Monday, September 22, 2008

You Break It, I'm Not Buying It

I just had Amazon ship me a replacement for five art books I ordered from them. The original order was just tossed into a box, one of the books landed open, shipped open, and got a cracked spine. What caused me to become so annoyed that I not only wrote them a letter, but am blogging about it, is that the replacement order was packed just as poorly.

Amazon sometimes smartly plastic-wraps books to a piece of cardboard to help prevent corner damage. If done wrong, that process itself causes corner damage, but if done right, the cardboard absorbs all the damage. In my note to them to request replacements and get my return ticket for the 5 damaged books, I specifically requested they properly pack the books by wrapping them to plastic and using enough padded mailers to prevent further damage. They did not do this.

When a customer specifically requests something which your company has done for them in the past, and which they are now upset isn't being done, you should either provide them with that service or tell them it is no longer cost effective to do so, and the customer can decide whether or not to go do their business with another vendor. I doubt Amazon can't afford protective wrapping, I think it is laziness and bad quality control. After all it is more expensive to now have to pay return shipping for two orders, totaling ten hardcover books. What seemed like a casual moment of cost savings has the potential to cost them a customer of thirteen years.

A number of articles have run in business magazines over the last few years about dwindling customer service, some complete with cost-benefit analysis showing that customer service isn't worth paying for and that businesses are better off losing a few customers than paying to give them good service. This kind of short-sighted thinking is leading American business down an unfortunate path, one which I personally feel is contributing to the unsustainable disposable-economy mindset prevailing today.

My preference is still for local bookstores, but that preference is declining. This isn't because of gas prices or even lack of time away from work (though the latter does account for most of my on-line shopping, I make time to go to bookstores and record shops), but rather because instances of damaged merchandise are also skyrocketing at small shops. People using bookstores as libraries has always contributed to damaged stock at brick-and-mortar places, but lately it seems that in addition to rude customers, shopkeepers just don't care how their merchandise is cared-for (price stickers that are hard to remove have pissed me off for years, but now it seems many places don't pay anyone to straighten-up the stacks, watch for clumsy or malicious customers, etc.).

I find the whole situation very unfortunate. My hope is that Amazon won't suffer a third strike, but given that their packing in general has been spotty lately, I'm not holding my breath. If you have something like this happen to you, please complain. Companies will not spend money to improve their customer service unless their customers demand it.


Anonymous said...

i highly recommend borderlands in the mission district for all your sci fi, fantasy & horror book needs. i would be very surprised if you received poor service from them.