have a pastime in the garden that would also produce fresh produce and keep themselves both occupied and healthy. As ever, the British public were being very smart. And they went online to order during those spring months which are always the peak time in our greenhouse selling season.
Just as the British public are smart, so too are our UK based greenhouse manufacturers, suppliers and importers. The shelves were full at the start of the new season but they could not have anticipated the tsunami of sales that was to hit them. And that wave kept on coming as lockdown tightened. Transportation, especially in a two man delivery scenario, became very difficult or near impossible. The backlog quickly built up and the orders in the system soon swamped a whole season’s available stock in a few short weeks. At GardenSite we were working 7 days a week to process our orders through to the manufacturers and the manufacturers were receiving orders from dozens of online retailers.
To put a greenhouse on the shelf and have it ready to sell you need dozens of different parts from many different manufacturers, many of whom are in the Far East. Greenhouses are not bought in as finished products; the various components are supplied by different suppliers across two continents. Different parts, such as bases, also fit multiple different greenhouse models. Just one delay from one supplier can prevent an entire range of greenhouses from being delivered to our end-users
And, of course, their factories had been shut down in the East before C-19 and lockdown impacted in the West. Orders were placed, but replacement stock was never going to be available quickly. The thrill of the initial sales for all in the supply chains was quickly replaced with the responsibility of being able to fulfil our obligations to our customers in a timely manner and communicate properly when we couldn’t.
Lead times on page were quickly amended to reflect what was the new reality and 14 days became 28 days, became 40 days and in some cases became 30 weeks!
We quickly put up a Live Updates' page that was highlighted on a banner across all pages and contained up to date information as it came in from all our suppliers. This page is still live today and can be seen here: /help/ordering/let-us-deliver/
As you might imagine our customers, many who had spent a lot of money, called us. With our Customer Care team working from their homes internal communication was difficult, at best, as the phones simply rang constantly. We had to turn them off and ask for customers to email in so they could be dealt with on a rotational basis and we received hundreds and hundreds of emails every day. The pressure was very intense. Mental well being became an issue.
And I want to thank all of the staff and Partners that worked throughout the lockdown, and when asked, for their unreserved support towards the company but also to our customers, who, of course, make the company.
It is now late July and I am very proud of the way GardenSite has been coping but I am also aware that there are hundreds of customers that have not received their goods on time, that have found it difficult to communicate with us and are concerned that they have paid out their money and received nothing back.
And it is that concern that has driven me to write this blog to try and explain how the situation has evolved and how we are dealing with your order and your money. The greenhouse analogy is just one area of the garden supplies market that we are involved in but it is the most extreme example in microcosm. Garden furniture, sheds, BBQ’s, aquatics, fencing and garden ornaments are just a few of the other areas we specialise in. GardenSite sells well over 12,000 products through hundreds of suppliers - some of them are national and international brands whilst others are small independents, and many in between.
Our phones are now turned back on (0333 305 5440) and our Customer Care team (firstname.lastname@example.org) are back together in their offices and most of the customers that are reaching out to us are getting a timely reply. We are also starting to update individual customers where we are able to get realistic delivery times on their outstanding orders.
I sometimes wish we were selling CD’s or books as they are either on the shelf or not and can be dispatched quickly, but our supply chain is often quite long before it ends with the delivery guy knocking on your front door. And more links in the chain means the more likely that one of them may be weak. We are aware of this, we are certainly not perfect, and we have made mistakes - I state that quite openly.
As a company we are also aware that we have seen a massive increase in sales during the lockdown and we quickly decided that we would donate a percentage of sales generated by our customers to the NHS. This enabled us to raise £25,000.00 which we donated to NHS Charities Together at the end of June.
I want to thank our customers who bought from us during this time for driving the figure so high. We are proud to make that donation as a company on behalf of all that supported us.
You can read more here:
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I am not going to deny or defend these across the board. Some of them are a true reflection of how the customer felt he or she was treated. We constantly monitor our customer feedback and after trading online since 1999 our reviews have been very positive. We were early advocates of putting our Trustpilot score high on our home page. Our average was always “Excellent”
That has tumbled since lockdown. If you analyze the reviews since then by far the vast majority are either 4 or 5 stars or 1 star as people’s opinions have become polarized. Failed deliveries; damaged goods that could not be collected quickly; no delivery date scheduled and a lack of communication are all factors that will result in a sense of fear and frustration that manifests itself in the 1-star review. Some of our Customer Care team have had their names splashed across social media with some very inexcusable accusations.
We do reply to reviewers sometimes, but not since lockdown as we are concentrating all our energies into getting the lines of communication open. Replying to 1-star reviews, we have found through experience, can also lead to another round of accusations and become a forum and playground for anger and threats.
I will simply say we have never had legal action taken against us and all of our customer complaints are dealt with to a conclusion. You can see our Trustpilot reviews here: https://uk.trustpilot.com/review/www.gardensite.co.uk
So, what do you do if you have an order from GardenSite that has not been fulfilled? Go back to the product page that you ordered from and confirm the advertised lead time. If that has passed either phone us or drop us an email stating your order number. In most instances, email is better as we may need to revert to a supplier so can’t always give an instant reply on the phone. Most cases are resolved in this manner.
If you are not satisfied and your goods are not in transit you can, of course, request a refund. This would need to be in writing (email) and we will confirm with the supplier and then cancel your order and your money will be refunded.
It is worth highlighting that many goods are on Pre-order, so aren’t even in the country yet, but if you placed and paid for your order it will be allocated to stock and assigned to you when it arrives. By cancelling and going to another online retailer you will be simply going to the back of the queue again as they will simply process your order in a similar way.
How do I know my money is safe with GardenSite whilst I wait? The bottom line is that no company can give you that guarantee as it is always a leap of faith when spending online. And we all know of some very large companies that are presently struggling or have disappeared. However, GardenSite has a public showroom that is open 7 days a week in Sutton Coldfield at B73 5BD so you can always walk in and see for yourselves. We are a thriving family business with a physical garden centre, aquatic superstore and restaurant under the name of Hall’s Garden Supplies that has been trading since 1952.
The responsibility that I and my business partners have to our staff and our customers is there to be seen.
Thank you for your patience during these unprecedented times for us all. If you have been affected by delayed goods I hope by being so transparent that it restores some of your faith not only in us, but also in our suppliers and our industry. Thank you all.
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