Known for: Premium coffee and espresso drinks; creating a holistic consumer experience from java to e-jukebox service.
The rap: Underwhelming food. Selection of too-sweet pastries and wrapped sandwiches doesn't match the quality of its coffee. And who wants a $6 cheese plate? No wonder food accounted for only 14% of retail sales last fiscal year.
The fix: Starbucks is testing warm breakfast sandwiches in Seattle and Washington, DC, prior to a national rollout. Move over, McMuffin.
Known for: User-friendly Web shopping, cool search features, and enormous product selection.
The rap: Barely there live customer support. Amazon's site doesn't offer a toll-free number or live chat software for direct customer help. (Access to live customer reps is buried under the "Where's My Stuff?" link.)
The fix: None, and none coming. Amazon believes providing self-help tools is the best form of customer service. (Does that mean Jeff Bezos pumps his own gas?)
Known for: Affordable Euro-style furniture that makes everyone a design snob; reinventing the furniture outlet as theme park.
The rap: Inexplicably primitive online store. Its ordering system requires filling out a form online, then completing the transaction by phone.
The fix: Ikea plans to launch a revamped online store this fall that will fully automate the ordering process.
Company: Home Depot
Known for: Empowering do-it-yourselfers everywhere; allowing The Apprentice contestants to showcase nail-hammering skills.
The rap: Independent contractors for flooring, cabinets, and countertops generate complaints. And every line is the slow line at checkout stands.
The fix: Home Depot is issuing contractors handheld devices to zap job specs, instead of faxing, to improve order accuracy. And self-checkouts are now available at more than half of all stores.
Known for: Cheap Internet phone calls with wireline-quality sound; helping to drive AT&T out of the long-distance business.
The rap: Bare-bones 911 service. Most callers to the number don't get connected directly to an emergency operator, and their locations aren't automatically reported (as with landlines).
The fix: The Federal Communications Commission in May ordered Net phone companies to provide full 911 services within 120 days. Vonage is working with Baby Bells to fix this problem.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.