business news in context, analysis with attitude

There are those who occasionally accuse MNB about being a bit too rhapsodic about Amazon. So, in the interest of fairness, we offer the following email from MNB reader Craig Espelien:

I wanted to share my recent experiences with Amazon as I know most folks seem to think they are either the greatest ever or that they are the scourge of all things retail. I do not see them either way - they are simply another retailer who has a pretty large array of items and they are pretty convenient to shop at. I am not a prime member as I see that as a slippery slope to buying everything (regardless of price) from Amazon and I still use a lot of bricks and mortar for my needs (Costco is where I tend to go for most of my bricks and mortar stuff). Essentially, I see Amazon as “Target” as compared to Walmart (too bad for Target - many purchases I used to make there I now make at Amazon).

That being said, Amazon has some challenges with their business model - both from a consumer and a supplier perspective.

My last two orders from Amazon (the first was books and a power supply and the second was for pillow case covers) had errors - the first sent me an extra copy of a book (useless to me, cost Amazon some fraction of the sell price). The second sent the wrong size pillow case covers (ordered four king and two standard, received four standard and two king). Amazon will lose $ based on me having to ship the extra standards back - but now I have to re-order the king size (the option to re-order on a shipping mistake is no longer there) and probably will have to wait to buy them as I received free shipping on the pillow case covers and replacements will not achieve the minimum on its own. Disappointed and inconvenienced - but have pretty low expectations of Amazon’s service anyway. I have more issues with shipping from Amazon than ANYONE else I buy from online - but end up there due to convenience (by the way, if you are shopping for specialty items Amazon is no where near the cheapest - simply the most convenient). Sort of interesting and leads to my next point.

As a supplier who has used (and is trying to use again) Amazon for fulfillment, some suppliers are getting frustrated with Amazon’s return policy. It used to be that the first line of defense was to provide the supplier with a way and a means to satisfy the customer so they would keep the product (in a past life it was mainly setup assistance as you would be surprised how many people can’t follow simple instructions - but perhaps you would not be surprised) and not clog the system with returned items. That has recently changed - Amazon has made it monumentally easier to have the buyer simply give up and return the item rather than even attempt to resolve the situation (as a side note, my return experience above reflects that - I would much rather have done a simple exchange of standard size for king size but I could not find that option). This is bad for suppliers as this creates all sorts of headaches and increases in cost - that Amazon does not have to bear. They actually can benefit from it as they can sell of the merchandise at greatly reduced prices and simply charge the supplier for their profit. We did not select Amazon as a channel we could pursue based on this.

Anyway, I know you are a big fan of Amazon and their eco-system but I will be on the fence for a long time before I let an incredibly average (albeit convenient) retailer that close to my life.

Thanks for the insight. I have to say that your experiences as described above are completely different from the experiences that I’ve had … I have high expectations, and rarely have been either disappointed or inconvenienced. As a consumer, I find that they routinely over-deliver on their promises, and as a book author, I’ve been thrilled with Amazon’s ability to sell my books.

But clearly there are two sides to every story.
KC's View: