Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thank you for the twenty-seven dinner plates...

Lately I've put a lot of energy into creating, updating and managing our wedding-gift registries. Before we sent out our save-the-dates, the fiance and I set aside one day to visit a couple stores; since then I've done everything online. We ended up maintaining registries at five different stores, which I swear is not as extravagant as it sounds, and by now I've had plenty of experience navigating their various websites and dealing with their idiosyncrasies. I want to do something with all that knowledge. So here, for all three people who might actually be interested, is a bride's eye view of the registry process. Our first contestant: Bed, Bath & Beyond.

The broad scope, and convenient Lincoln Center location, of this store made it an obvious choice for our "main" registry: we figured we'd cover most of our needs there and branch out for the extras if necessary. It was the only place we did the whole scanner-gun-and-clipboard thing, and even then we spent most of our time in the store doing undercover reconnaissance. I brought my notebook. We tested the pillows, we studied the coffeemakers, we held up the towels to compare the colors with the shower curtain we liked. Only after we discovered a china pattern we loved -- practical enough for everyday use! Fancy enough for company! -- did we approach the registry desk and make it official. Then we went around revisiting all our selections as efficiently as possible, considering every store employee who spotted us had to ask us when the wedding was, where we were going on our honeymoon, etc. I really prefer to be left alone while I'm shopping; when I walk into a store and a clerk asks if I need help finding anything, I automatically say no, even when I'm there in search of something very specific. So I had my fill of the bridal treatment after that one trip. We did enjoy that scanner gun, though.

B3 (as they like to call themselves) got us off to a good start, but I might not rely on them so heavily if I had it to do over again. Very generally, I had better experiences with the companies that are web/mail-order retailers first, and bricks-and-mortar retailers second; B3, on the other hand, is better for shopping in person than shopping online. Their website is not well designed; it's the sort of site where you hesitate before typing in your credit-card information. They have limited information about any given item, and only one image per product. And they don't allow customer reviews or ratings, which can be extremely helpful when you're comparing appliances and housewares. The organization and nesting is weird, too; when you're looking at items from a set (like individual pieces of china), it can be hard to find your way around, and doubly hard to return to your search results.

All of that applies even if you're just shopping normally. When you're trying to manage a registry, it's twice as annoying. There are two basic things I want in an online registry: First, ideally, once I log in to edit my registry, I should be able to search the site as I normally would, with the option of adding to (or going back to look at) my registry at any time. With B3, I keep having to use the "back" button to get to my registry (using the "Bridal & Gift Registry" tab, docked permanently at the top of the page, takes me back to the sign-in page, regardless of whether I'm signed in already). Very frustrating.

The second thing I want is to be able to access my list online without giving the rest of the world access as well. When we started putting our registries together online, we added items as a way of bookmarking them -- e.g., Let's choose three blenders we think we might want and then decide among them later. So we didn't want people to see our work till it was actually ready for purchase. That seemed like a no-brainer to me, but Bed, Bath & Beyond doesn't allow it. You can decide whether or not the registry will appear online, but there's no way to have it available for you to edit from home, but not for others to browse. And the registry reps looked at us like we were speaking Martian when we inquired whether such a scheme was possible.

Once the list was in place and shower guests started shopping, weird things happened. Somehow we ended up getting a coffeemaker similar to, but not identical to, the one on our registry. I went back to see whether we'd accidentally registered for the wrong color, and found that our original choice (which was stainless steel) still appeared on the list, and the one that was purchased instead (which was black) had been added alongside it (and marked "purchased"). So now we had 2 coffeemakers listed on our registry: the one we added ourselves, and the one that was mysteriously added when someone went shopping. I am still scratching my head over how that could have happened (and not looking forward to dragging the black one to the store so we can exchange it for the one we should have gotten in the first place). And while I was investigating that, I noticed a red travel mug on the list that I didn't remember registering for. Had we gone a little crazy with the scanner gun? No -- a guest of ours had bought it for herself as part of an order that also included a gift for us, so when she checked out, the travel mug ended up on our registry list as well (marked "purchased"). Curiouser and curiouser.

My biggest complaint, though, is that stuff we registered for keeps becoming "unavailable," and I am not notified when this happens. Those pillows we painstakingly tested? No longer in stock. When this happens, shouldn't I at least get an email to let me know? I have this problem with all of the places we registered, but Bed, Bath & Beyond is definitely the worst, because not only do they not tell me when this happens -- they don't indicate it on my "edit your registry" page! When I log in, I see the list just as I created it; the only way for me to tell when something's "unavailable" is to follow the link from our wedding website to look at the list as it appears to our guests.

I've got lots of little nitpicks, too: we've received packages from B3 that were stuffed with environmentally indefensible styrofoam packing peanuts, and this week we got a large, flat cardboard box, big enough to hold a bookshelf from Ikea, that held: a knife. One knife. Gift-wrapped, but still. And, on top of everything else: one of the items I registered for after our trip to the store was a big, metal, store-brand colander. We received it a couple weeks back, and I love it -- but I don't love the fact that they stuck the label inside the colander, at the bottom. And, as I discovered once I tried to remove it, they didn't use one of those stickers that peels off easily (like the ones that came on all our OXO utensils and accessories). I had to scrape off the bulk of the sticker with my nails; soak the collander in vegetable oil; run it through the dishwasher; soak it in oil again; scrape at it some more; wash it again... I get angry when they put nonremovable stickers on the covers of CDs, but that's purely an aesthetic complaint. This is a practical issue, because it's a colander. The entire point of a colander is that it has holes in the bottom. If you block all the holes in the bottom with a big, difficult-to-remove sticker, you render it useless. It would be like selling T-shirts with the sleeves sewn shut. ...If only I could leave a customer review on their site, I might not have to blog about it!

In short: Bed, Bath & Beyond gets a thumbs-up for convenience, breadth of stock and reasonable prices, but a big thumbs-down for their website, their packaging and their store brand. Next on the block: Macy's!

(To read all my wedding-registry reviews, click here.)


Mary Pat said...

And one thing I loved about BB&B was that if you had to return anything from your registry, they gave you cash back as opposed to store credit. I'm not sure if any of the other stores do that!

Mollie said...

That is awesome. (Haven't tested it yet, though.) Maybe I'll just bring the coffeemaker back for cash!