I’m a bit of a Luddite when it comes to my barbecue: I am a diehard advocate for charcoal. It takes a bit longer to get the coals going than it does to spark a propane burner, but I argue that only helps by giving the meat more time to marinate and me more time to relax in my backyard.
When the weather finally spurred me to break out my Weber barbecue a few weeks ago, I saw that I needed some replacement parts. After 10 years, I needed a new charcoal grate as my old one was little more than twisted, rusty wire that can hardly support briquettes. I also thought it was time to get a few other additions like a new grill and a kettle-side work surface.
I was very pleased to see that Weber has a very good U.S. website and the prices for the parts I wanted were reasonable. Within a few minutes I was ready to proceed to their online checkout, but wait… I was stopped before I could even get out my credit card. Weber didn’t want my business, because I am Canadian.
Is there a Canadian website, I asked the company via email? No, the U.S. parent answered. I was referred to a toll-free Canadian number instead.
Though disappointed that the company was holding up hoops for me to jump through, I called the number. I aborted my first attempt after five minutes on hold. Later, when I had more time, I waited more than 15 minutes before my call was finally answered.
It was then that I discovered not only does the Canadian Weber barbecue operation make it difficult to access replacement parts, they gouge their Canadian customers too with prices on grates and grillsÂ more than double that of their U.S. parent. I asked both U.S. and Canadian companies how they justified these extreme mark-ups, but got no answer to my questions beyond feeble apologies for my inconvenience.
I found it a very sad example of yet another company that just doesn’t understand how to be a consumer-facing operation in 2008. How can you not have a website for your Canadian customers? Why do you make it so difficult and inconvenient to get through to your customer service line? And why, when customers like me can easily do online price checks, do you have the nerve to gouge us?
Once I tallied up the inflated costs for my Canadian Weber parts, I easily saw I was spending nearly as much as a new barbecue would cost. It doesn’t make sense to order the parts. I’ll check out other options and if I can’t find the parts, I’ll go shopping for a new barbecue instead.
I’m quite sure Weber will not be on my shopping list. So while the company’s management seems to think it is okay to live in 1980 when it comes to customer service, they’re losing sales and lifelong customers like me. Too bad, because they make a good product. I just can’t see myself forking over more money to a company that makes it deliberately difficult for me to be a customer.
What Weber needs to realize – like too many companies – is that the Internet has completed changed the way people shop. Even if I am inclined to go buy a barbecue (or barbecue parts) at the Home Depot or Rona or Costco, I’m going to do my research online first. In a few minutes, I can do some very easy comparison shopping. Corporations need to build their web strategies to recognize that fact. Ironically, the U.S. parent company has an excellent website… I just wish it wasn’t so xenophobic.