Consumers trying to make purchases from the Walmart.com Web site wont be able to phone for help anymore.
Pointing to improvements to the Web site, Wal-Mart officials said phone support is no longer needed and is shutting it down.
Critics label the move as a reckless act of cost-cutting that will quickly haunt Wal-Mart.
The Wal-Mart action was first reported in The New York Times, which said the change will happen the week of Oct. 1. The regular 1-800-WALMART number will still work for in-store questions.
The Times quoted Wal-Mart spokesperson Amy Colella as saying the customer service phone number was being removed "because a significant number of calls are related to order tracking, and the improvements to the Web site will make the tracking easier."
Im not sure whats more disconcerting. Is it that Wal-Mart believes its customers will never need Web site help or that it thinks that its Web systems are now so flawless that customer service backup is not necessary?
Daniel Obregon, a marketing communications manager for eStara, a vendor that sells click-to-call and click-to-chat services, questioned the wisdom of the Wal-Mart move and contrasted it with how another retailer dealt with a similar challenge.
Click here to read more about why Wal-Mart says its Web-to-store program is doing well.
When Amazon.com decided that customers were frequently asking questions that the Web site could easily handle, "They didnt eliminate the phone service. They were just very smart about how they used it," Obregon said.
What Amazon did, however, was hide its phone number and make it only appear when a customer was several layers into a purchase.
Wal-Marts fiscally conservative culture is undermining the chains online strategy, Obregon contended. Wal-Marts "contact center is being viewed as more of a cost center than as an opportunity center. They were trying to deal with the issue of volume and their solution was to push everyone down a single [contact] path," Obregon said.
"But individual consumers do not always have the same needs. Its a leap of faith that one channel is appropriate for all consumers," he said.
Maybe Wal-Mart should change its tagline from the new "Save Money. Live Better" to "Save Money. Hang Up." Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.
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