Split Shipments Gone Wild: The Customer Experience at ToysRUs 

Nothing lets your customers down like a poor checkout experience. Think about it: you’ve done the hard work as a brand, retailer, or marketplace. You’ve spent the ad money, and you’ve stocked your shelves and warehouses. You’ve invested in the right technology, and you’re providing options for shipping so your customers can select the options that work best for them.

You’ve done everything right, and still you’re losing customers in the checkout process. What’s happening?

This is exactly what my experience was with Canadian retailer ToysRUs (not to be confused with the American version, which sadly does not exist anymore). Having shopped many more times than I would care to admit with them since having a child just over a year ago, I was frankly disappointed with the checkout process I was presented with over this past BFCM. 

My mission was simple: buy two items from ToysRUs.ca and have them shipped to my house (again, new mom here). Definitely not mission impossible! 

Using my preferred online shopping tool, my phone, I navigated to the ToysRUs website and added the first item to my cart, a baby snowboard. As I did, the site prompted me to select my nearest store. Done.

I had three shipping options for the baby snowboard:

  • Free Store Pickup
  • Same-Day Delivery (a la DoorDash),
  • Home Delivery.

I chose Home Delivery 

On to the second item, a helmet – safety first!  The kid’s got a small head, so I’m limited in what I can select. I go with this one. It’s in- stock, but not available for free store pickup or same-day delivery, only home delivery. Perfect.

Add to cart.

On to the checkout. I’m almost home free, this is literally the last thing to get on my Christmas list. I checkout as a guest, as I don’t have an account and I’m not interested in making one. I just want to finish this process and move on with my day. 

Step 1. Home Shipping – Home Delivery

Perfect. I can see the pink helmet above the fold of the page. Add my contact information, and check. Add my address, check. The site validates my address and asks me if I’d like to change it to the slightly different address they present me with – fine. I scroll down, next step should be payment, since I selected both items to be shipped to me…

Except it’s not. Somehow the tiny snowboard has switched to Pickup In Store somewhere between me and adding it to my cart as a “Home Delivery” on the previous pages. Well, that’s… strange. Why would the site present me with a shipping option that wasn’t valid? But fine, it’s a local store and I can swing by it in the next few days, so I chalk this error up to BFCM volume. 

Step 2. Payment 

I’m on my phone, so I add my credit card information automatically and securely using my digital wallet. Review Your Order. Looks good. Submit Payment.

And the page reloads.

It doesn’t look like my payment had been processed, so I figured maybe I did something wrong. I re-filled out the forms, and clicked Submit Payment again. The same thing happens.

Now I’m getting a bit confused. Thinking now that maybe it’s my credit card that’s throwing off the payment, I switch over to the second payment option presented to me: PayPal. I sign in, authorize the payment in PayPal, and am redirected back to the ToysRUs site. … And back to the same reloaded page again, and not the completed transaction page as I was expecting.

Concerned that I’ve now bought three baby snowboard/helmet sets now, I quickly login to my credit card app to make sure none of the transactions went through. I also check my email to see if any confirmation receipts had been sent through. Nothing. 

Most customers would have abandoned their transactions long by this point, but I’m stubborn, in the industry, and curious. I also wanted my stuff, so I tried again in a different way to make sure I had the full picture of what was going on.

I removed everything from my cart and started again.

Selected “In-Store” pickup for the baby snowboard from the get-go this time, and the helmet for delivery as that was still the only option – it wasn’t available in stores.

Go to Cart, Checkout.

This time, I created an account to make sure this wasn’t the issue and went through the same steps in adding my address (now pinned to my profile and account) and credit card information. I clicked Place Order and crossed my fingers. The page was recycled again, and the purchase was not completed.

So, what’s happening here?

The first thing that alludes to what may be happening under the hood at ToysRUs is the different locations of the two items I was trying to buy. The snowboard is available in stores, whereas the helmet was not and could only be shipped – no DoorDash option here.

This tells me, as a data geek and long-standing member of the VL OMNI data integration family, that the snowboard is available to ship from store locations that have physical inventory, while the helmet is likely being drop-shipped from another supplier or manufacturer. The keen will notice that this is a more and more common strategy of eCommerce marketplaces, which seem to be popping up with increasing frequency: many traditional retailers are allowing their suppliers to sell directly to the end customers while shipping inventory from wherever it’s being housed in the world. 

What I had created in my cart was a typical issue many online retailers and merchants in ToysRUs’ shipping situation see: an issue with split shipments and inventory locations. I initially wanted one item to be shipped from me from a store and the other to be shipped to me from wherever else it was being housed. And I wanted both items to be processed in the same transaction.

As the customer, this option was presented to me in the checkout – it’s not like I demanded ToysRUs to provide me with a special shipping situation. By the second time around, I caved to the strange automatic switch-over of the snowboard’s shipping option from Home Delivery to Pickup In Store, but the transaction still didn’t process. And going through the process of creating an account and trying multiple payment methods made it clear to me that ToysRUs was experiencing symptoms of a poorly fitted integration solution. 

It’s not a standard data treatment that many shipping or eCommerce applications can handle natively, or that a plug-in integration can handle. Split shipments like this, where items are coming from multiple inventory locations need different business-specific rules and conditions applied (like home delivery, or same-day with DoorDash when available when certain conditions are met) to the data as it moves between the eCommerce platform and the shipping application, and vice-versa. 

Ultimately, I ended up completing my purchase – on a desktop version of the site. Yes, that’s right, I eventually gave up on the mobile ToysRUs site, which is indeed a separate site and eCommerce instance. I haven’t seen other customers give feedback experiencing the same problem, so we can also more than likely chalk my issue up to high data volumes around BFCM.

eCommerce Complexity Is Now The Standard

Still, none of this is an excuse the average customer will accept. Most will be gone from the site the first time the transaction fails; even some of my teammates at VL OMNI were recommending alternative products from different suppliers as I worked through this issue. But there’s a learning experience here for VL OMNI Customers and potential customers alike

Good customer experiences come from smooth transactions, which come at the cost of great data integration strategies and solutions.

Data at volume or scale shouldn’t be what hold brands back from making sales during high volume periods like Christmas, B2S, BFCM, and more. It doesn’t hold the likes of big brands like Zippo, Pink Boutique and Manhattan Beachwear

ToysRUs Canada can definitely do better with their data movements at scale, and handling split shipments from different inventory locations. Complex scenarios like this are becoming the norm of what your audience wants… so it’s serve them in the way they want to be served, or reap the consequences.

Nevermind split shipments aren’t even that complex – let’s add in complex product tagging requirements and variants, and now you’re talking about what the industry standard is moving towards for eCommerce complexity!



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