The Ice Cream Scoop Saga

The travails of purchasing an item of kitchenware from a Debenhams wedding list

by Smylers • 2011 June 17th, updated 2011 June 22nd

Our friends Ali and Jon are getting married next weekend, and we’ll be taking them a gift to mark the occasion. When, back in April, we innocently wandered into Debenhams to purchase something from the gift list Ali and Jon had set up there, we were blissfully unaware of the ordeal we had just embarked on and that over 2 months later we’d still be without the chosen ice cream scoop.

Our friends Ali and Jon are getting married next week, and we’re hoping to take them a gift to mark the joyous occasion. On April 9th we innocently wandered into Debenhams to purchase something from the gift list Ali and Jon had set up there, blissfully unaware of the ordeal we had just embarked on and that over 2 months later we’d still be without the chosen ice cream scoop.

This is the tale so far, a tale of false hope, a tale of naïvety, a tale of bewilderment, a tale of broken promises. But mainly it’s a tale of how a major UK department store can contrive to make it so difficult to purchase a simple household item ...

The Wedding List

We are excited about Ali and Jon’s wedding. They’re good friends, and by co-incidence Jon proposed to Ali in 2009 just a few hours before I proposed to Rachel. When the invitation to their wedding arrived with a Debenhams gift list number, we loaded it up online one Thursday evening and eagerly poured over the items, picking out the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop as a fun thing to get for well-known ice cream fans. To make the gift a little more personal, and provide a little surprise for them to open, we thought of something else not on their list which would complement it well. (Exact nature of the surprise gift not revealed, so as to retain the essential ‘surprising’ nature of said surprise.) Pleasingly, we quickly found one we liked on EBay, and placed the order.

The surprise item arrived in the post on Saturday, with such speed that it surprised even us. Later that day, April 9th, we trekked into Leeds city centre so as to call into Debenhams and purchase the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop to go with it.

The First Store Visit

A quick wander round the kitchen department didn’t uncover anything which looked particularly cow-like, so we headed down a floor to the wedding list section. A helpful member of staff there found the gift list, printed it out, and eventually we found the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop on the long scroll of paper.

The member of staff offered to order the ice cream scoop for us off the wedding list, for delivery en mass with the other items, straight to Ali and Jon. We explained about our additional surprise item, and that we’d quite like to wrap both gifts together and take them to the wedding ourselves, if that’s possible. Not a problem, we were told, and, like fools, we believed. If we simply bought a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop in store and took it away, the helpful member of staff on the wedding list desk would mark it off Ali and Jon’s list.

I pointed out that we hadn’t actually been able to spot a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop in the kitchen department upstairs. So the member of staff checked the computer, determined there were 2 in the shop, and kindly wandered upstairs herself to locate one for us.

Unfortunately she returned empty-handed, having also been unable to find either of them on the shelves. She did however offer to order a scoop for us, with free home delivery. Being in no rush — the wedding was still months away — we readily consented to this most agreeable plan, handed over a credit card, and placed the order. The member of staff set the number of Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops on Ali and Jon’s list to zero, with a comment saying Smylers and Rachel had bought it, and we sauntered out happy. Hey, we joked on the way out, we’ve even avoided the burden of having to lug an ice cream scoop home with us.

How wrong we were.

The Wait

A few weeks later we noticed the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop hadn’t yet arrived. We weren’t concerned: Debenhams hadn’t promised a particularly speedy delivery date, and the wedding was still some time off.

But as time went on we became anxious, and decided we’d better contact them to check, after first digging out our copy of the order confirmation.

The First Phonecall

The order confirmation is distinctly lacking in contact details, indeed even in any indication that it has anything to do with Debenhams. Fortunately it’s also bright pink, and the only piece of paper in our flat with ‘Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop’ printed on it. So on June 7th I found Debenhams’s phone number on their website, feeling a minor disgruntlement at noting it’s an 0844 number.

Some of the cost of 0844 calls goes to the party being called. And when a company has failed to deliver something you’ve paid for (quite literally, in our case), it does rather irk to know you’re paying them again for the privilege of reporting this.

The call seemed to be going well. I successfully navigated the menu of button presses for various options, an actual live person answered straight away, and I explained the situation to him. Unfortunately he was just in the middle of asking for the order number when the call came to an abrupt halt.

The Second Phonecall

So I tried again, phoning back straight away. This call was much more efficient: instead of being passed to a human to be cut off, the automated menu prompt thing took care of that, managing to lose me somewhere between option 4 and transferring my call.

What irks even more than paying a company for the privilege of reporting a problem to them? Paying for the ‘privilege’ of not reporting it, because of faults in their phone system.

On their contact page Debenhams say “calls 5p per minute from a BT phone line”, which is kind-of true. It just isn’t the whole truth. BT also charge 11½p for connecting each call, and when you’re making a series of short calls (as I, somewhat unwillingly, had somehow ended up doing) these do rather add up.

The Third Phonecall

Third time lucky, the phone system held out. Our Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop had, I learnt, been returned and marked ‘refund requested’. The money had apparently been refunded to our credit card almost 4 weeks earlier, on May 11th. Without bothering to mention it to us.

I don’t know about you, but when an expected parcel doesn’t arrive my first thought isn’t “I know, I’ll check my Visa bill in case the supplier secretly refunded the money back to my card and decided that I wanted to cancel the order”.

At this point the conversation became a little confused. The person I was speaking to didn’t know why my parcel had been returned rather than delivered. It’s labelled as the courier having returned it, not returned by me, though it isn’t clear to me who Debenhams think requested the refund: did they think that I’d requested it, despite knowing nothing of the non-delivery? Or is the courier company empowered to request refunds on my behalf, that Debenhams dutifully act upon without needing to involve me?

We ordered a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop because, strangely enough, we want a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop. That there was a glitch with the delivery doesn’t in any way nullify the fact that we want a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop, and it seems baffling to me that on receipt of a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop intended for us, Debenhams unilaterally decided that we no longer want a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop and instead would like our money refunding. If we’d wanted the money instead of the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop we would have effected that situation ourselves by, believe it or not, the simple matter of not buying the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop in the first place.

Debenhams have my phone number; it’s printed on the order confirmation. If they were in any doubt about whether we suddenly wanted a refund after a botched delivery we were blissfully unaware of, they could easily have called me. They wouldn’t even have had to phone a revenue-generating number.

The person I was speaking to said that the couriers would usually phone me if they’d experienced a problem with delivery. That they didn’t, and nor did they send me a ‘while you were out card’ or indeed any sign at all indicating they’d ever attempted delivery, is a mystery, and quite probably evermore shall remain so.

Having established, at least in general terms, what had happened, that still left the matter of us obtaining a replacement. Which, after the multi-week gap during which each party’s beliefs turns out to be delusional (ours that Debenhams were attempting delivery, theirs that we were happy with the refund), was rather more urgent than in April.

Re-ordering

The person I was speaking to noted that we’d original bought a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop during some kind of 20% off promotion which had since ended, but unhesitatingly said I could still have one at the discounted price. And she suggested that I pick one up in store, to be sure I get it in time. I can’t fault her helpfulness. She offered to reserve one for me in the Leeds city centre store, and looked on her computer to check they had one in stock.

They did. In fact the computer said they had 2. I was about to go along with this when I suddenly remembered the previous occasion when the computer claimed there were 2 Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops in the Leeds store, and how empirical evidence had rather contradicted the computer’s stance. Undeterred, the person helping me called through to the Leeds store to check with an actual human being there.

It turns out those 2 Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops had just been sold. Apparently they were a popular item in Leeds that day. It wasn’t explained why the computer was unaware of these recent sales, but not to worry because additional Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops were due to be delivered to the Leeds store the very next day, Wednesday.

I specifically asked whether, if I journeyed again to the Leeds store after Wednesday’s delivery, there would definitely be a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop there for me to buy, and the Debenhams customer services person said yes, there would be. Definitely.

I don’t think she was intentionally misleading me — she seemed genuine in her concern and willingness to help — but nonetheless ... well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

For the time being I was happy we’d found a solution, albeit one which had cost us £1·25 for the three phonecalls, a reasonably hefty 17% premium on the £7·20 we thought a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop was going to cost us when we first set out to buy one.

The Second Store Visit

On Thursday June 9th I made the pilgrimage to Debenhams’s Leeds store, and breezed through the kitchen section, looking for where the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops might be hanging. Unable to spot them in my first circuit, I embarked on a second, a little more methodically and also anxiously. And then a third, and indeed a fourth.

They didn’t seem to be there.

The department isn’t big, and I’d walked passed the desk several times in an increasing state of concern. It struck me as slightly odd that a shop assistant hadn’t yet asked me if she could help, so I looked up to find one and realized why.

While I was growing far more familiar with the lay of the kitchen department than I felt entirely necessary, my fifth and sixth tours at least had the novelty value that I was no longer searching for a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop but a member of store staff. I even glanced farther afield at the rest of the floor, but still none, other than the serving staff in the adjacent restaurant — and if they were in possession of a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop I figured they’d be unwilling to yield it to a customer, presumably needing it themselves for scooping ice cream.

So I waited, lurking by the top of the escalator.

The First Shop Assistant

And, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared. I blurted out my query, and he kindly diverted from his path and began to tour the kitchen department with me, peering for anything which looked like an ice cream scoop. He seemed to know less about the kitchen department than I had gleaned during the previous ten minutes, and curiously posed the question “Aren’t there any Debenhams staff about?”, which seemed odd since he was sporting a Debenhams lapel badge and was giving a very good impression of indeed being a member of Debenhams staff.

It turns out he was from the adjacent luggage department and unable to help further, but he most helpfully went off to fetch a colleague who knew about kitchen items from the floor below.

The Second Shop Assistant

I explained the situation to the second shop assistant. She in turn explained that she didn’t work in the kitchen department very often, and expressed surprise at the absence of the colleague who was supposed to be looking after that department and should have returned from her break 10 minutes previously. Helping as best she could, she set off on a tour of the shelves with me.

Not spying a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop, we headed down to her desk so she could check the stock level.

Two is the Magic Number

Guess what? The computer reported the number of Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops in stock as ... 2, a number whose familiarity was matched only by its reputation for inaccuracy.

The assistant’s next suggestion was that I could order a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop for home delivery. With some exasperation I pointed out that I’d tried this, and been advised to come into the store. Given it was the store who had suggested the home delivery in the first place, we’d already come full circle — and placing another home delivery seemed to be heading off for another lap. If the store keeps suggesting home delivery, and the delivery service suggests the store, I keep going round in circles, each time apparently happy that something is about to happen, only for my hopes to be thwarted yet again.

Just as we were pondering what to do next — the assistant clearly wanted to help, and wasn’t prepared to abandon me — the colleague who works in the kitchen department appeared on the horizon, and we dashed over to intercept her.

The Third Shop Assistant

[Photo of a Really Cool Cow Ice
  Cream Scoop, which prominently features a cartoon cow in shades as its
  handle I recounted my tale and we ascended to the kitchen department, where we toured the shelves together, something I was beginning to find a tad tedious and a smidgen futile. I had been hoping that a shop assistant from this department might have sufficient familiarity with the stock to know where items were; by that point I felt I’d a pretty good knowledge of it myself. Moreover, the item for which we were searching was more than a little distinctive, it being one of the few items of kitchen equipment to prominently feature a cartoon cow. Even if most kitchen kit seems a bit samey, wouldn’t a cartoon cow rather stand out?

The assistant gave no flicker of recognition to the item’s name or description, generally giving the impression she’d never seen one before, something both disappointing and hard to reconcile with the claim that Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops are so popular in Leeds that two of them had been sold in a short space of time as recently as Tuesday.

So the assistant passed me to her supervisor, Scott, who had appeared in the department while I’d been downstairs with assistant number 2, interrogating the computer.

The Fourth Shop Assistant: The Supervisor

Assistant 3 briefed Scott on the story so far, who immediately proffered the theory that the 2 Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops reported by the computer may actually be in the off-site warehouse, warehouse stock being included in the count reported for the store. This was a startling revelation, partly for its implication that store stock levels reported by Debenhams’s computer are close to useless, and partly that Scott appeared to be the only member of Debenhams staff party to this particular nugget.

The assistant in the wedding list department who helped us in April, the customer services person on the phone, and assistants 2 and 3 today — all of these staff were acting under the belief that the computer’s reported stock levels for the store indicated the level of stock actually in the store. If the numbers in reality include warehouse stock, Debenhams could do with training their staff in this fact.

After touring the shelves with assistants 1 to 3 I was braced for another trip with Scott, but no; Scott is a Supervisor, and he does things differently. Specifically, he asked me to wait where I was, while he toured the department solo. Again, there seemed to be no recognition that a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop is an item Scott had ever set eyes upon.

He returned fruitlessly, and could not explain what had happened to the delivery I’d been told about on the phone. He then had the idea of phoning the Debenhams in the White Rose Centre, in south Leeds. To our delight learnt that they did indeed have a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop in stock. It seemed like we’d found our holy grail.

The Other Store

Now to get our hands on it. It transpired that despite the failure of our original order to be delivered, despite Debenhams neglecting to contact us on its mysterious return, and despite Debenhams misleading us into believing there would ‘definitely’ be a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop in stock in the Leeds city centre store ... despite all of this, Debenhams was not offering to transport the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop from their White Rose shop.

As it happens, my employer has an office in south Leeds, where I sometimes work. It’s close enough to the White Rose centre that colleagues have been know to head there to buy lunch. I could probably prevail on one to give me a lift there. Scott offered for the White Rose Debenhams to hold a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop for me.

The next time I’d be working in that office was almost a fortnight away. Not a problem; it would still be before Ali and Jon’s wedding. Except, Debenhams were only prepared to hold the Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop for a week.

Even though Debenhams had messed up in multiple ways getting us a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop, and even though we’d finally found one, and even though I was prepared to head out to collect it, Debenhams weren’t prepared to help rectify the situation, even though their remaining task was pretty much to do nothing! All that was required was holding on to an item already in their possession, how hard can that be?

Scott asked me what I wanted to do, as though reserving an item at a store I couldn’t get to within the reservation period was in any way an option worthy of serious consideration.

I was, I admit, woefully underprepared for ice cream scoop procurement being a full-time vocation. I had naïvely set out on this venture with the belief it was something I could fit in between work, social engagements, and the rich tapestry of events that make up my life. My schedule for the following week included 3 days visiting Mum and burying Dad’s ashes, a day at a client’s in Ilkley, and 2 days at our Heathrow office. And the time I’d spent talking to assistants 1 to 4 was already making me late for that evening’s church house group meeting.

As fun as a 2-hour bus trip to the White Rose Centre and back sounds, it simply wasn’t something I could fit into the following week. Taxi would have been quicker, but I really don’t see why we should have to fork out eight times the price of an item just because Debenhams repeated failed to supply it.

Adding to the frustration, I had been working in our office in south Leeds that very day; indeed I’d just travelled straight from there to Debenhams. If, instead of promising non-existent Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops in the city centre, the customer services person had told me one was currently lurking in the White Rose Centre, I could have arranged to collect it that lunchtime.

But she hadn’t, and I didn’t.

‘Free The Warehouse Two’

Scott seemed out of suggestions, so I asked about these 2 Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops in the warehouse. Surely, I ventured, the intent of stock in a warehouse is that it gets delivered to the shop? Especially for items known to be out-of-stock in the shop? At this point Scott became a little less sure of himself, backtracking slightly on his earlier interpretation of the stock computer’s reporting: he couldn’t be sure the computer is right, and there might not actually be any Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoops in the warehouse.

So he would phone the warehouse to check. But not immediately, because the warehouse staff had left for the day. He would phone them in the morning, on Friday June 10th, and then call me to relay the news. He copied my number from the initial order confirmation, assured me he would definitely phone the following day, and I hurried off to house group.

The Warehouse Phonecall

And that’s as far as the story went when I first published this, on June 17th. Scott didn’t call as promised that Friday. And nor did he call on any of the days since then.

Meanwhile I was hurtling around the country on the aforementioned itinerary, too busy to chase Debenhams any further.

I thanked folk for reading this tale, and asked that if it put a wry smile on their faces to share it with their friends, ReTweet it, and link to this page on Facebook. It wasn’t much of a consolation that our failure to purchase a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop makes a mildly comical yarn, but I thought we may as well make the most of it by entertaining as many people as we could with the tale.

E-mailing

Ali and Jon’s wedding was just over a week away, and they would be be receiving a list from Debenhams with our names against ‘Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop’, so I figured I’d better summon up the energy to contact Debenhams again and have another go at obtaining one.

Though I wasn’t sure I could believe anything Debenhams say to me any more: every interaction with them had involved staff who were very friendly and apparently helpful, yet who assured me of something that later turned out not to be true. If somebody from Debenhams told me he or she could help, how would I know it would’t be another wild goose chase, with me expending interminable energy on this and Ali and Jon still not getting their Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop.

After publishing the above I e-mailed Debenhams with a link to it. When Tweeting this story I looked up their Twitter account to refer to in my message, and had a look for any sign that they respond to pleas for help, and found they did. In particular one message said:

@Mummy_loves Hi Sonia, could you possibly email us the details to heretohelp@debenhams.com and we will look into this for you. Thanks

That sounded like a useful e-mail address, and it isn’t one published on their contact page, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Update June 22nd: Success!

This morning I got a very nice phonecall from Celinda in Debenhams’s head office. She had reserved a Really Cool Cow Ice Cream Scoop for me at the White Rose store, and my colleague Matthew gave me a lift there to collect it.

Celinda also refunded the full cost of it to my card, and is sending a voucher in the post by way of apology. She gave me a direct phone number to contact her in the case of any further problems. And she even sent her wishes for the wedding. In other words, she did everything right.

It was disappointing, and still quite baffling, that such a simple purchase somehow escalated into such a palaver that I ended up writing the above. But, once that had happened, I can’t fault Debenhams’s behaviour in finally sorting this out.