By Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY
After major snafus during a recent pre-Black Friday promotion, Walmart is vowing to improve its new service that allows consumers to buy online and pick up products the same day in stores.
Many people who ordered deeply discounted TVs on Nov. 6 say the TVs weren't available or they were asked to accept what they thought were inferior substitutes, often after getting confirmation e-mails. Walmart acknowledges it didn't have enough inventory to satisfy both online and in-store customers. Dozens of consumers complained to the Black Friday site BFAds.net, which provided some of the complaints to USA TODAY.
"I had followed all of Walmart's rules for the sale," wrote Jeff Whipple of Bellevue, Wash., who was told the Vizio TV he ordered sold out in the middle of his online checkout. "The shopping experience at Walmart online has me very concerned about how I will be treated if I ever show up in person during a sale."
The problems illustrate two drawbacks to Black Friday promotions, especially with discounters. Limited quantities of so-called door-buster deals often leave shoppers empty-handed. And the products are rarely as good as the prices. Brad Wilson of BradsDeals.com says the Nov. 6 Walmart TV prices - which started at $198 - were "new all-time lows" but the Vizio TVs are only "OK to decent."
"Very few people are actually the beneficiary of" Black Friday deals, says Tod Marks, Consumer Reports senior editor and shopping expert. Products are sold "at or below cost to get you into the store, where they hope that you'll expand your horizons and buy far more profitable items."
Michael Brim, founder of BFAds.net, says the TVs Walmart offered almost immediately sold out. "They were really ill-prepared for the quality of the deal they were offering," he says.
In an e-mail to unhappy consumers, Walmart acknowledged it "did not have enough inventory" and should not have included the promotion in its "Pick Up Today" program.
Walmart spokesman Ravi Jariwala says the Black Friday specials on the day after Thanksgiving will not be eligible for the Pick Up Today program. He says the retailer is working with suppliers to make sure it has enough of its top sellers. "That being said, we do recommend coming early, as many items are still anticipated to sell through."
Walmart sent the unhappy consumers a $25 gift card. After repeated calls, Steve Swicegood of Charlotte says, someone from Walmart called and said they would try to get him the TV.
Jill Falkenberg of Mesa, Ariz., says she wants a rain check. After she ordered the $198 TV online, she got a confirmation e-mail so didn't go to the store to buy the TV. The gift card "doesn't replace the fact that I was taken out of the running of getting the product," she says.
"We'll continue to listen to customer feedback and determine further enhancements for the Pick Up Today test," says Jariwala.