Cottage Industry Teaches 'Customer Experience'

I’ve had a bit of a mental drought in regards to what to write about. Which is peculiar really as there’s been plenty going on in my life and the wider world. There’s a desire of mine not to say much about my own career or mention much of those closest to me so I guess whilst I have felt personally busy, they’re not things I’d necessarily blog about.

To some extent there’s a desire of mine not to expose myself by commenting on wider political issues either. Whilst I’ll happily talk about the London bombings, I feel less informed and secure in commenting on the Israeli pull out from the Gaza Strip for example.

Which is all academic really as the blog should be about (web) usability and customer experience. I won’t embarrass myself by linking to the last time I wrote on one of these topics because it’s a bit too long ago so I’m resolved to start getting a bit more informed again. After all, putting articles on the blog about the ephemera of daily life is all well and good but doesn’t really serve a purpose other than to ‘brain dump’.

As a customer I’ve experienced a couple of new online things recently, selling stuff on Amazon and eBay. It dawned on us one Saturday morning that we had loads of unread and partly read academic books, some CDs that were redundant after being copied to iTunes and a couple of unopened presents from Christmas, I even had some old PC and consumer electrical products too. I knew you could shift stuff through Amazon so we set about listing items. This is a relatively straightforward process. You register your details and literally input ISBN or bar-code references into a search field and Amazon picks up the details, asks you how much you want to list the item for and then simply emails you to dispatch once it’s handled a transaction.

Where their system falls down is not identifying before you list the item what the prices that other people have listed their items for are. It does show you the lowest price, but that might be for a tatty old copy and yours could be ‘like new’. This is where Firefox’s tabbed browsing is a boon, open a new tab and search for the item in question and work out who’s got what prices for each quality. But how much simpler would it have been for Amazon to serve up a table saying ‘Like New’ = £x, ‘Good’ = £y and so on? eBay is worse though. There are so many boxes to complete when you go to sell an item, so many options and listings choices (many with associated costs) that frankly I can’t be bothered to list anything other than things that Amazon won’t.

This overly complicated option selection and form filling isn’t long forgotten before your items sell and you realise that eBay / Amazon have taken a big cut from your earnings. At the small end of the market where books and CDs are selling for a couple of pounds each, you almost pay more in admin than you get back. The postal charges levied on your behalf by Amazon are generous for small items – particularly if you post same day second class and thereby meet the delivery obligation for the minimum cost – but start posting larger books and you really need to be selling books at £10 or more. Everyone’s got the same idea, so popular items are listed several times and American services are offering them at discounted rates – you’re forced into listing at uneconomic prices or risk them never selling.

That said, it has been a revelation in terms of providing excellent customer service. As an embryonic cottage industry, I’m fastidious in making sure the item is in as good a condition as possible before dispatch, it’s packaged neatly but safely and simply (to avoid higher postal costs) and the item is sent with a compliments slip promising a full refund if the buyer is unhappy. Items are sent as soon as physically possible and I often email the buyer on dispatch to let them know it’s on its way. All of this is done with the intention of getting great feedback scores and yet, despite this, only two people have left feedback on Amazon for their purchase. This does make me wonder whether people:

.: Just expect this level of service – it’s nothing exceptional
.: Can’t find the Amazon feedback link
.: Can’t be bothered with leaving feedback
.: Are unaware of feedback and its importance to the seller.

In all seriousness it has affected my interpretation of the consumer experience. Just because I work in this field and, when I’m out and about fill in surveys to help other businesses improve, doesn’t mean others will. People, when pushed, say they care about the customer experience but do they really? If you’re buying through Amazon, even through the used ‘Marketplace’, you probably just want the item at the lowest price and service will only be an issue if it’s shocking. Ultimately, as a low volume seller, customers aren’t going to return to purchase more from me as I’m unlikely to be selling their next purchase with such a small stock and range.

However, my own sense of duty and ethics means I’m unlikely to revert to a simple stuff-n-post style of service, it might be a drop in the ocean but I’m learning so much more about the demands in customer experience from it.

That said, feel free to buy something from my Amazon Marketplace shop!

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