Loyalty360 Fireside Chat: Overstock.com Takes Pride in Delivering Memorable Customer Experiences

Overstock.com has received numerous accolades for its superior customer experience and employee satisfaction as it has become one of the most trustworthy retail companies in the U.S. One of those awards came in November at the Loyalty360 Customer Awards when Overstock earned the Platinum Award for Operational Excellence at the inaugural Customer Expo.
Passion, a human connection, basic principles of fairness, and family values comprise some of Overstock’s prevailing themes coupled with an overarching belief in the motto: Every single customer counts.
Brian Popelka, SVP Customer and Partner Care for online retailer Overstock.com, talked about those themes and various other topics during Thursday’s Loyalty360 March 2018 Brand Fireside Chat hosted by Loyalty360 CEO and CMO Mark Johnson. These monthly roundtables afford brand members an opportunity to come together regularly and talk about industry trends, issues, and other related topics.
Drop-ship vendors play a pivotal role in Overstock’s overall delivery of a memorable customer experience. In fact, every facet of the supply chain is critical for Overstock. Popelka referenced world renowned chef Gordon Ramsay and one of his signature moments in almost every episode of Hell’s Kitchen.
“His methods may be crazy, but I love when he throws the risotto in the bin because he’s set a quality standard,” Popelka said. “We believe in setting that standard and appreciate that through the whole supply chain to ensure quality of the CX. We have a vast number of partners we collaborate with, and we have great relationships with all of our vendors and carriers. We recognize that third-party vendors are representative of our brand. We take that seriously and work to make sure that part of the customer experience works out well. We do everything we can to ensure the customer experience from the website to your door. Everyone has to be in on it.”
Overstock.com launched in 1999 near Salt Lake City and evolved from a fledging startup to a billion-dollar online retailer. Popelka is responsible for the strategic direction and operational effectiveness of Overstock’s award-winning customer care department. Popelka has contributed greatly to the success of Overstock, helping to set the tone of the company's culture while at the same time spearheading development of a media channel, travel site, and auto sales site.
Popelka has held several positions since joining the Overstock in 2002, including business to business manager, director of the books, media, movies and games department, and vice president of customer care.
Popelka became involved with customer service in 2006.
“I learned how rewarding it can be and how it can move the needle of a company,” he said.
While having solid relationships with Overstock’s numerous drop-ship vendors is very important, Popelka noted, another equally important group exists close to home.
“Your employees are the other segment of customer that you need to consider their experience within your organization,” he said.
Overstock’s commitment to customer experience and customer-centricity has been omnipresent since Day 1 back in 1999. Being able to seamlessly evolve with its customer base has kept Overstock on top of the CX world.
“Now, how do we improve the CX by trying to provide them with self-help opportunities and self-guidance and triggers for them when they need help to be able to reach the right people,” Popelka said.
Popelka talked about Overstock’s RFP for its technology.
“We had been with our technology providers for a long time, but we knew this changing landscape required us to align our providers with AI, Big Data … the point of it all to ensure that you’re on the forefront of using those technologies where they provide value propositions. We’ve really been a technology company at the heart of it. Augmented reality, mobile apps to try and improve the CX is almost a mandate from the senior levels of Overstock.”
Implementing technology enterprisewide is crucial for Overstock.
“It provides consistency and keeps the entire organization on the forefront of technology,” Popelka said. “We did a lot of research. We’re here listening, we’re home, and if you want to come from the back door, from the window, or cycle in from the street, we’re listening to your plea of help so you can get in the house. The good news is there’s some cost reduction around this and a desire of our customers to want to help themselves.”
Customer change has occurred fast and furious, Popelka said.
“They wanted different types of help and to manage it themselves,” he explained. “We didn’t have to guess what they wanted—tools to help themselves. We afforded customers the appropriate tools and trained employees to modify their behavior to better help customers.”
Investing in its employees has been an integral motif since Overstock’s inception.
“Pride is another word that sounds a little cheesy, but when you find folks who take pride in their communities, they tend to listen when you give them coaching,” Popelka said. “They tend to adopt it and success follows. We have a belief that if we can keep our groups around 200, we can get great performances out of them. It works for us at those levels with coaching and training.”
Popelka said Overstock likes to “challenge itself” on NPS.
“In Overstock’s situation, most of our CX happens outside of web experiences and happens well outside of our control,” he said. “We challenge our agents to make that CX right. We hold people accountable to that very difficult task. We ask our agents to be accountable to the UPS driver and to be pleasant. When you’re challenged to raise your game, you do and that provides the better service. We measure our operations every single step of the way and hold everyone accountable in that supply chain.”
As a pioneer of ecommerce, Overstock has been selling merchandise from the excess inventory of retailers around the world. Overstock initially sold surplus and returned merchandise at its founding, but later extended its offerings to include new merchandise and a seller marketplace, with a focus on home goods.
Overstock’s unrelenting success can be attributed to its unadulterated pursuit of innovation of the overall customer experience, and it returns to that basic and prevailing tenet: Every single customer counts.
“Trying to get your organization to buy into that theme was a real key to Overstock’s success and what got me excited about CX and customer service,” Popelka said. “We started to get accolades about that and it feels good when you’re doing the right thing. Applying that with our drop-ship vendors was a different type of challenge. And applying that to our organization was another challenge, but those basic principles and family values really count and really matter.
For Overstock, its policies have shifted with the changing face of the company.
“I do think it’s a matter of evolving the policies along with evolving the business,” Popelka said. “If we catch a whiff of a product defect or a trend around returns, we very quickly work with our vendors to alert them. It’s a healthy ecosystem that makes the business work. Our partners are critical to our success. They’ve been incredibly open to our feedback. They understand our value proposition: Great quality product, great quality experience.”
Popelka talked about the return process.
“We keep an eye on our peers and what they’re doing in the market,” he said. “For us, it’s an ever-changing landscape of policing the policy as rigidly as possible and allowing flexibility for reasonable returns. What we don’t want to do is draw our policy around the extreme scenarios, but rather the scenarios we see every day. We want to be fair. Customer service has always been at the core of Overstock.”
Club O is the company’s loyalty program.
“Our loyalty program is incredibly important and we constantly work to improve the quality of the program,” Popelka said. “We try to provide as white glove an experience as we can within the customer care queue.”

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