dealing with customers who are upset about a high shipping fee on their order

This is slightly different than the questions I usually tackle here, in that it’s much more about customer service, but I thought it was interesting. A reader writes:

I have been searching all over the internet for an answer to a customer service challenge that I’m running into, and all I find are generic responses. Yes, I know you must be empathetic and fully engaged with the customer, while also listening intently and patiently to the customer’s explanation of their experience in order to come up with the best solution to handle the situation at hand. However, I am more interested in the professional verbiage more than the individual steps. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment it can be hard to articulate yourself to the customer if their demands are more than you can meet, after exhausting all other options.

Here is this situation. The customer attempts to place a credit card order online for one of our products. The way that our website is designed, when you go to check out, you must fill in your billing and shipping addresses BEFORE the page can reset the total cost to reflect the appropriate shipping and taxes. The shipping for this particular item is $100, and I can definitely understand how this can be shocking and upsetting if unexpected and unexplained! The customer calls in and claims that the website only showed the unit cost when he pressed submit, and it was when he got the receipt that he noticed that the shipping had been added. At this point, maybe there was a glitch in the system or with his browser, or maybe he was only paying attention to the unit cost and pressed submit without being fully aware that the totals had changed—ultimately, who can be sure?

I explain what should have been done on the website (the re-calculation) and apologize for any glitches that may have been responsible for the confusion on the prices. I told him I would pass his feedback to out IT department to prevent future issues as well. In my mind, I know that either way the shipping charges must be applied in order for us to get the product to the customer, and most likely if brought to a supervisor it wouldn’t be approved to be fully refunded. So I also tried to explain the reason for the shipping charges since they are both extra perks that will make the product more customer-friendly, thus benefiting the customer in the long run (no assembly, etc.), hoping that maybe after the charges were explained he would have time to understand where exactly that number was coming from and wouldn’t be as upset as when he called in. I even let him know that we could use his own shipping account if he gets cheaper rates, but he quickly let me know that he did not have that available. None of what I was saying was helping the situation at all; it was almost like he hadn’t heard anything that I had said.

The customer continues on, saying that he was deceived, and demands that we refund the shipping fee on the order since it was “false advertising.” But the product’s page SHOULD have also said “plus shipping” under the price for the unit cost. At this point, this is not what was important and my aim was not to prove the customer wrong here; it was to find a solution to the problem.

What do I say to the customer since I am unable to refund the shipping as he demands? (My supervisor did not approve it either.) At this point, I felt like I had exhausted every possible solution I could offer, and had no idea how to communicate to the customer that his demands could not be met in any other way. Every attempt I made at telling him that I was unable to refund the shipping (however I articulated it to him) resulted in an awkward silence followed by a slew of “I have been inconvenienced” and “I refuse to pay it” comments. At this point, the only thing I can think of is to cancel and refund his entire order. Is there a way that I could have saved this customer before escalating it to my manager and having her repeat the same thing back to him, ultimately ending in the cancellation of his order? Any sort of examples of some positive phrases or things to avoid/corrections would be greatly appreciated!

Offering to cancel the order makes sense to me. If the customer placed the order without realizing the full cost, good customer service principles say that you should let them cancel, unless it’s truly outside the period where that’s possible.

But also, if this is happening more than extremely rarely, your company needs to take a look at why: Does the website really make it the shipping pricing clear as it should? Is there a way to better highlight it so that it really can’t be missed? Perhaps as its own page before the customer finishes checking out? It’s really not good for your company to have customers feeling tricked into paying expensive shipping costs that a reasonable person could have easily overlooked. You want the shipping charge to be very, very clear up-front so that people don’t end up feeling shocked when they spot it afterwards.

As for what to say when this happens: I think apologizing for a “glitch” that might have caused the pricing confusion will make things worse. If I hear that I’m being charged a surprise $100 that I didn’t agree to because of a glitch on your end, I’m not likely to just happily assent to that. If there’s really a glitch, someone on your end has to get that taken care. And I also don’t think it will help to explain the extra perks that come with the shipping charge (like no assembly, etc.) — the issue is that the person has just been charged $100 that they didn’t realize they were agreeing to pay, and so talking about the perks that come with it is going to sound like you’re missing the real issue.

The real issue is that the person thought the total cost was $X and agreed to pay that, and is now shocked that the total cost is $X + $100. And that’s a significant increase. Some of your customers might not have placed the order at all if they’d realized how expensive the shipping was. So your role isn’t to talk them into being okay with the shipping fee — which is where I think you’re going wrong — but instead to apologize that the shipping charge wasn’t clearer and to ask if they’d still like to proceed with the order or not.

I’d say this: “I’m so sorry you didn’t notice the shipping charge! We do list it on the website, but it sounds like you didn’t spot it when checking out. We charge $100 for shipping this item because of the size and handling requirements on our end. I can’t waive that shipping charge, but if you’d like me to cancel the order, I can definitely do that.”

But also, make sure someone in your company is taking a look at how the website can head this off before people finish checking out.

{ 238 comments… read them below }

  1. moss*

    May I recommend raising the price of the object to reflect shipping charges and then offering “free shipping”? Psychologically that may be easier for the customer to swallow.

    1. Hermione*

      This is smart! Presumably there might be some variance, though, so to places where shipping would be $150 dollars instead of the standard $100, you would qualify and say “Free shipping to Wonderland, and $50 to Neverland, Agrabah and Arendelle.”

      1. BritCred*

        Is there anyway to put a box under the “price” that you have to fill in with a Zip Code (assuming US) which you have to put in and calculate before you can add it to basket? Say:

        Price: X
        Enter Zip Code (Calculate shipping cost button)

        Which then becomes
        Shipping cost to (Zip Code): Y
        Total: Z (Add to Cart button)

        I know that OP can’t do this but if they do get an option to suggest to management for items like this it might help stop people being upset for the extra cost since they at least get warned upfront.

        1. Jady*

          Do not call it a glitch.

          Saying that is admitting fault for the company. If the company is at fault, any reasonable customer would expect the company to bend over backwards to fix it. If for no other reason than to avoid a bad reputation.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            Saying that is a great idea to piss off tech support if the CM overlooked the item and there wasn’t a glitch. That will affect the timeliness of future reports.

            Also, when I did call center work, we were never ever ever supposed to say we have a system error. Never. If that was recording, we’d get into huge trouble. Instead, we were to say systems are updating and ask them to call back.

          2. Annonymouse*

            Saying its a glitch means you weren’t supposed to charge it or it isn’t supposed to be that high – making it reasonable for me to expect a refund on the shipping cost.

            I agree with Alison and the top comment.
            Either offer to cancel the whole order after apologising for them not seeing/ realising there’s a shipping cost
            Recommend to someone to just increase the price and offer “free” shipping.

        2. KH*

          It could even just be “Estimated shipping only. Add item to cart and proceed to checkout for accurate shipping quote”

      2. tab*

        Thats a surefire way to get angry customers. Find an average and charge the same to everyone. It will save you many, many phone calls and irate emails.

        1. Kelly L.*

          To different countries? I don’t think I’ve seen a company where overseas shipping is the same as domestic.

          1. AnonyMoose*

            Doesn’t Lush do that? And it really just depends on the size of your order and how quickly you want it? It’s been a while, but I remember it was always $10 as long as I brought under $100 of product. (don’t even get me started at $100 of product, I could EASILY have purchased $200. Lush = The Yum.)

            1. AnonyMoose*

              Oh wait, I just remembered that you could choose which warehouse you were ordering from (I ordered from Canada).

          2. Elizabeth West*

            It’s not–when I order from Amazon US, it’s often $3.99. Don’t even ask me what I pay when I order from Amazon UK. But since it’s being shipped from the UK, I pay it, if it’s not more than the item itself.

        2. Hermione*

          Maybe it wasn’t clear, but I meant if Neverland, Arendelle and Agrabah were all a significant distance from Wonderland.

          Personally, I wouldn’t be offended if a company in the UK charged extra to ship to me here in the US – I would expect it. Shipping overseas costs more than domestic, and I think reasonable customers would understand that, especially if the original price reflects the cost of the object and the shipping costs to the UK – my shipping would seem far more reasonable if it were $50 than if it were just the cost of the object plus $150. It sounds like the OP’s website doesn’t list shipping costs upfront; as an international customer, having the comparative domestic vs. international shipping prices in front of me help me get a sense of whether or not I’m getting a good deal. “Oh, my shipping is only $5 more than domestic customers” vs. “Oh no, my shipping is $100 more than domestic customers” is important information for me.

          1. Chinook*

            “It sounds like the OP’s website doesn’t list shipping costs upfront; as an international customer, having the comparative domestic vs. international shipping prices in front of me help me get a sense of whether or not I’m getting a good deal”

            A separate page that outlines shipping costs and how taxes and duty are handled for national and international customers is something I always look for. As a Canadian, I accept that I have to pay extra but I am not keen on knowing what that extra is until I am ready to checkout. If the international shipping is outrageous (and to me, $100 is outrageous unless the item is large or heavy), then I will stop looking at the sitw.

      3. nofelix*

        Or ask the customer’s location earlier, defaulting to their IP location, and update prices accordingly.

        1. bentley*

          If you default to their IP location (which, at my old address, websites always read as being halfway across the country) is asking for trouble if they’re ordering for delivery elsewhere. What if you’re ordering a gift for a relative? Or headquarters is ordering equipment for a branch?

        2. Omne*

          I use a VPN service that routes through one of several servers in other countries when I’m home. That would create a real mess if they were shipping to me across town and the shipping defaulted to an IP in Andorra or somewhere.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I think this is a good idea. Many times I see something advertised as $X and I get all excited thinking I’ve found the best deal. But then when I go to order it, I find out the shipping is some crazy amount that makes it the same price as everywhere else. If the company just hikes the price to account for shipping, people will generally accept that as the going price.

      1. moss*

        Ikea comes to mind. I would love to order some furniture from there, but their shipping costs are crazy high. I’d really rather pay another 75 dollars for a bed frame or whatever and have a reasonable shipping cost. My mind is a funny thing.

        1. Jessica (tc)*

          My husband thinks I’m nuts, because I often go to multiple sites and figure out what the total cost is plus shipping (and if it’s multiple items, what that total come out to per item). This is the only way I can accurately compare prices for the item I’m ordering. Shipping costs do matter to me! (Actually and more accurately, total cost matters to me.)

      2. Refund Queen*

        Companies have low unit prices and high shipping costs becuase when you want a refund the shipping isn’t included in the refund. I can’t remember how many books I’ve seen on EBay that cost one cent but have a $6, $8, $10 shiopping fee.

        1. Victoria*

          If you want a refund and return an item on ebay, you get the shipping fee back. If you don’t, open a case against the seller. They’re required to refund the shipping fee.

        2. nicolefromqueens*

          I used to work for an eBay seller. He would price items low and jack up the shipping because eBay’s fees were a percentage of the selling price, while shipping and handling fees weren’t charged. And there were fees even if the listing didn’t sell in time.

      1. LBK*

        Yes, a lot of things people are suggesting seem like they’re way out of the OP’s realm of control. It sounds like she’s already done what she can to connect with the people who make those decisions and hasn’t gotten any traction. Thus is the life of a customer service rep: apologizing for things you didn’t do.

      2. Manders*

        Yes, I think that if this is happening frequently, it’s a problem the OP can’t easily solve–they can pass this suggestion on to the people who manage the website and set the prices, but it’s very rare for customer service reps to have the power to push those changes through.

        I’d probably want to cancel my order if I found myself in this situation–that’s a pretty substantial price hike, and it includes some “perks” that it sounds like the customer didn’t actually want.

        1. Koko*

          Yep. To customer service’s face the marketing folks will say they’ll look into and they want every customer to have a great experience with Teapots Teapots Teapots. But in their own internal meetings they’ll all agree that they regret it because they know it’s tough on customer service to have to keep apologizing for this issue, but they’ve run the numbers and found that they make more money doing it this way even accounting for the customer service load increase, so that’s the way they’re going to keep doing it.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          She may not have the power individually but I assume all the issues are logged and when it happens enough they’d make changes.
          That being said I’m surprised they never refund shipping. I mean of course you can’t all the time but I’ve never worked at a company that never refunded shipping usually management will in some circumstances as a gesture of good will and to keep their reputation in good standing

          1. Lionness*

            You might assume that, but I can assure you that is almost entirely incorrect.

            As career customer service the vast majority of places I’ve worked (some with the highest ranked CS in the country) log complaints and then do zilch with that data.

            1. Jessica (tc)*

              I wonder if this is partially because customers mostly care about taking care of their own issue. If there is a glitch on the site and I call to complain, as long as they take care of my issue, do I check back to see if the glitch was fixed? Unless it’s something I order regularly, probably not. As long as you gave me back my extraneous (to my mind) shipping, I’m happy to continue on my merry way. I think those with high-ranked CS probably are very good on the person-to-person basis even if they don’t do well on the fixing broken things issue. That would be a very interesting study to see results of!

              1. Lionness*

                That is exactly it, Jessica. The companies I am thinking of had absolutely phenom person to person service but received the same complaints over and over and over again. But, because they resolved the immediate issue so well, it was easily forgiven and everyone moved on. It was just exhausting from the employee perspective.

                1. Jessica (tc)*

                  Oh, I have no doubt! Maybe they should look at CS from the customer and the employee perspective to see how efficient it is, especially considering the actual cost to the company. I mean, paying you and 599 other CS reps to tell 100 customers (each) the same thing every week for months at a time has got to cost more than just resolving the issue (in general, depending on the severity of the issue). (And if they are also losing out on dollars due to problems that they could fix, that’s even more costly.)

              2. Misc*

                Ugh, I hate those sort of glitches. From a tech support end, the kinds where only the customer will see them (e.g. creating a new account with a specific email client or a problem with a password reset link) are the worst. I can fix them easily from my end by overriding things, but I can’t see the error, so the only way I can get the data so we can fix it is to pretend I NEED that link/email/whatever before I can fix it for them. (If I fix it and THEN ask for the data, I never, ever hear back. Well, maybe one in twenty times…)

                Which is just bad customer service to me, as it builds in an artificial delay, but it’s a tradeoff required to improve customer service for future customers. And to knock an annoying repetitive problem off my list of daily bugs.

                On the other hand, I pride myself on scaring customers with near instant replies, so they usually walk away thinking I responded really fast anyway :D (My favourites are the people who go “OH CRAP YOU’RE A REAL PERSON WHAT”).

      3. mull*

        Higher prices are already a psychological deterrent though. That’s why taxes aren’t typically shown as part of the price (or other stuff like the fees on airplane tickets in a lot of cases). People hunt for lower prices, especially when shopping online, where comparison shopping is very easy. The goal is to get people close to the purchase and then to add the extra costs.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Well, but too much smoke and mirrors about the price will also be a psychological deterrent. Sometimes I’ll cancel, or if I’m too lazy to abandon the order and go back to comparison shopping, maybe I’ll go ahead with it this time–but that company has now left a bad taste in my mouth, and I’ll remember it next time.

          1. mull*

            Maybe you will, but the large swath on online retailers have probably figured out their basic pricing schemes, so the general pattern of presenting the price prominently and then adding taxes and shipping later seems to make sense. (Or in Amazon’s case, people pay up front for shipping via Prime memberships and then will often not directly pay for shipping on a specific order.)

            Something amounting to tricking the customers will eventually go too far, but presenting one all-inclusive price will leave a retailer on the outside looking in when people can search online and sort results by price. Potential customers would have to remember that Retailer X prices differently and then specifically look for Retailer X. Not saying it can’t happen, but requiring that kind of customer work is likely to lead to problems.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Well, though, I would say that having an estimate before you input all your information is becoming the norm, and it’s probably because people got annoyed at stuff like this. It’s still closer to the end of the process than the beginning, but it’s before the retailer has any of your personal info beyond maybe your zip.

              I’ll also say that when I’m comparison shopping, a price that’s wildly lower than its competitors will get my antennae up and looking for the “catch.” Yes,, Walmart might be having a sale and it’s $2 cheaper than Target, but if SuperSavePlace is selling it for $15 cheaper than either Walmart or Target, I’m going to wonder…is the shipping going to be exorbitant to make up for it, or is the item actually not the same even if it’s listed as such, or is the company a scam? I don’t always choose the lowest listed price. I poke around a little first.

              1. Jessica (tc)*

                This! I’m the same way. When the lowest price is Wal-Mart, for example, I know that they often have special deals with some manufacturers that mean they have a particular item that’s slightly different than the others out there. I want to be sure all of the features I want are still there and that they aren’t made in a cheap way to outweigh the effect of having purchased it for $10 cheaper when I have to buy it again in a year instead of five or ten. (I hope that makes sense.) When something is super low, I want to know why. And sometimes shipping is exactly the reason, which often makes me abandon my cart right there.

        2. fposte*

          On the other hand, dislike of those hidden fees are why people have pressed legislatures into requiring disclosure including fees. And that’s also why Zappo’s has done really well.

        3. moss*

          higher prices are not always a deterrent, especially if the item cannot be reasonably compared to another item (it’s unique by being handmade or rare or whatever). Higher prices are a signal of value to some consumers and they will readily pay for that. A high shipping cost on a “discount” item means the consumer will think “I have to pay you to take this crap off your hands? No way!”

        4. Ruth (UK)*

          Tax is already included in the listed price here. I was shocked the first time I bought something in the american states and the price at the till was higher than the price on the item said.

          It also made me understand why people in america talk about annoyance of people paying on exact change as they need to count or find I at the till. I never understood why people didn’t just already have the correct change in their hand while queuing as is easy to do here since the actual price is written on items…

          1. Brisvegan*

            Same here in Australia. GST is always included. It was weird to see a price hike at the till in the US.

            Having said that, we almost always pay exhorbitant shipping unless the seller is close by. I have paid close to $100 on shipping from the US before. Over $50 is really common. Shipping charges for online goods from overseas is a regular “only in Australia” trope joke. Even within the country, I have paid close over $50 for delivery of a flat
            packed bed. You are lucky to have cheap shipping!

          2. A grad student*

            I went to college in a state without sales tax at all- it was so nice to not have to do mental math for every purchase. Now that I’m back in a ‘normal’ state I never pay cash anymore because I always underestimate what the tax will be (it’s also different for clothes, food, food in a restaurant, etc). Drives me crazy.

        5. Chinook*

          “Higher prices are already a psychological deterrent though. That’s why taxes aren’t typically shown as part of the price (or other stuff like the fees on airplane tickets in a lot of cases). ”

          I would say it depends. I love shopping in stores where tax is included as it means that I don’t have to do math to find my final price. And when you know tax or fees are included, you know what you are buying actually is within your budget instead of wondering if anything will pop up at the till.

      4. moss*

        I agree with you, Not So Sunny. The rep, poor thing, probably has no power over this. What a terrible position to be in.

      5. KH*

        In a properly managed, company, the OP has the power to articulately raise this concern in their weekly team meetings, and the team leader / manager can raise up the chain. If they are not providing some way to get feedback from the employees who actually directly interface with the customer, this company has much bigger problems.

    3. Jerzy*

      This is just what I was coming here to say. $100 is a lot for shipping, no matter how you justify it. By folding it into the price itself and offering “free shipping”, people believe they’re getting a deal.

      1. mull*

        If they find the site selling the item in the first place.

        And $100 isn’t a lot for shipping on something big expensive, so for something that would seem to justify such a large shipping cost, the extra $100 isn’t likely to matter. For something where a customer would be shocked to find such a large shipping fee–something lower priced where $100 is now a large portion of the total cost–the extra $100 would push the presented price to a level that plenty of consumers wouldn’t even bother with.

          1. mull*

            But then you have to sell the way you price instead of just selling what you sell. A retailer trying this different pricing scheme would have to make sure consumers know and then are willing to do the math to see if the pricing scheme works out in their favor.

            I suppose it could be very popular, but most people aren’t getting so burned by shipping costs that lumping all the pricing elements into one sum is going to result in some revelation of customer loyalty and business growth.

            1. fposte*

              I don’t really follow the first sentence, but I’m going based on the fact that there are indeed merchants who successfully do this. It may be something consumers think they want but don’t really–but it may also be an article of faith in sales that gets disproven by actual events.

              1. Kelly L.*

                Yup. I think there’s really a lot of conventional wisdom in sales that worked in, say, the 1950s, that doesn’t work anymore, whether because it’s been exposed too many times as a ploy, or because today’s customers want different types of interaction. I don’t want to derail by going into details, but it might be an interesting research project for somebody! :)

        1. mull*

          Also, retailers do try all kinds of tactics, like prominently displayed discounts, free shipping on stuff over a certain dollar value, or suggested bundling with other products. There’s a lot of room to experiment, but the psychology of pricing is still susceptible to basics like pricing things a cent or 5 cents under a full dollar and not showing sales tax as part of the price, tacking it only at the point of purchase.

          It’s hard to believe that avoiding all pricing “surprises” would actually work since it’s not standard operating procedure yet.

        2. Koko*

          Yes, a lot of this is probably industry norms. If every competitor prices low and charges a lot for shipping, they’re all forcing each other into that practice because nobody wants to be the one guy who’s obviously more expensive than everyone else. That’s why it takes things like regulation to make it happen. A lot of times its why industry welcome the regulation because they all want to make their customers happy by being more transparent – they just don’t want to bear the economic cost of being the only one to do it.

          I’ve ordered large pieces of solid wood furniture that had shipping costs ranging from $50-100. $50 they would pull the truck up to your curb and get the item off of it. $100 they would carry it into your house. And these were in a ton of pieces to allow for a relatively flat shipping box, that took 2-6 hours to assemble. If this item is substantial furniture, $100 for shipping and no assembly required sounds like a steal to me.

      2. Janne989*

        I would never pay $100 for shippng, if specified as that, but I would not mind the higher price if It’s shown as being the price of the item. I know that the end result is the same, but the psychological difference matters to me. it doesn’t matter what the item is.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I willingly paid about $100 for shipping when I bought salted mine tailings from South Carolina, to be shipped to WA state. The tailings themselves only cost about $60, but a 60 lb box of dirt is, well, 60 lbs! And the shipping costs were clearly identified before checkout. If I know something is heavy or awkward, shipped across the country, and the shipping isn’t a surprise, then I’ll pay it as shipping.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Except if other sites carry the same product them it would look fishy. If it’s theirs exclusively then yeah maybe

    5. Ad Astra*

      I hate paying for shipping, but I honestly have no idea if the prices of my favorite items have gone up since free shipping has become commonplace. With a shipping fee as high as $100, your idea makes a lot of sense. Especially if the product itself is kind of a big-ticket item, where the prices really might vary by as much as $100.

    6. AllieJ0516*

      This is exactly what I was coming to say. If raising the price of the item by that much would be cause for concern, maybe just add, say $50, and say IN THE ITEM DESCRIPTION that there is a flat $50 shipping & handling rate.

      Also, I don’t know how your company operates or what your customer base is, but perhaps you could have a will call option? That way the customer could come and pick the item up; not sure if that’s even logistically possible, but it could be a workaround.

      Lastly, if the customer has a freight/carrier account themselves (many times that comes with a discount), they could have the carrier pick the item up and just charge to their own account. You’d still want to take handling charges into account, but there may be other options.

  2. jhhj*

    When I see “plus shipping” I don’t expect it to cost anywhere near a hundred dollars. The product page should make the shipping price CRYSTAL CLEAR before you add it to your cart, even if it is “the shipping for this item ranges from $100-$120 within the continental US, depending on your zip code, exact shipping will be determined on the order confirmation page. Orders can be cancelled at that step and you will not be charged” because you can’t predict the exact amount.

    1. LBK*

      I think it depends what the product is – for large appliances, furniture or media equipment, $100 seems pretty normal to me.

      1. jhhj*

        I don’t know, I recently bought appliances and furniture and have been pricing out a kiln and none of it was near that price for delivery.

      2. Observer*

        Actually, not necessarily – I’ve looked at shipping prices for some pretty heavy stuff, and it’s often much less than that. (eg I recently ordered a pritner that weights 60ln and shipping was <30. )

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        I’m getting used to inexpensive and fast shipping. $100 shipping these days would give me pause, even on large items. Heck, I recently decided not to buy a chair from Pottery Barn simply because they wanted a $140 standard shipping fee plus a $65 shipping surcharge.

      4. INTP*

        IDK if this is common knowledge anymore. A lot of people are used to shopping on Amazon or other sites that offer free shipping. When I bought my desk, which was very heavy, it was eligible for free shipping from Target. My mattress and bedframe were shipped free from Amazon. If someone doesn’t buy, say, washing machines regularly, they could easily have zero ideas about how much they cost to shipped. I was pretty shocked when I saw the shipping prices on my Ikea cart, and promptly deleted everything and switched back to Amazon.

    2. Judy*

      Many websites have a link on the word “shipping” in the “plus shipping” on each of their product pages. It goes to the page that is also in a link at the bottom of the page under “shipping policies”. Whether it’s a chart that compares order amount vs shipping costs, or weight of order to shipping costs, it usually spells it out. Also if this is the only item with the large shipping cost it will say “plus large item shipping” or “plus heavy item shipping” and there will be a section on the shipping policies page saying what that is.

  3. Cat*

    I’m also wondering if some customers are hearing “I can’t refund the shipping” as “I can’t cancel the order.” That was my interpretation until I got to the end of the letter. Being very explicit about that may be helpful.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      This. I read it as cancelling would still incur a fee/fine of some sort – I think a simple “I’m sorry about the misunderstanding, and I can definitely pass your feedback on to IT; would you like to continue or cancel your order and get a full refund?” might suffice.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, I initially read it as “I can cancel the order but you’ll only get back the price of the item, you’ll be out the shipping cost.”

    3. lawsuited*

      +1 I think it’s fine to explain why the shipping cost is high: “Unfortunately, the shipping cost is higher than usual because the sofa arrives at your door fully assembled and is an oversized item” (although I think it’s weird to consider this a “perk” per se), followed by, “If you no longer wish to purchase the sofa, I can of course cancel your order (or remove the sofa from your order, if applicable)”.

      Then it’s up to the customer to make the decision that they should have made when making the purchase on the website: Am I willing to purchase this item even though the shipping cost is $100? If the answer is yes, they have to continue without complaint. If the answer is no, you cancel their order.

      I suspect that the OP might have been discouraged from offering to cancel orders right out of the gate in a misguided attempt to avoid losing sales, but it’s better to be upfront. Customers who want to cancel their order will cancel it whether you offer it as the first option or the last option. If the company ends up cancelling a ton of order because of the shipping charge, then it’s on the company to reconsider the shipping charge which obviously the OP doesn’t have the power to do.

  4. Lizabeth*

    The website page for this particular item should have listed in BIG BOLD LETTERS “Shipping $100” or some other burb so there’s no confusion at checkout. Even selection the product and putting it in the shopping cart should have a popup of some sort stating “Shipping $100; do you wish to continue the purchase?” The website people can do this.

    I like the idea of hiking the price to cover the shipping and say Free shipping :)

  5. TotesMaGoats*

    I agree with Allison. It sounds like some of this can be prevented by better information on the website. Even if you can’t say exactly how much it would cost to ship, you could give a minimum or a range. And it should be in big, bold letters. An additional $100 is not chump change. Calling it a glitch, while it takes the responsibility off the customer, is pretty dismissive of the amount of money charged. Offer to cancel the order. But talk to your marketing team ASAP.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      “Glitch” also implies it is some weird timing-related computer error that was not intended, because of the switch to Daylight Savings Time or something like that. I’m usually a pretty mellow customer, but I would be incandescent with rage if a CSR told me I was being charged $100 due to a “glitch”, but no, it can’t be undone.

      1. Blurgle*

        “Glitch” also implies that it will be immediately be fixed. If someone told me there was a glitch that cost me ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS and they refused to refund the shipping cost on the spot or cancel the order entirely with no cost to me, I’d be incandescent with rage.

  6. lulu*

    I also got to the end of the letter wondering why you couldn’t just cancel the order, and then it turns out you could. That should be your first response to a case like this. Did you offer it to the customer? What did they say?

    1. LBK*

      Typically if the customer goes straight for “I’m not paying for shipping,” they still want the product, they just don’t want to pay for it to be shipped. Usually cancelling the whole order is a last resort, because the customer isn’t generally keen on going through the entire purchasing process again if they think they can just keep their current order but not pay for shipping.

        1. Helka*

          It sounds like the OP may have had pressure to save the sale, either in this specific case or as a general practice.

          1. Window Seat Anon*

            This. Back in my retail days we were instructed to do everything humanly possible to save the sale before offering to cancel the whole thing. It sucked.

            1. LBK*

              Eh, yes and no. It’s annoyed to still be expected to save the sale when the customer is being a pain in the ass, but as I said below, a lot of people back down after the first time they’re told there’s no exceptions (those in the “doesn’t hurt to ask” camp). It’s just bad business sense to give the option to lose the sale immediately when I’d say at least half the time it’s easy to save it by simply saying no.

              1. Window Seat Anon*

                I wish I had had more customers in that “doesn’t hurt to ask camp” back in the day. I seemed to attract all the other ones. Crazed with rage. Just plain crazy. Polite but refusing every single solution that was *actually* possible (including canceling the whole thing). Ugh. I don’t miss those days.

                1. LBK*

                  I’ve been some form of customer service manager for about 5 years total, so I feel you on that :) So glad I don’t deal with clients anymore!

            2. Misc*

              I love my managers so much that they have the opposite approach. If a customer’s a pain, they’d rather just cancel the order and forget about it.

              Whereas I’ve found that offering a bunch of options and making sure the customer ACTUALLY knows what they’re talking about (usually they just don’t know how to make it work, or clicked the wrong download link, or didn’t check their emails for the purchase details or something equally basic), helps a lot.

              But you have to be really clear that refunding everything to them IS an option, you’re just offering this alternatives to make sure that they do actually get what they want. In a lot of cases, I either solve their problem outright, or they change their mind because ‘the customer service is awesome and I love your company now’ (paraphrased, but pretty close to actual quotes). Or, occasionally, refund anyway because they are sick of dealing with it (especially the ‘computers are scary! You might steal my credit card!’ types), then they come back a week or two later, knowing they can trust us if it goes wrong, and purchase again.

              So yeah, even refunding outright isn’t always a lost sale.

              (In this particular letter, I’d have responded similarly to AAM’s suggested response. I admit the actual letter had me cringing a bit, as it seemed defensive/trying harder to keep the sale than the customer, but my response would have been something like:

              – sorry that happened, that is a bad thing and I understand why you would be upset. [empathise, show you know what has happened]
              – we cannot waive shipping charges because X. [give them their answer upfront]
              – but I can do X and Y for you [give them their options, show them what you are willing/able to do]

              – brief explanation about how the shipping charges are estimated, so they know it’s not a ripoff [brief, it’s not what they care about right now, and they’re more upset paying it at all, but they will benefit from understanding how it works and be less likely to think you’re scamming them]
              – mention you have passed the feedback along/whatever if relevant [even if you know it almost certainly won’t be acted on, that doesn’t mean you/higher ups won’t stop and briefly consider it. You don’t need to mention how many lolcat images you included with the “helpful feedback” ;D]

              – reiterate their options/next move “would you like the store credit or would you prefer us to immediately cancel your order?” [make it really easy for them, make it clear you aren’t trying to distract them from their problem, and present the options neatly as a conclusion]

              1. Misc*

                …um, yes, additional thoughts:

                – but cancelling their order should be an automatic option if still possible. Offering anything else, like discounts or partially waived shipping, should depend on the actual circumstances and your “over and above” powers and how polite they are.

                – and not to imply that everyone should always get refunds. But cause I’m first line of customer contact, I get to persuade people out of the refund option or decide they’re Just Not Getting One (e.g. they’ve had the product two years and just decided they didn’t like it, or they were super super rude and got exactly what was advertised, they’re just trying to bully us or were too lazy to actually read anything before buying and then waited four months to object). Or pass along the genuine cases and the mostly-genuine that we’d be in our rights to ignore but polite/sympathetic situations.

        2. LBK*

          Because most of the time when you explain and then say you can’t refund the shipping cost, the customer will just say “Okay, no problem” and go forward with the sale. People that continue to throw a fit are in the minority.

  7. Kelly L.*

    This sound like it’s on a much larger scale than, say, me shopping for dresses, but something that I have seen on some sites is an “estimated shipping” that appears even before you input your addresses. It’s an estimate of what it generally costs, roughly, to send that item based on how much it weighs and so on (sometimes it’ll have you input your ZIP to get the estimate, so it can factor in distance too). Sometimes my own specific shipping will end up being a little more than that, sometimes a little less, but it prevents sticker shock.

    1. T3k*

      +1. I love shopping sites that will let you just put in your zip to estimate it, before having to jump through all the other hoops. Still a bit of a shock sometimes (one time, an item’s shipping was almost half the price of the item in question) but it’s a good heads up.

      1. simonthegrey*

        This. I have to order frozen mice for my snakes, and since they have to ship fast in dry ice, I like being able to enter my zip code and know exactly how much I love my legless pets. Usually it ends up being equal to what I pay for the mice themselves, but it notifies me of the shipping very clearly in large font so I am not surprised by my credit card bill.

  8. Bend & Snap*

    That whole exchange would make me enraged if I were the customer. None of it is helpful or more than lip service. I can appreciate that the OP wants to resolve this more effectively but it sounds like a) the tools the company is providing to solve the problem are inadequate and b) there’s a big issue with how the customer is getting (or not getting) info pertinent to their order.

    You need a fixed system, not a script.

    1. Not me*

      Yeah, the system obviously sucks, but the customer service person can’t make that better system. What do you think the person you would be talking to in customer service should do?

      1. Bend & Snap*

        I think if it’s this big an issue it should be escalated to her management. Obviously she can’t fix it alone but she can flag it as a big problem and help make recommendations to change it.

        IMO, as a worker, any problem that impacts your work is your problem to try and help solve.

        1. LBK*

          My experience in retail is that the customer service department as a whole is usually way down at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to making requests, even the managers. You’d probably be more successful finding a way to dump this problem on the sales department until they decide to escalate it through their management since they tend to be heard more.

          1. Nina*

            This. Anytime I brought up a technical issue to my manager when I was a CSR, he would just shrug it off and say deal with it. He didn’t really care if the customer was inconvenienced, the most important thing was not to lose the sale.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          In a lot of companies there’s basically nothing she can do. This reminds me of when customers would yell at me for how much the food cost when I was a waitress–what am I supposed to do about that, exactly, call corporate? The call would honestly mean more and get more attention coming from the customer, so that’s sometimes what I would tell them to do (though not often, it sounds like I’m telling them to solve their own problem). I had exactly zero control over the menu prices and corporate did not consider the input of individual waitresses when make those decisions. OP, likewise, probably has zero control over the website or the way it’s set up (and likely her manager is in the same position for the same reason).

  9. Andy*

    I was this customer at one point last month, and tbh I’m not sure if this is the same company, but this sounds sooooo similar to my situation.
    The total cost of the item I ordered was $150 and then it jumped by %66 with shipping and I was FLOORED. The rep I spoke with also gave me all the reasons for the charge, but seemed to not hear my problem, which is that the charge was not noted prior to the final submit and only appeared on the receipt. Since I work for a state U this was a BIG PROBLEM for me…and I could have lost my ability to hold the purchase card if my account manager had been less able to hear me on the story. (the purchasers are responsible for noting things like large shipping and getting approval, in writing, PRIOR to making the final purchase)
    Thank you so much for this Allison, I felt so foolish talking to the rep in circles and I felt like I ws being gaslighted at points. (is that a word, gaslighted?)

    1. Natalie*

      That happened to us once, too, with those adjustable crowd control barriers. It wasn’t until we got the receipt that we realized that shipping was several hundred dollars.

      1. Kelly L.*

        We had one shipment that ended up costing some huge surprise amount and had to be shipped on its own special truck (not UPS or the like) that would only fit at one loading dock on the whole campus so then we had to get facilities to meet them there OH! and they would only accept COD check so we had to arrange that too, and then get facilities to move the thing to our department. Massive headache. We switched vendors after that. I wish i remember more of the details, this was like 8 years ago.

    2. Shell*

      Wait, from my reading of the post, the shipping was quoted before final submission?

      The way that our website is designed, when you go to check out, you must fill in your billing and shipping addresses BEFORE the page can reset the total cost to reflect the appropriate shipping and taxes…or maybe he was only paying attention to the unit cost and pressed submit without being fully aware that the totals had changed…

      It would be nice if the site had a module where a customer can estimate shipping costs by zip/postal code, but it sounds like the way this site is designed, the customer must input addresses for the site to calculate an accurate shipping rate, the page refreshes, and then the customer hits submit for final confirmation. That sounds completely normal for a shopping website (unless the refreshed total was in tiny grey font or other display method that makes it hard to notice).

      I’m assuming that this is a heavy/oversized/preassembled (can’t ship flat) item so $100 doesn’t seem outrageous for shipping, but I don’t know the products in question. Regardless, I think Alison’s script is good (perhaps modified per the commenters below about not mentioning it was the customer’s fault–it probably was, but customers aren’t reasonable much of the time…

      1. Kelly L.*

        It was supposed to be quoted. I think a lot of us are assuming it might not have actually come up, because we’ve seen these things not work properly.

        1. AVP*

          Or if it did come up, but in size 9 light gray font. There are definitely some websites out there hoping you won’t notice it and will just go straight to “confirm” !

      2. nofelix*

        The price could have been lower down the page so that the user would need to scroll to see it. If this combined with the information refreshing without an actual page refresh in the browser, I could see how it’d be actually very difficult to notice.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      Yes, it’s a word–it refers to psychological manipulation that makes you doubt your own perception. It comes from the play Gaslightand film adaptation of same.

  10. Former Diet Coke Addict*

    It sounds like the types of things you’re shipping are going by standard consumer shipment (mail, FedEx, whatever) and they’re at a price point where $100 is a major cost. Are you absolutely sure that the shipping information on the website is visible before hitting submit? And clear? I have some suppliers who do a similar thing by requiring you to input address information before getting a ship estimate and it’s very tiny and in little gray print. Can you test it a few times yourself (or better yet, have a friend do it who isn’t familiar with the process) to see if it’s really as user friendly as it seems? It’s so easy to think that because you deal with something all the time it’s simple when it’s not.

    Don’t call it a glitch. That makes me think your company might be glitchy in general and makes me want to check my credit card for a month afterwards. Don’t try to convince people it’s really a benefit. That can sound condescending. Try to clear it up at the front end first, and if that’s not possible, follow the wording Alison gives–you’re not trying to convince them $100 in shipping is awesome, if that’s the cost that’s the cost and your job is to see if they want to go ahead with the order.

    1. Koko*

      I agree that calling it a glitch wasn’t the right move, but I totally understand why OP did it. She was trying to charitably give the customer a face-saving explanation for what happened instead of saying, “This is your fault, you didn’t read the total on the screen before you hit Submit.” You know, the way you’ll suggest to a superior at work that the Internet must have swallowed the email you sent and you’ll resend it, when you know they got your email and just didn’t respond to it. You politely blame technology instead of the person you’re supposed to be deferential to.

      1. nofelix*

        I think generally the best way to approach these kind of situations is to think of something you could have done to help, and blame that.

        e.g.” I’m sorry I didn’t mention this, but I sent you an email about X earlier and I need a response by Tuesday.”

        A reasonable person will not actually expect you to tell them you’ve sent them an email, and if you happen to work for someone who is unreasonable enough to expect it… well you’re being helpful.

  11. grasshopper*

    Offering to cancel the entire order is the way to go. From your side, it isn’t about saving that sale it is about saving the relationship with that customer. Let who ever is responsible for IT/marketing know that the shipping price must be clearly visible BEFORE any customer information is entered.

    When I’m online shopping, the shipping price factors in the total equation. If Company A has the item for $25 with free shipping, Company B has the item for $20 with $10 shipping and Company C has the item for $15 but with no shipping information listed, I will go with Company A.

  12. FelineFine*

    I’m one of those e-shoppers who will not enter my credit card information until I know what the shipping cost is. One thing that I love about Amazon is that they make it perfectly clear that you get to proof the final price (shipping included) before submitting the order. Maybe this is something that your company could add to the page?

    If I was that customer, my fault or not, I would be ticked to see a $100 shipping charge. I agree that the best resolution at this point is to cancel the order and refund the money.

    1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

      Yes, this. I’ve come across sites that make me enter my country/zip code before showing my shipping estimates (noting that it is an estimate, but I’ve never seen a huge variance in the estimate and the actual amount) and I’m fine with that- I’d be annoyed to fill out the entire order before being shown the shipping costs

      1. simonthegrey*

        This. Some of the items I use in jewelrymaking come from a place in Australia. They estimate shipping on the website to the US and then when it is inevitably a little more, they throw on one or two extra small pieces to cover the difference. It’s honestly why I still go through them even though I could maybe find a place with less expensive shipping. They have built a great relationship.

    2. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Think Geek is the same.

      All European online shops I’ve used are the same as well. I think they’re required to here by law.

      Which is a good thing.

          1. Jessica (tc)*

            Wait until they majorly mess up your order and take almost three months to resolve it, and then they’ll throw a bunch of gift cards your way! ;)

            1. Hlyssande*

              My friend got a random 6pack of bawls sent with whatever she was ordering and they told her to keep it. :D

              1. Jessica (tc)*

                That didn’t happen for me. :( When they finally shipped my items, they sent two packages of the same stuff for some reason (two days apart and both with one-day shipping), and I couldn’t get them to get back to me so I could figure out what to do with the rather large box taking up a lot of real estate in my tiny apartment. I finally donated all of the second box to a local shelter (glasses, towels, kitchen items) in mid-March, about two months since I had received it and just a few days before they finally got back to me and asked me to ship them back (with a prepaid label). *sigh* In the end though, they gave me $80 worth of gift cards, which was crazy! (It was definitely less than I spent on Christmas presents, but at least it was substantial.) They were also cool about the fact that I had given all the items away, because it was just too long to keep all of that stuff in my apartment.

                It all started when I ordered a bunch for Christmas presents last year in early November, and it showed as “shipped” for over a month and a half. I contacted them two weeks before Christmas about the items (one item was something I can’t get anywhere else in the U.S. and it was exorbitant to ship from Europe, because it’s a small item that isn’t costly on its own–until you add in overseas shipping). I didn’t hear back from them until January 19th, when they finally shipped my items for real. They had never been shipped before, even though I had a shipping email with a tracker (that never left the “we haven’t received shipping information on this package yet” stage), and I lost out on two items that were supposed to be Christmas presents (out of stock for good).

                I’m still ambivalent about ordering from them again, even though my husband and I like a lot of their stuff. I am going to wait to see what the purchase by GameStop does for their service, too, for good or for ill. Honestly, though, I probably will end up ordering from them again in the future, just not for Christmas or anything where I don’t have at least two months lead time!

    3. Chicken*

      Agreed! I also won’t enter in my cc info (or usually even name + full address!) before I have a shipping quote. I am happy to enter my zip code to get the cost, of course.

  13. 123456789101112 do-do-do*

    I may be the cynic, but in my experience people make this kind of a fuss because they’re expecting you to waive the shipping fee in response to their discomfort. It’s the same as someone “negging” a meal so that the manager gives them free drinks. It sounded to me like that is the case here. And in that case, your job is to allow them to cancel the order if they want, but to hold onto the shipping fee because it was clearly advertised (assuming that it was clearly advertised).

    1. Kelly L.*

      It’s not impossible, but do please note numerous people in these comments who’ve experienced the same problem while purchasing things. It’s not like we’re all lying, especially here on AAM where there’s no benefit to be gained from it!

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        I don’t think do-do-do is saying anyone here is lying, just that it’s entirely possible in OP’s case. I, too, have had customers complain to get free food. That’s really no indication one way or the other, but it certainly could be–and the customer doesn’t even have to be lying. I’ve had customers in the past who felt that they deserved free things for any unhappiness they’ve experienced–the customer may just feel he shouldn’t have to pay this fee now that he’s had to go through all this trouble. Honestly, it doesn’t do much to change the way that OP should respond. Also, many commenters here have said they were not shown shipping at all until after placing the order, while OP’s site shows it beforehand and the customer just didn’t notice.

    2. Not So Sunny*

      I agree, but the problem is that the ship cost wasn’t shown until AFTER the sale was completed.

    3. Raine*

      Except there really are sites with sketchy practices, and here’s an example of another type: This spring I discovered that one well-known department store’s website does not alert customers that an item is not available and is on back order until AFTER the order has been placed and the financial transaction completed. I had ordered seasonal footwear for a business conference that was in two weeks — only after I placed the order did the site indicate that the footwear was unavailable and back ordered with an estimated 4-6 week wait. I immediately called and canceled but boy did they really not want to and made it very difficult for me to do so.

          1. blueiphone*

            Or Sears! I ordered a refrigerator for the office breakroom, to replace the broken one, and Sears did that whole “oh, whoops, this item is on back-order!” song and dance.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Staples does that too, when you order online. For businesses, they do next-day shipping from local warehouses and sometimes stuff is not in stock there, but you usually don’t find out until after the fact. I still like them and still shop with them for personal stuff–I bought my last computer and printer there. But I do warn people about that.

        1. Ad Astra*

          Happened to me with JCPenney, too. I was especially upset because it was an anniversary gift, so I kinda needed it on a specific date.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            I’ll never order from JCPenney again. I have had nothing but problems with them EVERY time. If it was a one-time mistake, that would be one thing, but it’s every single time I place an online order.

      1. AVP*

        There is a large furniture company that does the same thing. And then they call you 10 times and make you wait on hold for an hour to confirm that you still want it. They do offer to cancel the purchase but at that point you’ve invested enough time and effort that it’s easier not to…whereas if you had just known it was backordered you might have kept looking at other vendors.

        1. Anna the Accounting Student*

          They call you and then put you on hold for an hour to tell you that it’s backordered?!? At that point I’d just say outright to cancel the order because they should have just said so on the website.

      2. Hattie McDoogal*

        Oooh, I work for a company that does something similar and it’s ridiculous. We’ve all asked our boss, repeatedly, to change the wording on the website to just say “Out of stock” and have done with it but he won’t budge, and he doesn’t care because he doesn’t ever talk to customers. It’s a terrible policy — makes customers angry and wastes his employees’ time (and contributes to turnover, I’m sure).

    4. The Strand*

      I am backing you up, cynic or not, and I’m sorry to say it was my first thought too.

      When I sold on eBay (in what seems like eons ago), you occasionally (or not so occasionally – it depended on what you sold and who your audience was) dealt with people like that.

      I paid extra to have something called “stealth postage” from Endicia (one of the online postage firms) because of buyers who would bitch and moan about being charged $2.50 for shipping, and seeing that the postage was actually just $1.75. They didn’t seem to understand that you pay a monthly fee for your postage meter, and have to pay for the packaging (padded envelope, boxes, bubble wrap, tape). You also pay for insurance (self, UPIC or post office).

      Eventually I moved to a price model where I charged more and offered free shipping, and used Priority Mail (so I could use free boxes).

      Anyway, agreeing with 1234… doesn’t mean that people aren’t telling the truth about having bad ecommerce experiences, just that some folks who have sold in person or online have also experienced “negging” like this.

  14. LBK*

    I don’t know if I’d say “it sounds like you didn’t spot it when checking out” to the customer, since that makes it sound like it’s their fault that your company’s website is somewhat misleading. I think I’d go for some sympathy instead: “Sorry about that, it is actually mentioned on the product page but I know it’s a little confusing. We’re working on getting that updated so it’s more clear what the shipping charges will be up front.”

    People may still respond “Well if you know it’s a problem why haven’t you changed it yet?” but generally I’ve found this approach still works better than trying to convince a customer that the website is perfect and they’re just dumb for not reading it correctly.

    1. Corrupted by Coffee*

      Yeah, that wording struck me as problematic too. In my experience, telling customers its their fault, even if it is, is rarely productive. It ends up sounding antagonistic to someone who is already upset.

      1. fposte*

        And if it happens repeatedly, it’s a design weakness even if some customers manage to negotiate it.

    2. a*

      I agree. That wording would honestly make me more upset if I were that customer, especially since it sounds like he’s sure that the shipping cost wasn’t on the page.

    3. katamia*

      Yeah, “You didn’t see it” would irritate me, too. It definitely sounds like blaming the customer.

    4. Terra*

      Agreed. I was coming here to say just that. You may also want to stay away from “I’m so sorry you didn’t notice the shipping charge” for the same reason.

      If you’re going to say something like “I know it’s a little confusing” you’ll probably want at least a managers approval first. Some companies get really concerned about stuff like that because it can be classified as “admitting fault” from a legal perspective.

      I’d try and go with something in the middle like “I’m so sorry you’re unhappy with your order! We do list the shipping charge on the website, but due to the systems design it only displays after you’ve entered your payment method but before the order is finalized. We charge $100 for shipping this item because of the size and handling requirements on our end. Unfortunately, we can’t waive that shipping charge, would you still like to receive the item?”

      Using “we” rather than I helps emphasize that it’s not the OPs decision and not something that’s likely to get changed if they escalate (although some people will still try) and if the company requires they try and save the sale it’s probably better to finish by asking if they still want their order/item than asking if they want to cancel. That way the customer should still feel like they can say “no, cancel my order” or “no, I don’t want it” without the OP being the first one to mention cancelling.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        I really like the wording of your response. Apologize once, explain what happened matter-of-factly without hemming and hawing about whose fault it was (when I was in customer service I’d zip through this part really quickly regardless of whose fault it actually was–if it was mine, I don’t want to dwell on that, if it was the customer’s, I don’t want to embarrass them) and then offer a simple choice as solution.

    5. Ordinary Worker*

      I was going to say the same thing. With an already upset customer this phrasing would totally be perceived as blaming them and simply make them more angry. Since this is an ongoing issue my phrasing would have probably gone something like this:

      “I can totally understand your frustration with how the shipping cost came up on the website, I have passed the issue on to our IT department and will follow up with them to let them know it’s still an issue. Would you like to cancel the order or move forward with it as it stands.”

      This shows you heard their issue by repeating it back, you’ve informed them you’ve done everything YOU can do by passing the issue on and that you will follow up (even if that’s just a “fyi” to your manager that it’s a problem) and then moves forward to a resolution by giving them options to choose from…. options that don’t include a refund that they won’t get.

      If they continue to request the refund, which is what it sounds like happened here, you have to repeat the “I wish that was an option but unfortunately in this case we can either cancel or process the order as it stands.”

      The goal is to try and avoid the “Can’t, won’t, No” wording and redirect them to their choices.

      1. Not me*

        Though in this case, I think that information actually is completely new to them.

        Sorry, was thinking about my own job for a minute there. Customers who don’t read instructions, etc.

    6. UsedToDoSupport*

      The website reader is never dumb. If the message didn’t get across, it is the fault of the web team. (I am a web dev)

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Well, there are always going to be users who just click on things randomly without reading them. But if you field more than one or two of these types of complaints (the frequency depends on your traffic volume), then it’s a usability issue, and I agree that that’s usually the first thing you should consider.

      2. LBK*

        I mean, there are plenty of dumb customers out there who will never read anything no matter how prominently you display it, or they’ll forget that they read it as soon as they see it, or they’ll read it wrong and insist their reading was correct. We had an extremely clearly stated return policy that was on the receipt, on a mat and a flyer at every register and also displayed on a 15-foot-tall poster (plus it was available on our website or you could just ask anyone in the store). We still had people who insisted they had no way to know what the return policy was. It’s not 100% of the time that if a customer says information wasn’t readily available to them, they’re correct.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I asked for a return exception once in a store I frequented regularly. They also had a very clearly posted policy. It was a t-shirt and I had literally bought it a half hour before and never wore it. It was still in the bag (I changed my mind). The clerk actually screamed at me–so loudly that the manager came out of the office. The sudden screaming rattled me so much I was shaking. The manager made the exception. They’re lucky I kept going back in there, though I waited a while before I did. That clerk was not there any more after the incident. I think he got fired.

          It’s sometimes worthwhile to ask, under the right circumstances. But I never said I didn’t know the policy–just asked politely if they would make a one-time exception for a regular customer. In this case, I got it because the clerk was a huge dick. I think his screaming freaked the manager out as much as it did me.

  15. xarcady*

    If the shipping is *always* $100, why on earth isn’t that listed on the product page? If the $100 is a minimum, that should be listed as well.

    It sounds as if this particular product and it’s associated shipping fee are an on-going problem. As a customer, I would feel as if your company wasn’t upfront and honest about the shipping–most on-line shopping I’ve done has unusually high shipping fees clearly stated right next to the price of the product.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yes, this. I would not only cancel my order – I would also never order from your company again, and probably tell my friends about it.

    2. Ad Astra*

      And, if there’s a good reason for charging that much in shipping fees (and it sounds like there might be), they could even create a little “Why does shipping cost this much?” link that takes customers to an explanation of all the benefits to doing this way.

    3. KarenT*

      It sounds like the item may be furniture (since the shipping perk is no assembly). I’m not defending the company’s site or policy, but I would think most people would expect to pay more for shipping a bulky or large item.

  16. Lunar*

    I think Alison has some great advice here. I can understand the impulse to say that there may have been a glitch in the website – it seems better than telling the customer that they didn’t pay enough attention to the pricing before they placed their order, but I think that attributing it to a glitch will just make it seem like the customer is having to deal with the consequences of a problem on your company’s end and will probably just make them more annoyed. I would avoid mention of a glitch all together and, as Alison said, refocus the conversation on how the customer would like the proceed with the order. If you think it is possible that there was a glitch that caused the order to go through without adjusting the total on the customer’s screen then test it out yourself and addressing the glitch if it exists. It doesn’t have to come into the conversation with the customer.

    I would also make sure that the website does showcase the shipping fees in a more prominent way and outlines the perks that you mention are included in the shipping fee. I would even consider lowering the shipping fee and including the cost of those perks in the price of the product so shipping appears to reflect the cost of shipping, not the cost of perks and shipping. Or, as moss said above, add the $100 to the cost of the product and make shipping “free”. I think I would be far more likely to purchase a more expensive product with free shipping than a product with exorbitant shipping.

  17. FTW*

    I had this happen on a recent order. I noticed when I requested shipping that it added $100 to a $65 order (small furniture item with limited assembly). Luckily there is a local store where I could do in store pick-up, but otherwise I would have cancelled the order. Although shipping would include assembly, assembly on this item is so minimal that I could do it in 5 -10 minutes. If it was a complicated assembly, or an expensive item, I could see this fee being reasonable and assembly being a useful inclusion in the shipping price.

    The challenge is that there is no middle option of basic shipping with no assembly, only in store pick-up or full service assembly. Although I understand the value proposition of the full service delivery, is just not what customers are looking for in a lot of cases. The assessment by marketing of the consumer is likely a bit off, and will be hopefully adjusted in time.

  18. xarcady*

    And the extra perks should not have to be mentioned only if a customer calls your company. Why not raise the price of the product, and then mention in the description of the product that buying from your company means that the customer gets an assembled product? That could be a benefit over your competitors. And, if I’m reading the OP correctly, it would bring the price of shipping down.

  19. Natalie*

    Personally I really dislike any kind of ordering system that requires me to input a lot of information before I can see the total price. So, depending on how the shipping is determined I think your company should do one of these:

    – if shipping is the same for the majority of your customers (ie everyone within the country you are based in), just display it without making people enter their billing information. I’ve noticed a lot of sites these days show the shopping cart on a sidebar, with the shipping cost itemized.

    – if shipping differs substantially depending on the customer, add a little “estimate taxes & shipping” widget. Typically one enters their zip code and it spits out a calculation for taxes and whatever your basic level shipping is.

    One last thought – if this particular item or group of items has a high shipping cost compared to most of your products, note that in the product description. Ages ago when I shopped at Delia’s (I’m not doing the camel case), I remember they always had a symbol and”extra shipping” in fine print for furniture. Since they mostly sold clothes, furniture items didn’t fit into their standard shipping structure.

    1. fposte*

      Interestingly, Amazon has an alert when the shipping cost is proportionately high to the purchase price. I can’t remember if I had to confirm or not (shipping pottery from Japan, so yeah, high shipping and handling) but I was pleasantly surprised to see the situation flagged.

  20. Corrupted by Coffee*

    I think the people here are over estimating what is in her power to change. Its all well and good to tell her to demand they change the website, or offer cancellations immediately, but at no customer service job I know of would you have been able to do those things. In fact, I remember cancellation being emphasized as the last resort (which it kind of is in this case), but generally after you have made attempts to save the sale.

    1. Natalie*

      I don’t think anyone has any illusions that the LW can change the website, but changing the website probably is the best solution so the LW can make that suggestion to someone.

  21. Nobody Here By That Name*

    I would do a slight tweak to Alison’s wording. Even if a customer is 100% at fault, it rarely helps to tell them that (both in terms of their mood, and in terms of solving the problem). Recall that the problem is that the customer felt the shipping charges weren’t clear enough. In other words, not whether they are clear.

    It doesn’t matter if there’s a big ol’ blinking banner at the top of the website saying “$100 SHIPPING CHARGE ON EVERY ORDER!!!” I would still approach the conversation from the customer’s POV that their feelings about their experience are valid. I don’t need to convince the customer that I’m right and she’s wrong. I need to let the customer know that I understand she had a sub-standard experience and I want to make her experience better.

    So, if it was me, I’d go with wording more like “I’m so sorry for the sticker shock! We do try to make shipping costs clear on the website but from what you’re telling me I can see how it could be overlooked. Unfortunately we can’t change the shipping charges for you, but I can certainly try to help find other solutions for you or cancel your order if that’s what you prefer?”

    And then, towards the end, something like “Thank you so much for calling to tell us about what happened. As I said, we try to set up the website to be as clear as possible but without customer feedback we have no idea if we’ve succeeded or not. I appreciate you taking the time to let us know.”

    Then, depending on what actually happened (such as if there’s that blinking sign or not), I might go to whoever’s responsible for the website and let them know about the issues customers are having. Even if there is a blinking sign it could be that customers just don’t pay attention to it and there needs to be improvement. But again, for the customer I’d approach it from the concept of their experience and not what objective reality would say.

  22. Malissa*

    This sounds like one of those websites where I will often abandon my order. I don’t know why there are still so many sites that require my credit card number before giving me a shipping amount. It can’y be that hard to have a screen where the customer inputs all of their address information then it goes to another screen that has the product, taxes, and shipping spelled out very clearly before having to enter any credit card information.
    OP if your website is asking for credit card numbers before giving shipping information upset customers aren’t the only issue. Your company is also losing customers before that point. I know you may not be able to make the change but maybe you can start the conversation that leads to that change and in the end leads to less problems for you to deal with.

    1. Anx*


      I have abandoned more online purchases than I’ve completed for this very reason. There is no way I’m putting in my billing information until I know what I’m ordering. Taxes and shipping is part of that.

    2. Grapey*

      It’s definitely not difficult to have an upfront shipping cost. Statistically though, customers are more likely to place the order after they’ve submitted payment details. There is a psychological aspect to starting the payment workflow that many customers apparently don’t back away from. Not enough customers are bothered by it that these online stores are seeing a need to change the way they do things.

      (And frankly, I knowingly complete orders myself in those cases. If my amazon prime won’t cover it, a few bucks spent on another place shipping it is worth it for me to not have to navigate to three different sites and compare ship dates/cost.)

  23. Jubilance*

    As I was reading the exchange with the customer, all I could think was how this would be a great story for For Always Right. My first impression was that the customer was trying to get free shipping. OP, make sure the shipping charge is clearly and boldly articulated – I like the suggestion of the shipping estimate function so that buyers are aware before they purchase.

    1. Nina*

      I had to stop reading the entries on Not Always Right because they were too depressing. I only stick to the “Awesome Customer/Awesome Employee” entries because they usually have a happy ending, so to speak.

  24. some1*

    “I even let him know that we could use his own shipping account if he gets cheaper rates, but he quickly let me know that he did not have that available.”

    I would kind of be annoyed at this suggestion, tbh. Most people don’t have their own shipping account. It’d be like if a furniture store wanted to charge me $100 delivery for a couch and said, “Well, if you have your own truck you can pick it up for free” — if I had my own truck (or ready access to one) I wouldn’t ask for it to be delivered!

    1. LBK*

      Eh, I think depending on what you’re buying and how, many companies actually won’t let you do your own pickup or shipping – for example, if the product is coming directly from a warehouse that’s not designed for customer access – so it could be a good option for some customers that they weren’t aware of. I get the impression this is a company that sells to a lot of businesses, so it wouldn’t be unusual for them to have a shipping account or some kind of relationship with a third-party delivery service.

  25. Applesauced*

    I worked in sales at a mid-range furniture store NOTORIOUS for terrible shipping and delivery policies. The store was in a city, so we didn’t stock large items (couches, dining tables…) in house – if someone wanted an item their options were a) come back to the store in a few days to pick it up b) arrange for delivery for a fee or c) order online where you’re charged 10% shipping and handling plus a $100-250 “delivery fee” for oversized items.
    Everyone had this problem and we lost customers due to it. And we told store management, upper management and they KNOW it’s a problem and somehow can’t figure it out.
    It’s not something in the control of OP, but I agree with raising prices to include the extra fee, so long as the online price matches the in-store price.

    1. Doreen*

      But that will cause complaints from different customers. Using Ikea as an example, if I order a particular $179 bed online, shipping will be $139 minimum for that item and it will come from one of Ikea’s three US distribution centers. If I buy from the store 40 minutes from my house, I can take it with me for no extra charge or get next day delivery for $99 dollars, no matter how large the order is. (People who live closer get same day for $59) How is Ikea going to both include shipping in the price and make the online and store pricing equal without either raising my price or losing money on the people who live outside the store delivery zone?

      Prices should include fees that can’t be avoided – but delivery charges can sometimes be avoided and even more frequently can’t really be allocated by item . Ikea will charge me $139 to deliver just that bed if I order online -but that’s the minimum shipping cost whether I order a just a bed or a just a set of sheets. But shipping wouldn’t cost twice as much if I ordered both- in fact, it might still be $139 for a bed and a number of other smaller items.

      1. Batshua*

        Really?! Wow, when I was ordering from IKEA, delivery was like $300. It was painful. In my area, it’s actually so bad that there’s an entire industry around dudes with their trucks doing pickup and delivery for you for way less than the company IKEA contracts out their delivery.

        .oO(Why is that last sentence awkward, and how can I fix it without ending a sentence a preposition with?)

        1. Grapey*

          “In my area, it’s actually so bad that there’s an entire industry around dudes with their trucks doing the same work that IKEA’s delivery contractors do – only cheaper!”

          “In my area, IKEA charges so much they’ve actually created a market for dudes with trucks to offer the same pickup and delivery service!”

  26. UX Designer*

    I work in UX Design and this is most definitely a website issue and one that needs to be addressed STAT. What an awful user flower (though I understand why you need the address to calculate shipping). It’s really unfortunate that poor design is making your life harder. If LinkedIn’s lawsuit about tricking users in to connecting their address books and sending their contacts spam is any indication, companies really need to take their digital experiences seriously. No body likes to feel “tricked” in real life and that applies to the interwebs too.

    1. UX Designer*

      And per comments above the shipping cost should be listed in the product page as well as any shipping or FAQ/page you have. You can absolutely require the address first in order to calculate shipping. But the system should ask for the SHIPPING address first, have a VERY CLEAR price update and new subtotal, then require billing address/credit card. After entering that information the user should be able to confirm their order WITH THE SHIPPING clearly called out. Good UX solves so many problems.

      1. The Bimmer Guy*

        You’re correct. And, like I said below, this practice probably violates the merchant terms for Visa, MasterCard, etc…, as well as violating the terms of whichever payment-processing API/service they’re using. I would let upper management know that their continued use of this practice is likely to result in their being disallowed to process payments in the future. And if they don’t want to invest the time in fixing this now, they’ll probably invest a lot more time in integrating a new payment processor, assuming they can get one.

      2. The Bimmer Guy*

        And, yes, make it clear from the on-set that there’s a not-insignificant shipping charge. You don’t want customers who (rightfully) feel like they’ve been tricked into buying your product, for a multitude of reasons.

      3. LizNYC*

        I was only going to comment to say that it’s a UX (user experience) issue and your tech team needs to get on this yesterday. Websites can do what you want them to!

        Also, I’ve seen websites that have you put in your address first to calculate shipping (for FedEx/UPS). Or be like Amazon, and have every charge broken down before you hit the “submit” button. I’d notice if my total (in huge font) went up $100.

  27. UsedToDoSupport*

    I once had a really angry client call me a “smart alec”. I told my boss…that I was considering that win because hey at least I am smart!

  28. jhhj*

    Oh, and re using your own shipping account — one company rep told us to do it (we have very low shipping needs so not a good cost) and it cost us more than double the shipping had we used theirs.

  29. Anonymous Ninja*

    IME, skip the IT department and take this to marketing. This isn’t an IT decision but a marketing one.

  30. aebhel*

    In addition to everything that’s already been said, I think this is one of those times where…this is the downside of being in a customer-facing role; sometimes people are not happy and you’re not going to make them happy, and the best you can do is clearly articulate what you CAN do for them and let them decide where they want to take it.

  31. AndersonDarling*

    I was taught to use the 4A customer service method: Apologize, Acknowledge, Ask, Act.
    1. “I’m so sorry the shipping charges were not more visible.”
    2. “I understand that you are upset that the shipping charges were so high and you were not aware of them.” (sometimes we assume the customer is upset for one reason, but it really is another)
    3. “Is there something I can do to make this situation right?”
    4. “I’m sorry I cannot give you with free shipping. I’d be happy to cancel your order, but I would like to offer you a certificate for 10% off your next order. I hope you will still consider using our services in the future.”

    If you ask what the customer would like done, you may find they just want the shipping reduced, or they just want to make a complaint, which is doable. Oh, and don’t give excuses, that just upsets the customer. This has worked many times, and when it doesn’t, at least I know I used a good resolution method to try and make things right.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I prefer to use this approach myself.
      I think that OP’s approach, all though well thought out, only ticked the customer off because it probably felt long-winded and HE thought it had nothing to do with is question. It does not matter if you are answering the question, it only matters if the CUSTOMER thinks you are answering the question.

      Annnd, as I read this, I could feel a little panic come up inside of me. “I just gave you my credit card info and now you are telling me I HAVE TO buy this product?” If I were on the receiving end of this convo, I would feel like my leg was caught in a leg trap. Others have pointed out that she could have offered to cancel the order and I think that should have been one of the first things she said. I would not have heard a word of the rationale behind the charges. I would have been thinking, “I just gave this person my card number and now they will not let me out of the business deal.” I had this happen once with AOL, years ago. My soft spoken husband was driven to yelling after a half hour of not being able to get the service rep to cancel our service. I got on the extension line with my husband and we both fought with the rep for 15 more minutes. Finally, after 45 minutes of refusing the cancel our service, the rep said he would cancel IF I hung up my phone. I agreed to hang up, but I said, “I am standing right beside my husband. If you do not cancel this service within one minute of my hanging up, I will pick this phone up again. My husband will tell me if you are NOT in the process of canceling my service.” (This guy was a something else. He would not cancel our service, nor would he put his supervisor on the line. My husband and I told this story to everyone we met up with for months after it happened.)

  32. Jady*

    Do not call it a glitch.

    Saying that is admitting fault for the company. If the company is at fault, any reasonable customer would expect the company to bend over backwards to fix it. If for no other reason than to avoid a bad reputation.

  33. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    I dabble it site design with basic html skills, and from what I know, it doesn’t seem like a huge task to swap the order in which those pages appear. In other words, have the customer enter their address BEFORE the order total is shown (I understand you need their address to calculate shipping costs). That way on the final page where they “submit” the order, they can see the cost break down of product cost plus shipping. That really just seems like swapping a couple of pages around and shouldn’t be that big of a task for your IT/web-design team to tackle. If this is happening often, that seems like an easy way to fix it.

    1. Dr. Pepper Addict*

      Also, if there is a way to have a flat shipping cost – use flat rate boxes or calculate the average shipping across the country for the product and just use that, you could list that on the order total page. That might also be an option.

  34. The Bimmer Guy*

    I would really push against this internally. As a web developer, I can say that there is no real reason for your site to need and/or process billing details before the shipping fee is calculated. Ostensibly, you could have the customer enter his/her shipping zip code at the beginning and use that to calculate shipping, then port that zip code over to the billing address page…or just calculate shipping costs as the address is added in.

    What’s more, this practice probably violates the merchant terms for whichever credit cards you accept, because it’s likely to result in a lot of charge backs and disputes. I know *I* would dispute this if it were my purchase…

    1. moss*

      I totally agree. I would dispute this and probably AmEx would side with me. That would make even more of a headache for the retailer! (I am not trying to give retailers headaches.)

  35. xarcady*

    Just wanted to say that I feel for this OP. I’ve been there, with angry customers, a corporate body that knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that their polices cause customers to get upset, but are still unwilling to do a darn thing about it. Even as they pat themselves on the back for their “superb customer service.”

    The customer service rep is caught between irate customers, an unyielding corporation, the knowledge that the customer is right, and the inability to do anything about it.

    It is not a fun place to be.

    1. The Bimmer Guy*

      I, too, worked in an organization whose M.O. was, “Let’s screw them over once and never see them again.”

      It doesn’t sound like they want repeat business, either. If this were to happened to me and I had no remedy from the merchant, I’d dispute the charge with my bank/card company, and then never shop there again.

  36. hbc*

    ” Is there a way that I could have saved this customer before escalating it to my manager and having her repeat the same thing back to him, ultimately ending in the cancellation of his order?”

    Probably not. If it’s easy for people to miss (or you suspect they might actually be experiencing “glitches”), they’re going to be surprised and disappointed. Some will buy your explanation, some won’t think the price is worth it now and want to cancel, and a select few might have been willing to pay but aren’t going to give you a dime because they feel duped. You might be able to nudge people more into the first category by fine tuning the explanation, but the rest of it is in the hands of the people who manage the website.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yeah, at this point I think the sale is lost, but you can try to save the customer by being polite and helpful. If you are pleasant, they may come back to order something else.

  37. MLT*

    When people complain, they don’t want to hear excuses or explanations. They want you to hear THEM. Repeat what they have said to show you are listening. Agree to whatever it makes sense to agree to: Yes, I can see how a $100 shipping fee would be upsetting. Yes, I can see how that wasn’t clear to you. You’re right, that is a lot of money. Yes, I understand your not wanting to pay that much shipping – I can cancel that order for you if you like. Yes, I will definitely pass your complaint on to my supervisor – the company always wants to know when we can do better. I am sorry your experience with our website was upsetting, and I appreciate you taking the time to call us to allow us to straighten this out for you.

    It’s verbal tai chi… don’t push back against an angry customer, but pull the energy along to dissipate it.

    1. LBK*

      I don’t think this is actually true a lot of the time. Plenty of people actually do want to understand how the mistake happened or why they were misled or whatever it may be. You don’t want to get overly defensive, but glossing over the reasoning is going to piss off a lot of customers.

      I also think this approach is a bit patronizing; you can be sympathetic without being obsequious, which is how this reads to me.

      1. MLT*

        I can see how it might read that way. Tone and genuine concern are important for this to work. We wouldn’t be saying all of those things – probably just one or maybe two. You are right that explanations are sometimes necessary, but once someone is angry, we have found that listening and agreeing to the degree we can honestly do so is the best way for our staff to move the conversation forward.

  38. T*

    As a quick aside, it’s not always possible to clearly separate “fault” where misleading advertising is involved, since the whole premise is that the inducement to contract was designed to encourage an action a consumer would otherwise not take. It can be simultaneously true that a customer could have been more careful about reading the fine print and yet still has a valid gripe based on deceptive business practices.

  39. Zoe*

    I recommend sending this amazing essay by JM Spool to your web people: The $300M Button.

    UX/UI design *will* affect the bottom line of the business. And if the form is bad or unclear, you are losing revenue and customers. Lots of great suggestions in the thread about how to improve things (like, just including the shipping in the price etc) but it sounds like the web group needs some schoolin’.

  40. A Bug!*

    I have no relevant experience in designing or coding Web sites, so I would be happy to be corrected on any of this. But you do mention that the order page updates the total when you put in your shipping information. Does the update happen within the page itself or does it click the user through to a new page that has the full total?

    If the purchase cost is displayed through one means, and the shipping cost through another, then a given browser could conceivably be able to display one but not the other. If that’s the case, and that’s the only point in the purchase process that displays the total for the buyer, then any number of your complaining customers could legitimately not have been able to see the shipping charges before confirming the order.

    Whose “fault” it would be (legal or moral) in that situation would be up for debate, but from a practical standpoint it would certainly be a flaw in the ordering system. An additional confirmation step where the entire order, plus charges, is displayed on a static page, might prevent it from happening in the future. Most online stores I shop at do the in-page update for shipping but then click me through to a confirmation page where no changes can be made without clicking back to an earlier step.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Also, if it does a fancy update-in-place and the user has it scrolled to where the updated part isn’t visible, they could again legitimately not see it.

  41. Lindrine*

    If part of the shipping cost includes assembly, then that is a value ad that should be explained on the site. They also need to make the shipping more clear. Assembled and shipped for only $100!. If there is not a flat shipping rate, it would make sense for them to find a way to clearly state “plus shipping & assembly”. I do think they could spin the assembly, especially if the item is a pain to assemble.

    I like the other suggestions about tone and scripts/things to say, and if you have a good supervisor you should be able to have a chat with them about it and see if change could be made. At the minimum they need to give you all some tools/suggestions on how to respond to the situation.

  42. sam*

    for an example of a store that handles this sort of thing well is crate and barrel/cb2. They have “free shipping” on a lot of items, but not everything. And for furniture, the shipping cost is quite expensive. But they put the shipping cost in big blocks on their furniture page – you can see the “Unlimited Delivery for One Flat Fee” box on this page. and it appears on every page for furniture that is subject to it. if you click on “learn more” on one of the furniture pages, it gives a range of prices that depend on the amount you’re spending and your distance from a warehouse (anywhere up to about $200). This is before you even add anything to your cart.

    Then, anything that qualifies for free shipping has “free shipping” directly underneath the item photo.

    I haven’t tried buying anything that requires this type of shipping, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you get additional warnings/screens that require you to acknowledge the shipping cost. Not to mention the fact that these sorts of deliveries require you to schedule delivery times and potentially freight elevators if you live in an apartment building.

    That’s how you minimize surprising your customers.

  43. hjc24*

    Calling it a glitch when it probably wasn’t is the equivalent of saying “oh, your email must have gone into my spam folder” when you either don’t remember receiving it or just didn’t get back to the person. It’s a CYA strategy that may have seemed believable 15 years ago, but doesn’t really fly in our much more tech-savvy world.

    I sell on eBay a lot and we are encouraged to build an average shipping cost into the price of what we sell, because free (or reduced cost) shipping is more of an enticement to buy. I would recommend doing that at your company.

  44. Retail Lifer*

    OP, it sucks when you have no control over things that cause you to be yelled at. The website is terrible, but you can’t fix that and you can report it but chances are no one will listen.

    The basic rules in customer service are that you let the customer get it all out without interrupting him, apologize, let him know you understand his frustration, and offer him any alternatives you can. Bad: I can’t refund the shipping. Better: I can cancel the order for you right now. There’s not really a “good” answer since what the customer wants just isn’t possible.

    Best of luck to you. The people that make the rules never have to deal with the daily fallout.

  45. MR*

    This is 2015 and it’s a reasonable assumption by the purchaser that whatever price they are being told by the time they enter their billing information, will be the final price.

    It’s basically a bait-and-switch by the OPs company that they are adding $100+ in shipping after the fact.

    Whatever the item is, it may certainly be reasonable to expect that shipping and handling be in excess of $100. But by not disclosing this prior to submitting billing information is a terrible practice by your company. They need to fix this immediately and avoid angering customers in a completely avoidable manner.

  46. Callie30*

    A few things: It’s reasonable (and logical) that a large item and/or an international shipment will have a large shipping cost, but it should certainly be clear in the final cost by the time people input their payment information.

    In this specific situation, it sounds like the customer wasn’t paying attention to the final cost during the checkout process and is now trying to get a refund for the shipping cost they overlooked. However, to be fair, most people are used to having the final cost listed before entering payment information.

    I would recommend that the marketing/IT departments look at the site and make improvements to avoid this in the future. A simple item to add would be ‘Plus Shipping’ on the product page itself if additional changes can’t be made to the payment software.

    The other question would be whether this has happened before. If it happens regularly there is certainly an issue.
    If not, perhaps this person made a mistake and is taking it out on the company for his/her own oversight.

  47. Ultraviolet*

    I agree with the large number of commenters who say that if the CSR attributes the customer’s surprise at the shipping cost to a “glitch,” it will infuriate the customer that the company expects them to eat that cost. Even if it were $1 instead of $100, I would expect the company to apologize and fix it. I think that once you say both “must have been a glitch on our end” AND “I can’t refund the shipping,” it will be hard to leave the customer with a positive impression (and uncanceled order).

    I understand you were also referring to the possibility of a glitch in the customer’s browser, but I think it’s better to just avoid attributing the problem to glitches at all.

  48. "Free Shipping" Bugaboo*

    Self-anonymizing to say that increasing your prices and offering “free shipping” can cause ill-will if not done carefully.

    Here’s why.

    There are a number of companies that offer “free shipping” to the Lower 48 states but charge Alaska and Hawaii (and sometimes Puerto Rico) full freight. If we are not contiguous, we understand that shipping is more expensive to us than to other locales. However, we end up paying double oftentimes — the bundled price *plus* the entirety of a bloated shipping/handling rate. The merchants that understand this fact charge us the differential (i.e. upcharge) rather than the whole price. I know I pay close attention to merchants’ behavior and definitely give my loyalty to those who treat me fairly.

    Further, any I’ve called who say “oh we only ship to the states” get put on my never-shop-there list [even when on the mainland and able to walk into a store] after I briefly explain we’ve been an incorporated U.S. territory for more than a century, and a full-fledged state for 56 years now.

  49. Laurie*

    I think this broadly falls under the category of a “user-experience design” issue, meaning, the website isn’t designed properly enough to prevent user confusion. And increasing the item price and making shipping free has financial statement implications in terms of how the revenue is recorded, so that may not be as easy as it sounds.

    If it isn’t possible to change the product page to reflect “$100 shipping”, I’d recommend at least saying in bold letters “UNUSUAL SIZE SHIPPING APPLIES, please enter your address to calculate shipping” or something similar. I think it catches people’s eye enough to get them to work with your website’s constraints.

  50. Memyselfandi*

    I hate it when they don’t tell you they don’t ship to PO Boxes until you call to inquire why the items did not arrive.

    That being said, I recognize the behavior of the customer as I have done it myself. I once ordered some items using my mother’s credit card. I was living with her at the time. Well, I thought they never arrived so I called the company and insisted on an immediate refund. Perhaps I was more insistent because it was my mother’s card. The rep kept insisting the item shipped and I kept insisting it hadn’t and demanded an immediate refund. I kept at it until I got what I wanted. I think the poor woman was nearly in tears. Several months later I found the box in my mother’s closet. She was in the early stages of dementia. The box arrived when I was out and she tucked it away without opening it and never mentioned it. I’ve always felt bad about it and have since tried to work with customer reps. But being doggedly persistent in your demands can work.

  51. Observer*

    I have to say that I agree with all the people who say that if this happens more than very occasionally, it’s a design problem, and you should pass it up the food chain. Also, that attributing the problem to a glitch is a terrible idea as you have just effectively admitted that they really were never given a chance to factor the price in, and “explaining” the supposed benefits of the high charge is useless.

    I wanted to add something that I think is important. I think you were so focused on keeping the sale that you forgot about keeping the customer. And, even if you don’t think your business gains from repeat customers (a fairly rare scenario), ALL businesses are affected by word of mouth, for better or worse. And, negative opinions tend to travel more widely than positive ones.

  52. boop*

    So many websites hide their shipping prices, so if this person has been shopping for some time, they may have been frustrated before they even got to your website. I don’t think it warrants a discount, though.

    (Completely unrelated to OP: man, I wish websites at least made it possible to get at least a ballpark guess on shipping BEFORE having to create an account, give them pages of information, whatever, whatever. Some sites have information elsewhere, but then hide the link deep within the recesses of their support section. Just! Just… tell me what you waaaaaannntt! *cries* And in the end it always turns out that if I want something the size and price of a paperback novel, it’s gonna cost $30 or even as high as $70 to put it in the mailbox :O)

  53. Sy*

    If the price of shipping is displayed before the billing information, then in your response include a screenshot of the page or pages of where it is documented. Also include a link to the terms of service and any refund policies. I’ve worked a lot of customer support (phone, email, chat) and I’ve found that empathy plus the rules that you have to follow help bring a customer around. If it’s possible to give a refund or credit and the policies allow it, just take care of them so they can be on their way. If you have a no refund policy let them know they can always file a dispute with their card issuer. Always try to give your customer an option, even if it’s not the greatest one. And acknowledge that the situation sucks if it does. And do talk to your manager about how the ordering system looks, again with screenshots to back your customers up that it’s misleading. All the places I’ve worked have had a ticket system to report bugs and issues. CS is generally front lines to catch these things and smart companies respect that.

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