Tracking Behavior

What did we do before tracking numbers?

Years ago, we did things like ordering from catalogs. They would come in the mail from major retailers, wholesale merchants, Chinese manufacturers, and we’d get excited. We shuffled through physical printed papers bound together by a strip of glue as we dog-eared pages with things we wanted, adding up the totals with a calculator, uncovering more deliciously glossy things we wanted on every page. Eventually we got to the order form where we’d write it all down, total the cost, write a check, put it all in an envelope, and send it off to some mysterious location.

Then we’d wait.

Eventually, assuming the order was placed with a reputable company, we’d get a box with our goods. It was exciting when it came, because we weren’t sure exactly when it would arrive. We’d rip open the box, having half-forgotten what we’d ordered, revealing the true-to-life versions of the things we saw on the pages, and it was great.

It’s a little different today. Now we shop online, putting very little thought into our purchases. We see something, we click, we buy it, and we don’t even look at the details. We don’t pay attention to where it’s coming from, who is servicing the sale or how long it might take to arrive. We just expect it will get here quickly, will have tracking, and all will be well. If it’s not we’ll get a refund. It’s a comfortable process that has done great things and made shopping a lot easier, but also spoiled the consumer.

As someone who runs an internet-based business, I know a lot about how customers deal with an online retailer. I sell exclusively through Amazon. My stores service thousands of orders per day. Most orders arrive without an issue. Some don’t. The way people deal with the ones that don’t tell a lot about how expectations for shipping and ordering have changed, and make me wonder what we did before the advent of a tracking number and these “we-sell-everything-that-has-ever-been-manufactured-in-the-history-of-the-world” marketplaces like Amazon.

Plain and simple: If an order isn’t assigned a tracking number, the average consumer absolutely loses their shit. They have an order number, they have a delivery window. That’s no good. They need to be able to follow it, or they simply don’t believe it’s been sent.

My account on Amazon USA has 93% positive feedback. It has 4% negative and 3% neutral. Amazon effectively counts neutral feedback as negative, since it still works to pull down your positive score, but eh. 93% is a pretty good approval rating – especially considering only about 6% of Amazon customers actually leave seller feedback of any kind. In short, you could say 4% of 6% of my total customers found the need to complain. I can’t do that math, but it’s pretty slim.

One thing to know about Amazon is there’s a difference between seller feedback and item feedback, which almost nobody understands. If you took out all the negative seller feedback where people are actually just complaining about their product, it would leave almost nothing. But that’s a fact that I could scream about for the rest of my life and nothing will change. It’s a combination of Amazon not doing much to define the two for customers, and customers not paying attention.

Most of my negative feedback is about two things: tracking problems (regardless of whether or not the item was actually delivered within the designated window) or an item not working. And that’s the other rub.

Back in the days of catalogs, if someone ordered something that didn’t work, they’d call the company. They’d talk with the customer service rep, who would take care of it one way or another, and the customer would get the problem resolved. Now, people don’t do that. They’ll leave comments like “Item didn’t work. Not worth sending back. Piece of junk, avoid.”

*sigh*

Not only is that item feedback being left as seller feedback, degrading a company’s customer service reputation before they’ve had a chance to offer any, but it’s silly. With my company, if you contact us, we’ll take care of it. We probably won’t even make you send it back, as it’s not worth it to either of us. All it takes is an email. The amount of time spent leaving a negative comment could have been spent sending an email, and both of us would be happier.

Look at these two scenarios and tell me which one seems better:

One:

  • Customer buys a $5 item that doesn’t work.
  • They leave seller feedback “ITEM SUCKS! THIS SELLER SHIPS GARBAGE AND DOESN’T CARE! NOT WORTH SENDING ITEM BACK, JUST TOSSED IN TRASH, HATE, AVOID, EAT POOP”
  • Customer is out $5, has a broken item, seller’s rep down for no reason.

  • Two:

  • Customer buys a $5 item that doesn’t work.
  • They email the seller and say “This didn’t work, how can we proceed?”
  • Seller says “We can either ship you another or issue you a full refund. There’s no need to return.”
  • Customer gets a refund, seller should get positive rep for good customer service. Nobody eats poop.

    Obviously two is better. But people assume that human-to-human customer service is a thing of the past, so they’d rather just waste a few bucks, complain, and move on with life. I work 7 days a week because I care about making sure people don’t wait too long for a response if they need one, and take it personally when my feedback is damaged and I never heard from the person about an issue.

    Things like Amazon Prime, a great service that allows people to magically get items overnight, has massively changed people’s expectations of online ordering. They expect everything to arrive in a day or two because of the precedent set by Prime, and that’s just not reasonable for normal companies. Amazon Prime involves a company shipping bulk amounts of products to Amazon’s facilities. Customers can then order products and Amazon will facilitate the entire purchase, shipping the item from their facility via super-fast UPS to the customer. My company has thousands of products available via Prime. We have tens of thousands that aren’t and that ship from our own warehouses. But Prime makes customers’ expectations of our privately-serviced orders way out of line.

    The reason Amazon can offer the best prices on products AND get them to you incredibly fast is because they lose a shitload of money on the majority of orders. In 2011, Amazon’s gross income was $61 billion. Their net income was only $631 million. That’s still a lot of money, but it’s only 1% of the money they brought in. They spend it all on shipping things to you fast and pricing things crazy low.

    My point is business has changed. The way we buy things isn’t the way it used to be. That’s fine. I’m glad. It pays my bills. Low-cost items are a part of life and mass marketing, but therefore so are manufacturer defects. So are more intricate methods of getting products to people. Tracking numbers are great, but there’s often logistics involved that go beyond simply putting an item in a box and sending it to you. That doesn’t mean you’re getting ripped off. Shoppers need to remember we still have the ability to contact those who are processing our orders to ask questions. I’m one of those people. I’m sitting here, in my house, in sweatpants, handling millions of dollars of orders per year. There are others like me all over the place. We may operate through one of the largest marketplaces in the history of the world, but we’re just individuals. We’ve changed along with the way business works, but customers need to remember people are still behind the wheels that drive online business.

    My Amazon store is here. I sell everything. Camera lenses, phone chargers, toothbrush holders, women’s dresses, purses, digital voltage meters, car headlights, Wii controllers, dildos, egg boilers, baby harnesses, routers, and 100,000 other things. If you need something, just email. There’s only 3 of us, and one is part time, but we’ll get back to you. We’ll make things right. Because that’s still how business should work, even if we’ve all become spoiled by super fast delivery, tracking numbers, and the expectation that customer service no longer exists.

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