How bad copy and poor email communication can ruin a customer experience

I just wanted to buy the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace using a Barnes & Noble gift card. Those of you who know me well may know that I have a soft spot for Tolstoy, and Pevear/Volokhonsky is a fairly recent quality translation.

I headed to, and upon discovering that War and Peace was only $13, I decided to spend $25 to obtain free shipping. I'm not much of a "new book" shopper, so I went for some titles that are hard to score at my local Half Price Books: an older (non-musty) Stephen King and the hard-to-find Death of a Nationalist. I sped through checkout. Everything was set to ship in 24 hours, arriving on my doorstep in 5-7 days. What could go wrong? 

Turns out, a lot. 

In the past four days, I have received no less than 8 emails for my "usually ships in 24 hours" order. Here they are, in chronological order:

  1. Your order has been received. 
  2. Part of your order has been delayed. (War and Peace) 
  3. Part of your order has been delayed. (Death of a Nationalist) 
  4. Your order has been canceled. (War and Peace)
  5. Your order is scheduled to ship. (Email says all three books are shipping) 
  6. Your attention is required. (Here, they need to extend my order by 30 days for War and Peace. I have to log in and approve it.) 
  7. Your order is on its way! (Stephen King only.)
  8. Your order has been canceled. (Death of a Nationalist)

Two out of three books have been cancelled, presumably because they don't have them in stock. Though, both books are being sold online with the words "usually ships in 24 hours." Stranger yet, War and Peace is in stock at my local Barnes & Noble (at the unattractive list price). They really can't locate a copy anywhere and mail it to me?

I would be a happier customer if their content was clear.'s Mistakes

Ships in 24 Hours - Actually, they don't know when it will ship. 

Let's start with "usually ships in 24 hours." Just tell me if it is out of stock. I'll buy something else, or at minimum, I won't be disappointed when it doesn't ship in 24 hours, or fails to ship at all. 

Your order has been cancelled - but we'll be coy about which part of your order.

(my address)

Let's break this down. The body of the email says "...we weren't able to fulfill some or all of the items in your order, as noted below. These items have been canceled from your order." This suggests that the items listed below are the canceled items. 

But then below, the copy above the table says "The remaining item(s) is expected to ship as promised" and lists War and Peace. 

Is War and Peace cancelled, or is it shipped? I have no idea, because....

Your order is scheduled to ship! 

One minute later, I get an email listing the cancelled book in my shipment. Weird! 

Your attention is required - for your canceled/just shipped order. Maybe. 

A day later, I get this email about War and Peace, my canceled(?) and/or shipped item. 

Dear Julie Young , 

Unfortunately, the merchandise listed below has been further delayed.

We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to fulfill your order soon. To keep your order open, we must have your approval for a 30-Day Order Extension. Unfortunately, if we don't get approval from you for the extension within the next 24 hours, we'll have to cancel this part of your order. 

To approve a 30-Day Order Extension, follow these easy steps: 
1. Go to and sign in under View Order History.
2. Click on the order number. 
3. Click on the "I Still Want This" link next to each item.

Please accept our sincere apologies for the delay.

-- Barnes & Noble

Since I want the book, I log in and click the link. Except when I clicked the link, I got a crazy notification.

The link never shows that it was clicked in any way, and after I logged in hours later, I was still able to click "I still want this." Here's how it looked after I clicked it: 

Even the link state color is still the same! Perhaps the linked words should change, or perhaps the link goes away. Better yet, the notification message that appeared (above) could be more clear, like "You have indicated that you still want War and Peace." Just a suggestion. 

What could do better? 

...other than actually sell and deliver paperback books. 

  • Provide accurate estimates for shipping time on their product page. 
  • Combine emails. Don't send a delay and a cancellation email for each delayed or cancelled book. Just send one cancellation or delay email listing all cancelled/delayed items. 
  • When you do send emails, be clear and concise! Don't make me wonder what is shipping and what is cancelled just because of a copy error. 
  • Once you cancel an order, cancel the order! Don't send an email a minute later saying it shipped or request additional action a day later. 
  • Mind your link states and notification messages. Be clear and give helpful feedback.