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Amazon, the World’s Default Shopping Destination (or is it Zamazon now?)

Capture Recently I wrote about PaaS by Amazon – an no, as much as we like thinking of Amazon as the the key Cloud Computing infrastructure provider, it wasn’t about Platform as a Service.  It was about Pasta as a Service.  Yes, I am buying Al Dente Carba-Nada as a subscription.

After all, before it become the uber-cloud-provider, Amazon started in retail – actually, as the company that revolutionized retail forever.

Do you know how many product search / comparison engines there are today?   I don’t.   A few years ago if I wanted to find something online, I probably used those comparison engines – then a funny thing happened.  I noticed that I would end up @ Amazon – direct or via a Marketplace vendor – anyway. Might as well stop wasting time…  nowadays I will still research major electronics, but for less than $100 purchases I will simply jump to Amazon.  They do not always have the best price, but often enough, and the convenience of shopping from a trusted source, safe delivery and excellent service (no-questions-asked refund when my netbook developed a problem)  makes it a no-brainer.

We’re also converting our real-world shopping to Amazon: would you spend a few hours driving around looking for a stupid little spare part, or just order it online, even if shipping makes it a few bucks more expensive?  (i.e. is two hours of your time worth $5?)  I’m clearly not the only one: the UPS truck, formerly rarely seen in residential areas makes its stops in my street every day now.  But back to Amazon, here’s a trick to save on shipping: a lot of products are eligible for Free Super Saver shipping when you spent $25. How many times did you search for a penny-item to buy when your total came to $24.19?   Add the non-immediate purchases to your “shopping list”, then bundle them with a larger purchase next time.

Another option to get free delivery and shave off an additional 15%: Subscribe and Save.  Who would have thought one day we’d be subscribing to groceries?   But it makes sense when it comes to regularly consumed items. I have subscriptions for tea,  sunscreen and several other products that are not easy to find in regular stores, I am using regularly, and the subscription price is favorable @ Amazon.  Subscription does not mean hard commitment: you can adjust the frequency of delivery, skip individual shipments, request immediate shipment and even cancel without any penalty (phone companies better pay attention!).

In short, Amazon has become my default vendor by good price and convenience.  With a few exceptions, and shoes were on of them – until today.  Zappos is (has been?) arguably the world’s best online source to buy shoes.

But it’s not primarily a shoe-seller.  It’s the Ultimate Customer Service company.  Shopping at Zappos means a few things:

  • best price (or close to it)
  • easy sizing
  • crowdsourced feedback
  • painless, no-hassles, free returns (two-way postage included)

In other words not only they have the largest inventory of shoes (the choice is actually overwhelming) they invented the formula for risk free, convenient shopping  – why even get in the car and go to shoe stores?

Well, now it’s all part of Amazon in a transaction just shy of $1 Billion.  Zappos CEO Toni Hsieh assured his employees and customers he would continue to run Zappos as it is.   I believe him – for now, since once again, Zappos is all about service.  They have a better model than Amazon, and would quickly lose customers if Amazon fully integrated them, applying their own (otherwise outstanding, just not Zappos-level) return policies.  And it’s not like there’s nowhere else to run: my personal favorite has been ShoeBuy, which may be a Zappos copy-cat, but it perfected the art: same service principles, and often slightly lower prices.

If Zappos blinks and becomes too Amazon-ized, ShoeBuy will thrive.  Otherwise they better watch out.  And oh..hm… I don’t want to be in the shoes (pun intended) of many current shoe-sellers on Amazon.

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(Cross-posted @ CloudAve)

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UPS: Tracking and Customer Service Failure

Photo by William J.Image via Wikipedia

Recently I ranted about UPS’s delays and customer service level – oh, boy, little did I know then just how bad UPS Customer Service can really get.

Four out of five packages I dropped off at the same UPS store a 2 weeks ago still showed “Billing Information Received” status a week later.   In UPS lingo this means the shipping label was created, but the package was never received by the company.  There’s nothing to track, as far as UPS is concerned, the package really doesn’t exist.  This was what the Customer Service agent repeatedly told me anyway, further explaining that the only way  this could have happened if I either did not send the packages at all, or did not properly attach the labels.

Of course she did not have an explanation on how the fifth package safely arrived in the meantime – after all, I did not dropped them off at UPS according to her theory.  If it’s not in the system, it doesn’t exist. Only when I asked her if she was accusing me of lying did she change tone, and recommended we put a tracer on the lost packages. Since these were returns to ShoeBuy  using their return labels, they were considered the shipper, not me, so they had to initiate the trace.

ShoeBuy is a company with amazingly good Customer Service – since Zappos is often referred to as to epitome of Customer Service, let’s just say ShoeBuy is like Zappos, often with lower prices.smile_regular They picked up my email immediately, and they probably carry some weight with UPS, since the non-existent packages were found in no time.  The tracking information below tells the whole story:

The packages never entered UPS’s tracking system, there’s no sign whatsoever that I ever sent them from California, yet they miraculously showed up at the destination, ready for delivery upon ShoeBuy’s inquiry.  So much for the rock-solid tracking system…I understand the first step, i.e  a UPS store clerk forgetting to scan the received packages, which then got loaded on the truck anyway, but how were  4 packages then able to bypass all further stages of scanning?

But let’s finish this post on a positive note: it’s a story of good Customer Service, after all – just not by UPS.  ShoeBuy, upon finding what happened, immediately refunded my money, before they even received the packages from UPS.  Wow!  They know something about keeping customers happy.smile_regular

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