The Hanna Andersson Story: When Losing Customers is Okay

The Hanna Andersson Story: When Losing Customers is Okay

By: Shelly Kramer
December 2, 2013

Hanna Andersson image for customer service fail

I had an experience buying online this weekend from retailer Hanna Andersson that prompted me to write about customer service – and about when, and how a company decides that losing customers is okay.

My story is simple: this past Wednesday evening, as I was thinking about the meal I was going to cook for Thanksgiving the next day, I did some online shopping. Inspired by one of the gazillion catalogues I’d gotten in the mail, I popped over to Hanna Andersson’s site and started looking around. If you’re not familiar with Hanna Andersson, they’re a Swedish-based company (with locations in the U.S.) that sells children’s clothing. The clothing is great quality, well made, durable – and not the least bit inexpensive.

Some twenty minutes and $190 later, I’d purchased several dresses and a new supply of winter tights for my kids. It doesn’t take much buyer persona work to confirm that I’m Hanna Andersson’s target customer. I know what I want and like, I have the means to buy it and I’m not much of a bargain hunter. Which does not mean, of course, that I don’t like a bargain, it’s just that I’m driven more by quality than I am by price and I get tired of buying crummy clothes from Target that fall apart after a few wearings.

The next morning, I got an email from Hanna (since we’re pals now, I’ll just call her by her first name), telling me about a free shipping special. I remembered that I had just paid $16.95 for shipping literally a few hours before. I resolved to send their customer service team a note asking them to apply that to my account, but I didn’t do it on Thanksgiving. I had other priorities.

The following day, Hanna emailed again to tell me about a 15% site wide discount. I momentarily wondered what kind of an idiot I was, shopping the day before Thanksgiving, but didn’t worry too much about it — confident they would make it right. As an aside, my team and I have spent lots of time working with ecommerce clients and some of our focus has been training customer service teams. Our collective goal is always happy customers. That doesn’t mean we’ll encourage customer service reps to meet unreasonable demands, but it does mean that if what a customer is asking isn’t unreasonable, and if it not only makes sense to extend whatever they’re asking for but also keeps them happy and coming back for more, we’re happy to accommodate.

Today I emailed Hanna, outlining the details surrounding my purchase and included a copy of my invoice. I didn’t ask for both a discount and a rebate of the shipping costs (I’m not unreasonable) – I just asked for the $16.95 in shipping charges to be credited to my card.

In response, I got an email that could best be described as a nonsensical non-answer to my original inquiry. I responded, taking care to clarify that I wasn’t asking for two discounts, I was simply asking for the free shipping offer to be credited to my account – a whopping $16.95. And by this time, I was irritated enough that I indicated that if that wasn’t possible, that I would just return the whole order. I’m fairly easy to please in most cases, but when it becomes a matter of principle, there’s no amount of cute clothes that is worth giving in. That shipping & handling cost had just become my line in the sand.

The response I received was a speedy one. I was advised that they were sorry, but they couldn’t extend that offer to me, and that if the package arrived and I wanted to return it, that I could do so easily (and for free) by just writing “Return to Sender” on the package.

So there it was. Hanna was done with me. For $16.95, they were willing to walk away from not only a $190 order, but from a regular customer and from a long-term relationship.

And I don’t get it. I don’t understand when customer service reps aren’t empowered to make decisions and use their judgment. I don’t understand when the total value of a customer relationship isn’t taken into consideration when making what should be fairly simple decisions. I don’t understand how it can be worthwhile to a company to operate in this manner – no matter how profitable they are.  And I don’t understand why it’s a good idea to walk away from a customer willing to buy expensive products over something so insignificant as minimal shipping and handling costs. Which they were happy to give away twelve hours after I placed my original order.

So what about you? Do you think I’m being unreasonable and that I should just shut up, pay the $16.95 and be done with it? Or are you, like me, annoyed by little things like this that you expect will be easily taken care of but which become sticking points that sour a whole shopping experience for you? I’d love to hear what you think.

Update: I wrote this post last night and actually woke up this morning feeling bad about publishing it. I really don’t like holding brands up as examples and was concerned I sounded like an entitled consumer whining about first world problems. In fact, I intended to review the piece and edit it, again, to make sure I didn’t sound like a hag. Then, I saw this offer in my morning email. And decided I was even more pissed off. It’s great to hold firm when you offer free shipping a few hours before a purchase, and again a few hours after a purchase, but if I don’t hit your “window,” I’m toast. Hanna, we are never, ever getting back together.

Hanna Andersson Cyber Monday Specials

Here’s Hanna, rubbing it in my face

  • Hold to it … this is junk. I’m the same way. I prefer quality. You’re dropping some serious dime for their quality, and some goof on the phone is destroying their brand in one breath and one word, ‘no.’ ~ Do you think the item was cued after the purchase or it was going to happen regardless on Thanksgiving?

  • Mickey Gomez

    Customer Service failures never cease to amaze me. This one – SO SIMPLE TO ADDRESS – and yet they were willing to let you walk away over such a small amount. Consider the number of retailers willing to do price matches simply to make consumers happy. I don’t think you were out of line at all. I do think they missed out – big time. When it’s within their ability to make it right, retailers should do what they can (within reason – and your request given the email deals you kept receiving, seems entirely reasonable) to make consumers feel good about their transaction. I know when I feel confident in a brand or retailer, I’m more likely to shop there. I feel valued. And yet for so many this is so difficult to grasp. Why?

  • Okay, normally I am all about asking for a price match, etc…but this was a special holiday promotion. Companies offer special deals at certain times to drive sales and sometimes sell out of those items. I can understand why a company would not honor a special discount made prior to the sale. Having worked in customer service, I can tell you that it’s not easy to issue a credit without an order cancellation, etc. They could have offered you a store credit for your next purchase, but it doesn’t sound like they really cared. But Europeans aren’t known for their excellent customer service, are they? 😉

  • Lisa Mylocopos

    Your story is a great example of the frustration caused by customer experience/service gaps companies must avoid! So disappointing … Hoping this is an eye-opener!

  • Isabella Jones

    unfortunate for them. unless you have the energy/desire to go up the food chain to 1. get both shipping and discount offered during the holiday shopping experience and 2. introduce yourself (as THEiR target market shopper and possible long term customer) to upper management
    they will not learn. I have had this experience and turned it into a win win by calling and politely discussing the issue. JCrew knows me well 🙂 and I now get GREAT customer service from them and enjoy the experience-as we all should. The consumer should not have to train the company but *sometimes* it is worth it.

  • Julia Hughes

    The bottom line: No matter how big the company’s advertising budget is, the lowest paid and usually least motivated member of staff (checkout person or in your case, admin clerk) is the public face of their company. I bet it would have been a totally different ending to your story if the admin clerk shared in the company’s profits.

    On the flip side of this, when my parents’ phone was out of order, and I called the company responsible, I was stumped when a clerk asked me for their password. I didn’t know it, and the few guesses I made were incorrect. But the lovely woman at the other end of the phone used her discretion, and very casually spoke about her dogs, and asked if my parents kept dogs. Bingo & how grateful was I – she’d saved me a five mile round trip!

  • ShellyKramer

    Isn’t it wonderful when you get GREAT customer service? I’ve had lots of jobs that required me to provide customer service and I always loved really doing all that I could to help make sure customers loved what they purchased and their experience with the retailer in general. It genuinely made me happy. I’m a dork, that’s for sure.

    I really wasn’t trying to be uber demanding – and was sad that it didn’t work out. And your comments about the lowest common denominator having the most contact with your customers …. totally true. And I’m pretty sure you just inspired another blog post!!

  • DadLogic

    We’re big fans of Hanna Andersson and about 3/4 of my son’s wardrobe came from their store. Plus they’re a Portland, Ore. company, so they get bonus points in my book. That said, it is a shame to see they aren’t being flexible with your situation. They have a no questions asked return policy. It seems reasonable to expect they would be flexible with other areas of their customer experience.

    I hate to see such a good company get a bad wrap. Have you tried calling them? Maybe you will get a different experience over the phone.

  • Caryn

    Same thing happened to me!!! I ordered Thanksgiving morning, so I got the free shipping, but when I woke up to an email, advertising free shipping AND 15% off, I called to see if they would do a price adjustment. Nope. So incredibly disgusted, especially since I have been a Hanna Andersson consumer for TEN years!!

  • ShellyKramer

    I felt the same way about Hanna and have been a customer for a long time. I, too, was surprised at their response – as I mentioned, I really didn’t even sweat placing the order early because I just felt confident they’d take care of it. So I was surprised.

    I didn’t call them – I was kind of done with spending so much energy on $16 stinking dollars – and my real point in writing the post wasn’t to slam them as a brand, but to talk about how sometimes it’s the tiny things that make a deal go bad. And how those people on your front lines should have the power to make decisions that can make (1) customers happy and (2) make it right. Without that requiring a huge investment of time on the customer’s part.

  • It’s an interesting predicament. I know I’ve tried to demand the same thing from retailers, and I generally get some compromise. It isn’t so much that you want to hold the brand hostage…you just want them to understand customer LIFETIME value. You also happen to be a socially-savvy customer who can amplify their displeasure across several social channels.

    Having said that, overlapping offers are happening all of the time. And if you make purchases under certain conditions…basically agreeing to a contract…hard to argue for a renegotiated contract. Only pro athletes consistently get away with that approach. The rest of us have to suck it up, or start squeaking with a loud social amplifier.

    I agree that front-line employees should have a little more authority as well as visibility into the customer profile. There is something noble about treating all customers equal, but there is something very REAL to the bottom line about recognizing this is a repeat, high-value customer…umm, with a social megaphone (twitter ID and blog site should be part of the new age customer profile, right?).

  • ShellyKramer

    Actually, Brian, I think it’s really all about customer service teams being dialed into promotional calendars. So when someone knows that there was a free ship offer and there’s another one coming up tomorrow, passing along that information and working to actually save a customer money (and when you’re working with women, this is especially true), it goes a long way toward building strong loyalty. We did this with and for some of our ecom clients all the time – and the customers really appreciated it. And came back for more. Which was really the point here. Understanding the true value of a customer and that it goes beyond just one transaction.

    That “contract” business? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. The retail landscape is so competitive that brands sometimes honor one another’s sales. And I expect that to get even worse as time goes on. But in this case — them not extending some kind of a discount, especially when free shipping was offered on either side of my experience with them, with a day or two in between, it seems, well, short-sighted.

  • ShellyKramer

    That’s smart, Isabella. And Happy Birthday, by the way!!!!!! I’m a big fan of calling and talking to a customer service manager. This situation, however, just wore me down. Which made me sad more than anything.

  • ShellyKramer

    I think it was going to happen regardless.

  • ShellyKramer

    I’m with you all the way on this one, Mickey. Still shaking my head about it.

  • ShellyKramer

    It was a special holiday promotion, and I don’t dispute that, Jean. But I’ve also worked in customer service, and had clients for whom we handled customer service, and I can tell you that on numerous occasions when it was a small thing to make a customer spending a lot of money happy, it was super easy to do. Refunding a card s&h is, in the big scheme of things, no biggie. I think that more than anything, I just wanted them to care beyond the “feel free to send them back” response that I got.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Lisa. I hope so, too!

  • I totally agree on the short-sighted. Again, I think they should honor one if not BOTH promotions. It’s good business, and it’s even BETTER business in a socially-connected, reviewer conscious world with a long-term, high-value customer.

  • What a bummer. Such a lame move on their part to not communicate an upcoming sale visually on the website or on the phone of future deals, and probably within a few hours of being cued to go out. 🙁 Such a simple item to solidify your loyalty to a brand with such a cheap gesture.

  • Rhea Milo

    As an ex-online retailer, I find this behavior on the behalf of Hanna Anderson baffling. I never understood the idea of losing a customer over a simple request to honor a promotion. I always empowered my staff to provide something to the customer – even if we couldn’t honor a current promotion for whatever reason. So, if the offer was 25% for one day only and they asked for it the day before or after, we would give them at least 10-15% and/or free shipping. I understand policies however, it’s not hard to find ways to please the customer. I notice they don’t have a Stella Service badge – its no wonder.

  • Mallie Hart

    You’re not being even remotely unreasonable. I also find it flabbergasting and lacking in customer service when our cable and internet provider offer HUGE deals to get new clients, but don’t pony up any incentives for their long-time clients.

  • ShellyKramer

    I feel the same way about that, too, Mallie.

  • So sorry to hear this, but it’s unfortunately far too common… I had a similar experience at Famous Footwear the other week – I bought a pair of boots and within 2 weeks they were falling apart. I didn’t have time to return them right away because I was going on a business trip, so I waited two more weeks. When I went back to return them, I was told that it was past the 30 day window (it was day 31 when I was there, actually!) So I was told that I was out of luck! At that moment, I decided I was never going to shop there again, so I walked over to Clark’s and bought myself a new pair of boots. When I got home, I got an email from Clark’s saying that they were starting a 20% off sale in two days! I called them to ask if I can get the 20% off for the boots that I just bought and they immediately credited 20% back to my card. Since then, I’ve bought 2 more pairs of shoes at Clark’s AND my husband bought two pairs there as well (worth $700 total) – all within a month. All because one customer service rep decided to issue me the 20% discount…

  • Carla Escoda

    They’re not a European company. They’re American, founded in Portland, OR. Sounds like the classic story about what happens when a business grows. I was a long-time customer when we lived overseas. Hanna A was barely a decade old and I don’t think they had a bricks and mortar presence, no website, just a catalog, and no women’s line, just babies and children. Customer service was excellent, very personal. Many years and many thousands of $$$ later, I corresponded with them and asked if they were planning to introduce a line for young teens, as my kids were now older and I wanted to be able to continue shopping at Hanna A. Got a form letter brusquely informing me that teens were not their demographic. Way to go, Hanna. While I could have continued to shop with them for gifts for other people’s kids — and who knows, I may have grandkids some day (!!!) — I was put off by the fact that they couldn’t even pen a graceful, grateful note to a long-time customer. They should have seen the marketing opportunity in my situation, but they were short-sighted.

  • ShellyKramer

    That’s too bad, Carla. Sounds like the problems there originate at the top. Thanks for clueing me in on the back story! You’re absolutely correct on that front and I’m not sure how I missed it.

    And, like you, I’d love kids’ clothes that were for older kids. Thankfully, there’s still Boden, and they are pretty awesome. Thanks for coming by!

  • Amy Barseghian

    Shelly, I think you did the absolute right thing. It’s a great example of not only the importance of knowing your target market but also of the importance around making sure each business unit knows what is going on throughout a company.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Amy. I appreciate the feedback!

  • ShellyKramer

    That’s why I write about stuff like this, Andreea. The brands who get this and do it, they earn my devotion (and patronage) forever. Such a small step to take, and imparts so much trust … I really can’t imagine NOT doing it. And Famous Footwear? Dummies.

  • ShellyKramer

    I feel the same way, Rhea. It often takes so little to make a customer happy, and if they’d been willing to do anything, I would have been satisfied. But the flat out “no, sorry” was what got me. I’ll never get it – but I’ll also not shop there again. Stella Service? I’ve not heard of that — must go learn more!

  • ShellyKramer

    Thank you for letting me know I’m not the only one who did this!!!

  • Farrah Hoehne

    Wow! That is amazing. I agree with your Shelly. I would be very upset and I would return everything that bought. The repeated emails about free shipping and a discount are ridiculous. The customer service person should have taken the time to review your account history and purchases before sending a canned response. I’m truly baffled. personally I hate paying for shipping especially around the holidays. I had a cart all set for Bath and Body Works on Cyber Monday and abandoned it because of the shipping charge. I can get the same offers in store and they will most likely be better. Gas is cheaper than shipping in this case. Good for you for standing your ground.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Farrah. Sometimes it’s just all about the principles, isn’t it? And you’re right, some days gas is cheaper (especially now!). Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts – I appreciate it.

  • It is interesting that after reading this post I saw a Hanaa Andersson catalog today. I would have never noticed it in our pile of male before but now I do and not for the right reasons. Seems like a company who is worried about the nickels and times while they should be worrying about the high margins they make on their expensive clothes.

  • StacyRFirth

    It just plain doesn’t make sense. For $16.95 (which clearly is easy for
    them to part with, since they’re giving shipping away to everyone else
    who’s placed an order during their sale) they lost a sale, a customer
    and got a poor public review when they could have retained a customer
    AND made her more loyal (and possibly gotten a positive public review
    and much more money in the long run). It’s poor customer service, and
    I’d be surprised if you don’t hear from the higher ups who have the
    authority to credit you the $16.95. And then they should go reevaluate
    their customer service policies. I wouldn’t feel at all bad for writing
    this article, there was nothing nasty about it. And as a new momma who’s
    never bought Hanna Andersson before, I appreciate being warned!

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks for popping in, Stacy (and congrats on that new momma biz!). I’m still shaking my head over it – but it seems to come from the top down, and that’s an even bigger problem. Oh well, plenty of other retailers out there!

  • Not only would I have done what you did, but I HAVE done what you did.. a couple of times. I am a HUGE stickler for customer service.. I give it to my clients and I expect it from others. And if they can’t hear me in my emails or social interactions, I have no problem making sure they hear it as I slam the door leaving.

  • ShellyKramer

    I heart you, Kristen.

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  • What a great example, and the comments below are all worth reading as well. Illustrative in many ways.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks for this, also, Skip. And like you, I thought the comments were pretty indicative of what consumers, in general, think about this kind of thing. And the whole thing — it’s really a shame, because I loved their merchandise. But now, as a matter of principle, I just can’t buy it. Sigh.

  • Tara

    I think you are being unreasonable asking for a promotion four days after a purchase. Yes, it would have been nice of them to give you free shipping after the fact, but they in no way owed it to you.

  • ShellyKramer

    I asked for a promotion the DAY after a purchase. In fact, as mentioned in the post, it was literally about 12 hours after the purchase. Purchase made on Wednesday night, free ship promotion on Thursday. ANOTHER promotion, with not only free ship but also 15% discount the next day, which was Friday. I don’t think I was being unreasonable at all. But I appreciate your feedback.

  • mom in cali

    Try RUUM, they are new small and have really good quality clothes too. My mom ordered sucks from them and had a problem checking out… when she called the next day, the free shipping was over. The rep gave her the sale price AND the free shipping. We’ve place there other orders since, just based on how great they treated my mom

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks so much! I think I’ve heard of them … but will definitely check them out. Love those kinds of stories!!!

  • JunoBeachMom

    I just want you to know, I have purchased thousands of dollars from Hanna Andersson. I recently spent $350. They canceled my order without telling me. When I asked for an explanation – nothing in return. I’m glad that you wrote this article, because I realized that HA screens out all their critical ratings/reviews. For sure, I have noticed they have a big problem with customer service and an even bigger problem with logistics. They have never been able to send me an order in one shipment, and sometimes cancel items due to low quantity. Very disappointed in them.

  • ShellyKramer

    I’m so sorry to hear of your troubles. Like you, and as you can tell from my post, I was really disappointed all the way around in my experience. But I found other companies to buy from – companies who appreciated me a lot more. Thanks for sharing your personal horror story – even though I’m sorry it happened to you!!! In the end, they’re the ones missing out.

  • Sally

    I too am disappointed in the Hanna Andersson Company of years ago when my daughter was a baby. She is only 8 now, but HA is not our store now. I am disabled, partially blind, and tried to return 2 items of clothing that did not fit. Hanna would not reimburse us the shipping cost without the receipt. I have low vision, for goodness sake! I can’t find it. We are stuck with clothes that are too big, and Hanna Andersson decided to lose a customer. Not just any customer, but a customer that has frequented their store weekly for years. We spent hundreds of dollars a year for clothes for the whole family. Thousands of dollars over the years. And for lousy shipping costs, they threw out their loyal customers. Shame, shame, Shane in you Hanna Andersson!!

  • Punkynoodle

    So you think everyone that made a purchase before Black Friday should get their shipping charges reversed or just you? I’m sure MANY people purchased from HA on the same day you did… If you would have waited until “Black Friday” you would have gotten a better deal… HENCE the whole Excitement surrounding the biggest shopping day of the year…people need to shop smart

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks for your feedback. Always welcome.

  • Jess

    Thank you for posting this. I thought I was the only person who felt this way about Hanna. I have been shopping with them ever since my kids were babies. Now I want nothing to do with them. They really don’t show that they value their customers. I will no longer be shopping with them due to a simple even exchange issue.

  • ShellyKramer

    So annoying isn’t it? I was a huge fan, too, but like you, I’ve learned my lesson!

  • Barb

    Ahh, their return policy is a scam, imo, I returned with a receipt for my daughter, so I didn’t have her bank card, her debit card, I offered to call her. I thought it was the same as cash, they had written in the store in tiny letters that they could only give back x amount in cash then the rest had to be in credit to their store, I believe it is a maximum of $30.00 refund. I took the store credit telling the girl ( both employees absolutely agreed with me, one telling me she got written up for appeasing a customer and would be terminated if she did it again!!) Neither employee were fond of their employer!! hahahaha I’d never step in their stores again and said I’d flip on customer service. I called my daughter on ride home she said they over charged me $4.00! That was the amount of the credit to the store… It was their mistake to begin with. My daughter hadn’t mentioned it as she thought they would just refund it… her child is five now and we’ve never even gone back and never will, EVER. I do tell people I know how awful they are to deal with and underhanded. They are not the only people who sell 100% cotton and come on, the kids outgrow clothes so quickly…. I am truly thrilled with the clothing our grandson wears and I had never purchased anything there. so for $34.00 and a sinking $4.00 they over charged and then their idiotic return policy…. see ya….. hahahahahaha MORONS. Kudos to you for standing your ground and spending your money where you want to!!
    Me too! I never even bothered to waste my time calling or writing to the idiots… only now sounding off relaxing with a cup of coffee…. hahahah they are so not worth it…I think of them as thieves and it was only $4.00!! Kiss my butt…. This entry right here is worth more than $4.00!! Who is with me?

  • ShellyKramer

    I feel your pain, Barb. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Fellow Shopper

    I actually agree with Hanna. Hanna is so popular that most of the better items are sold out quickly. You shopped before Thanksgiving and had much better selections. It wouldn’t be fair to the other shoppers if Hanna credited you the shipping. The items you bought most likely would be sold out if you had waited.

  • ShellyKramer

    On this, anonymous reader, we can agree to disagree 🙂

  • AP

    I just ordered from HA late last night. I forgot to use a 15% off code and immediately emailed customer service as I was sure they were closed. I asked if they could apply it to my order. This was no more than 5 minutes after placing the order. I got a reply back early this morning saying, “too bad”. They lost a customer. I guess they have enough fools willing to pay $45 for a toddler dress and full shipping that they don’t need my business.