Service of Pass the Buck: Shoddy, Defective Sales Support at Home Depot

May 11th, 2017

Categories: Customer Care, Customer Service, Retail, Sales



CC, a friend, was bursting with understandable frustration when she wrote this guest post. The incident she described happened at a NJ Home Depot.

The day she submitted the story the company was in the news. It’s “among the biggest gainers” wrote Ryan Dezember and Corrie Driebusch in “A Rare Bright Light in Retailing.” The Wall Street Journal reporters attributed the rise in stock prices of big boxes in the home improvement sector to booming US house prices and construction. After reading about this transaction, you wonder how this happened: Untrained, unmotivated staff wasted the customers’ time and their own.

CC wrote: “On Sunday we went to Home Depot to order a rug for our kitchen, which meant picking out an office or indoor/outdoor carpet to be bound in a custom size.  Simple, right?  I’ve done it before. This time Home Depot dropped the ball repeatedly.

Mistake 1:  There were two sales people in the carpet department, seated at the desk.  One was busy with a customer. The other was playing with her tape measure. I approached and explained what I wanted and why. She barely looked at me and told me I needed to go to the garden department. I explained that I’d placed a similar order in this department before and that I knew what I wanted was here. She grudgingly got up and gestured toward a rack before resuming playing with her tape measure. This sales clerk did NOT want to help me or make a sale!

Carpet samplesMistake 2:  I found what I wanted and approached the other sales clerk, who was now free. I explained what I wanted and asked him to ballpark price it out.  He instantly tried to talk me into buying a stock item – because, he said, it was cheaper, I wouldn’t have to wait three weeks, etc.  I explained that it wasn’t an issue of price or time but size and style. He grudgingly calculated (with some difficulty) the cost.  This sales clerk wanted an easy sale, not one that made him work.

Mistake 3:  After finalizing the carpet choice, I went back to the second clerk and said I wanted to place the order.  He had started to write it up when a young sales clerk came into the department to start her shift. He instantly insisted that she complete the transaction “to get credit for it.” She said she had no experience with a custom order that involved binding. He insisted and then left.  This guy REALLY didn’t want to work and was willing to let his young colleague struggle to help us.

bored personMistake 4:  Eventually, all three of the clerks got involved in calculating the cost and completing the paperwork. They all seemed so uncertain how to do this, I felt impelled to check their math at each step.  No one was sure about where the order would be shipped, and no one told us that we’d be putting down 90% and then paying a balance on delivery. The order was finalized, we thought, and I paid with a credit card.  The process was far too complicated and the clerks were not properly trained.

Mistake 5: After my card was run, the system would not finalize the deal.  It kept saying we hadn’t paid.

  • The older two clerks insisted we go pay at checkout. 
  • The younger one knew how to check whether our card actually had been charged. It had. 
  • Just then, the store’s assistant manager showed up.  He could see three clerks working with two obviously distressed customers, so he stopped to ask what was wrong.  He did NOT look at or engage with us then or over the next 20 minutes. He sat and played with his cell phone, taking calls, while they went through the whole thing again.
  • Eventually, he had the young clerk call HD’s central tech office in Atlanta.
  • The young clerk, however, was very apologetic and professional as she tried to sort it out.  The assistant manager quite obviously wanted to be anywhere else. Tech couldn’t help, and the young clerk shut down her terminal and tried another one with no luck.  Senior management ignored us and never apologized!

Mistake 6: It had now been at least an hour since I first asked for a price.  Other clerks would buzz by the desk and try to chat up the three clerks we were working with. Finally, another manager came and took things over. The assistant store manager left without a word. When the new manager could get nowhere, she apologized and told us to leave – that they would figure it out and call us by the next morning.  Home Depot wasted more than an hour of our time before cutting us loose.

At that point, I was prepared to cancel the whole thing and go somewhere else – a sentiment I’d expressed to the clerks several times.

What they did right:  The young clerk called me later and again apologized profusely, telling me nothing had been resolved but promising to call me next morning.  When I opened my email the next day, the transaction had gone through.  She called me within minutes to explain what had happened with the computer system and to apologize profusely once more. Her apologies were genuine.  She and the second manager, alone, had behaved professionally.  She told me that the second manager was giving us the carpet ($300) at no charge. Later that day, I got an email update showing that the order had been fast-tracked and would now be completed in a week instead of three.

Will I ever place a custom order again at Home Depot?  No way!  The company finally did the right thing, but all the wrong steps along the way gave us an insight into the company that was extremely unflattering.  I go into Home Depot under duress as it is (my husband practically lives there).  I prefer to go to a hardware store.  Now I will, at every opportunity.

How does a district manager inspire catatonic staff at an individual store to treat each sale with care? When salespeople pass the buck and act uninspired is it because they: 

  • don’t think an order is big enough to bother with
  • are lazy
  • feel there’s nothing in it for them if they work smart and no downside to being sluggish
  • don’t know better
  • are not trained to be effective salespeople 

While Home Depot may be doing well for the moment, the retail landscape is bleak, which portends cutbacks for millions of jobs. How can anyone in retail dare to act blasé and indifferent? Doesn’t an employee want to be chosen to stay in the event of massive layoffs? What happened to personal pride?




12 Responses to “Service of Pass the Buck: Shoddy, Defective Sales Support at Home Depot”

  1. Nancy Farrell Said:

    These employees act this way because they can. Some are motivated to do a good job and some aren’t but no one is correcting them so the problems will continue. I just had a bad retail experience myself. I went to a mostly empty store in a mostly empty mall and told a clerk I wanted to buy something on a wedding registry. She asked what I wanted to buy. I showed her the item on the registry on my phone and she looked it up on her computer and said I’d have to order it on the internet. Um, no. I needed it for a bridal shower the next week and didn’t want to worry about it getting delivered in time. So she lost a sale. She should have looked up the registry herself and told me what she had in-stock. Instead she showed me the door. So I went to the second of three stores that the couple is registered with. There I was shown how to print out the registry and I could even filter out items that have already been purchased. A 13-year employee ran around locating what I wanted to buy and even offered to meet me at the back door so I wouldn’t have to carry it through the mall. I told her that wasn’t necessary, that she’d packed the items so well that carrying them would be a breeze. So now this store has my email address and probably future business.

  2. David Reich Said:

    This shouldn’t be surprising. Home Depot has a well-earned reputation for terrible customer service. That reputation has given its main competitor Lowes an advantage, since Lowes is much more custom,er-friendly.

    There’s currently not a Lowes near us, although one is being built now at Ridge Hill in Yonkers. But we usually go to the neighborhood hardware store, which is family-owned and an affiliate of TrueValue. They have plenty of people to assist and they are all knowledgable about their products and about home repair projects. We don’t care if their prices are a little bit more than Home Depot. At least we get service and help, and we don’t have to come back to the store because we bought the wrong item for the job.

  3. Deborah Brown Said:

    In reading this post I am reminded of my own similar experiences. One involved purchasing carpeting for my late parent’s condominium outside Philadelphia. Over the course of nearly 2 years we put off buying it because of terrible point of purchase service, lack of information from the salesperson, shoddy interior of the store and more. Finally, we ended up at the late Strawbridge & Clothier department store with a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and well dressed salesman who offered to come to their home and measure!

    Several years ago I wanted to replace my washer and dryer and headed to Home Depot. I hunted nearly 20 minutes to find a person who could help me as there was not one single employee in the entire appliance department. Guess what? When I found one, she had no information other than the sale price and dimension on sticker cards. Guess what? I walked out and have never returned to the store.

    Many years ago I had the delight to hire the late Peter Glen, a motivational speaker for a client’s trade seminar. He was the author of the book “It’s not my Department,” one of the buzz phrases uttered by many sales personnel and still are. He described a visit to a major east coast mall where he shopped numerous stores over a two hour period. “Not one greeted me,” he exclaimed. “I needed to speak to a human so I went to the Disney store!”
    Unfortunately, I think the experience from your contributor is not the exception but too often the norm. No wonder on-line shopping has found its niche!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I had a similar experience buying a wedding gift from a young woman who was unhelpful and nasty many years ago and have never returned to that major department store. I wonder if retailers still hire store detectives [not the kind who check for stealing but those whose focus is on service] to keep an eye on how customers are treated. I wonder if that job would be fun. Yea to the second salesperson. May you have many gifts to buy in future to give her plenty of business.

  5. EAM Said:

    Next time you’d like to order custom carpet, try this store-owner in Nutley, NJ

    Jeanette Viruet-Boehm, Co-Owner, Longest Yard Floors

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    For many years I’ve gone to a Home Depot a bit north of Poughkeepsie, across from Marist College. I haven’t ordered anything as CC did, but I’ve found most of the floor staff extremely helpful. There is always someone at the door–on a Saturday in any case–to welcome and direct you and people in the departments I stroll through, to help. On occasion I must look for someone but there have been staffers who have walked me to the aisle and then to the shelf that holds what I need and they’ve even opened a package to make sure that the contents matched what I needed to replace.

    The store in Manhattan near Bloomingdale’s is uneven. We had a great experience buying a dishwasher and I’ve had nightmares trying to buy shelving and other things to the point I’ve given up.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Agree about people preferring to buy online in part because of in-store aggravation–all the more reason for the salespeople who remain to bend over backwards to keep their jobs should cutbacks be a necessity for their employer’s survival. Plus I’m sure it feels better for sales staff at day’s end, whether killing a grouchy customer with kindness or assisting a pleasant one, when they’ve created and maintained a positive aura, as hard as it must be sometimes. It’s not a customer’s fault that an employer is stingy, a manager is nasty, or that job conditions are not great. If the goal is to put the employer out of business, that’s another matter.

  8. Martha Takayama Said:

    Your article doesn’t surprise me. I have grown accustomed to rude, negligent disinterested customer service for a number of years . I am not particularly interested in shopping in stores these days, for a variety of reasons including lack of time, lessened interest in acquisitions of unnecessary clutter, disappointment in offerings, ennui, fear of terrorism, and bad service.

    In general for personal shopping I don’t need much assistance. However if ignored or treated rudely, out I go and don’t go back if treated rudely or badly. All the reasons you enumerate as explanations for your non-service experiences are apropos. There seems to be a lack of interest in service or sales in direct proportion to the fragility of the retail store as an entity and the economy itself. It is impossible to understand the thinking behind this behavior, in the same way that it is impossible to understand the behavior of our President and his colleagues. Our President sets the highest bar for hiring the least prepared, most inexperienced, unsuitable, incompetent and unreliable people for the positions he does sporadically fill.

  9. hb Said:

    My stock answer to complaints about how lacking the service one receives at the “big boxes” really is, “Big may be beautiful, but little works.” But it is more than that.

    We are a troubled society, disgruntled and full of angst. It will take a lot more than a few new factories and oil wells, walls and superhighways to fix what ails us. Even education will not fix the problem. (Incidentally, I recently heard that in many colleges the practice among professors has now become to award most students mostly “A’s” and “A-‘s.” If all but the obviously failing students get top grades, then their teachers cannot be successfully accused of prejudice.) Likewise, of course, the “big boxes,” out to hire good sales and management trainees, also have less to choose from. So what else is new?

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You have added a long list of additional reasons people don’t shop at retail anymore. I am sure that major retailers know all of this as the result of focus groups and other polling. They can’t help the terrorism issue that doesn’t deter me because living in a crowded city I have no choice but to go where I need to go in the most efficient way and not dwell on what I can’t control.

    However they can help what you refer to as disappointment of offerings and poor service. The latter may adjust itself as there are increasingly fewer sales jobs: Only the best will survive.

  11. Lucrezia Said:

    Sympathies for a nasty situation, but why so much as think of patronizing these giants? My experiences with local stores have always paid off in attractive quality purchases and personalized service at modest cost. Why permit oneself to become a cypher, when there are countless small outfits ready to treat customers as royalty?

    It hasn’t occurred to me to walk into a Home Depot, and this sad tale will not bring me any closer to the premises.

  12. jmbyington Said:


    Not all Home Depot’s are the same. If you have good small suppliers that’s a blessing. Sure saves a lot of time if you have do it yourself service at a big box to match your do it yourself project!

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