I love Amazon, both as a customer and as an investor (I own a little bit). Obviously, its pricing is usually fantastic, and Prime is well worth the $79/year for me (and getting better with more instant videos available for free streaming). The downside of Amazon's dominance is that it has been killing off local stores, ranging from small used bookstores to even once-mighty chains like Borders.
But what's sometimes overlooked in the reasons for Amazon's success is its customer service. Amazon's shipping is reliable. I think in my long history as a customer, there's only been one instance when it wasn't able to fulfill an order that it accepted, and it was fairly diligent about letting me know within a reasonable amount of time.
Let's contrast that with my recent (ongoing) very negative experience with Sears. I ordered my wife's birthday present a full 10 days in advance. The item showed as "not available from warehouse but will ship directly from one of our stores," with a promised delivery date the day before her birthday. Okay . . . nine days seems like an awfully long time to fulfill the order, but whatever, there was an extra day just in case.
My credit card was charged immediately. (Amazon, on the other hand, does not charge my card until the items actually ship.)
I received an order confirmation email and then . . . silence. Now, I probably should have followed up on the absence of a shipping confirmation email, but when I checked my order status online, it showed as "SHIPPED" -- though oddly, with no tracking number. [Deceptive practice? As you'll see, it had NOT shipped at that time, or perhaps even now.]
The day that the present was supposed to arrive, it did not. I checked the order status online again, and it still showed the same information (and lack of tracking number). I opened up a live webchat window, and the Sears representative, clearly having been taught some rudimentary tricks about dealing with customers ("make sure you repeat their concerns to show that you are listening"), looked into the problem. He was unable to tell me when I would receive the package. He promised to send this matter to the research department to see what happened, and told me that I would receive a response within 15 days.
15 days? This after repeating that he understood how disappointing it was not to have my wife's present delivered on time.
Not long after, I received an email from Sears, reading in relevant part:
Thank you for shopping at Sears.com!
We are still in the process of researching your order, however wanted to follow up so you know we are still working on it. We sincerely apologize for the delay. Please allow 5-7 business days for a response. We regret any inconvenience and appreciate your continued patience.
Look for Great Ideas throughout the store and find Sears exclusive innovations from great brands like Sony, Kenmore, NordicTrack, Craftsman and Reebok.
Thank you for researching this. I appreciate your efforts, but I must say, this is a fairly disappointing experience. I placed the order 10 days ago, which I thought would be plenty of time to arrive before my wife's birthday tomorrow. Nevertheless, I can understand that sometimes unavoidable delays occur. However, the absence of a tracking number, or even the ability to determine quickly where the [item] is or if it has even shipped is shocking.
I suppose I will convert this to a Mother's Day present and have to scramble tomorrow to find a birthday present locally.
The next morning, I received the following response:
Good Morning Tung,
Thank you for contacting Sears regarding your order number XXXX. I am sorry to hear that you have not received the order.
We are currently working on the issue. You should expect to receive a response from us by 5/15/2013. The feedback that you have provided today regarding shopping experience will be taken into consideration as we continue to enhance our services to meet the needs of our customers going forward.
Tired of getting emails that simply repeated the same lack of content, I decided to call. My purpose was to see if the item had even shipped, and if it had not, to cancel the order.
The customer service agent was apparently better at researching the order than the webchat or emailers were, as she determined that it was "preparing to be shipped." I asked to cancel the order since it hadn't shipped yet.
She said that she couldn't cancel the order because it was already prepared to be shipped. I pointed out that they had already missed the delivery date, and my card was charged 11 days earlier. Why weren't they able to cancel it? She repeated that she was unable to do so.
She then told me she would pass the matter along to a supervisor, who would respond to me within 24-48 hours. Well . . . at least the timeframe for response is getting shorter.
Finally, she saked if I wanted to order anything else(!). I said, "Honestly, this experience has been so negative . . . no, I do not want to order anything else."
Instead, I was tempted to go buy a few more shares of Amazon stock. I hope Amazon eats Sears for lunch.