Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Now This Is an Improved Buyer Experience!

eBay is working diligently on improving the buyer experience in 08' but their major ecommerce competitor (Amazon) already has the upper hand in that area and improving the "Customer Experience" has been their focus for the past 12 years. Its a rather new phenomenon for eBay because they didn't do anything about the "Buyer Experience" until they saw signs that it was affecting growth. Now they are trying to exert control over a marketplace that for years was thought of as "just a venue".

I came across a recent article by New York Times columnist JOE NOCERA about his most recent experience shopping on Amazon. Here is an excerpt but I would recommend that you read the entire article.

"My Christmas story — the one I’ve been telling and retelling these last 10 days — began on Friday, Dec. 21.

It was early in the morning, and I had awoken with the sudden, sinking realization that a present I had bought for one of my sons hadn’t yet arrived. It wasn’t just any present either; it was a PlayStation 3, a $500 item, and a gift, I happened to know from my sources, that he was hoping for.

Like most things I buy online, the PlayStation had come from Amazon.com. So I went to the site
and tracked the package — something, thankfully, that is a snap to do on Amazon. What I saw made my heart sink: the package had not only been shipped, it had been delivered to my apartment building days earlier and signed for by one of my neighbors. I knocked on my neighbor’s door, and asked if she still had the PlayStation. No, she said; after signing for it, she had put it downstairs in the hallway.

Now I was nearly distraught. In all likelihood, the reason I hadn’t seen the package earlier in the week is because it had been stolen, probably by someone delivering something else to the building. Even if that wasn’t the case, the one thing I knew for sure was that it was gone — for which I could hardly blame Amazon.

Nonetheless, I got on the phone with an Amazon customer service representative, and explained what had happened: the PlayStation had been shipped, delivered and signed for. It just didn’t wind up in my hands. Would Amazon send me a replacement? In my heart of hearts, I knew I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I was pleading for mercy.

I shudder to think how this entreaty would have gone over at, say, Apple, where customer service is an oxymoron. But the Amazon customer service guy didn’t blink. After assuring himself that I had never actually touched or seen the PlayStation, he had a replacement on the way before the day was out. It arrived on Christmas Eve. Amazon didn’t even charge me for the shipping. My son was very happy. So, of course, was I."

Now, Amazon can do this because they are the shipper of record and can actually ship a replacement but what would they have done if this had been an item fulfilled by one of their 3P Merchants and they had no more in stock? Mr. Nocera, may not have received a replacement in time for Christmas but Amazon still would have guaranteed the order and refunded his money. Also, in this particular case Amazon would have eaten the loss and not passed that on to the merchant because of their A to Z guarantee. Ultimately the customer was going to be satisfied with the outcome and return to Amazon to purchase more items in the future, even being willing to pay a higher price for those items because they know they will be taken care of.

If this same scenario would have happened on eBay, it is clear that the outcome would not have been favorable for Mr. Norcera. First, he would have to contact the individual seller to explain the problem -- with a $500 price tag on the item he purchased, I can't imagine any eBay seller being willing to eat that cost and reship a replacement or even being willing to refund the purchase price. In fact, since the item was actually delivered he wouldn't even be able to apply for a refund through PayPal. He would be out of luck.

When eBay talks about improving the "Buyer Experience" they mean controlling fraud, improving search, etc. Since they are "just a venue" they can't do much else. So as a consumer, where would you prefer to buy your items, Amazon or eBay.

The only way for eBay to improve the Buyer Experience is to take control of the marketplace and take responsibility for the problems. Unless there is a change of leadership at the top this will never happen.

Just my 5 cents.

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