A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday, 4 June 2018

Hooptedoodle #305 - Stone Cold Dead in de Marketplace

I get so used to the convenience of online shopping that it really stings when it goes wrong. Nothing major - no big deal - just a routine shopping story, straight from the pages of Bicycle News [private joke]. The real problem is that we take things for granted - no contingency margins at all - so any pain is mostly self-inflicted.

This week I needed to get some musical kit in a hurry - nothing particularly interesting - just a long-overdue replacement for a carrying case. Had a look around, and eventually bought something on Amazon. I could have looked further, but our experience with Amazon is so overwhelmingly positive in recent years, and they always look after any (rare) mishaps professionally and quickly, so their name has become a bit of a safeguard.

£58, with free delivery. Fine. Easy. In fact the item was supplied by one of Amazon's Marketplace sellers, a big music shop in Yorkshire which also deals with real customers in a real bricks-&-mortar shop. All good. The chances of a staff member in an actual music shop knowing what they are doing must be at least as good as what might be expected in the dungeons of a Corporate Fulfilment Centre.

My parcel was much, much bigger than this...
On Saturday, even quicker than expected, a DPD van brought me a fine big parcel. At the time I was up to my knees in tidying up the garage, so it wasn't until later on that I opened my package. Ouch. Wrong item. They had sent me an enormous case of a different type - same make, but about three times the size (and, incidentally, twice the value). Let's not panic here.

I got online to Amazon, recorded my wish to return the item, which was accepted straight away, and I printed off labels and documents they emailed me to send the parcel back. I also rang up the music shop (they were still open at nearly 6pm - business must be either very good or very poor - take your pick).

Gentleman at the music shop said that these things happen, but didn't seem to care unduly. If I send the item back, they will refund the cost. He certainly wasn't at all apologetic - I got a faint hint that Amazon customers are a bit of a pain in the capodastro.

Now, here's the rub. Normally, in a situation like this, where the music shop knows that you are in a bit of a hurry, the guy might well say, "very sorry, we screwed up - we'll rush the correct item to you, and our courier will collect the wrong one when he calls with it".

Not in the Marketplace. The guy cannot do anything like that, because Amazon have to call all the shots on the refund - this is probably how it should be - I'm sure all you auditors will agree. SO THE SELLER IS HAMSTRUNG BECAUSE HE IS WORKING FOR AMAZON ON THIS SALE.

OK - over to Amazon themselves. I had a pleasant on-screen "chat" exchange with one of Amazon's customer reps, and he said that I have to mail the thing back to the seller, at my own cost, and the seller will refund purchase price plus my postage when they receive it. But, I said, I thought you would send me a label which would get me free return mailing.

Ah, well. This is what would happen if the item had been supplied direct from Amazon's warehouse, but it's different for a Marketplace sale. The seller, you see, has to process the refund and accept the item back into stock. I can understand that, but it does mean that AMAZON ARE ALSO HAMSTRUNG BECAUSE THEY ARE USING A MARKETPLACE SELLER.

To be fair to them, Amazon awarded the princely sum of £5 as a goodwill payment for my inconvenience. They also explained that the procedure is now thus: I repackage the parcel, attach the labels Amazon have sent me, take it to a courier [I used Royal Mail Parcelforce this morning, registered - that's £13.40] and pay the postage to get it back to the seller. When the lads in Yorkshire get their case back, they will check it's OK and will refund my £58 - any betting that they'll remember the return postage without being chased? Once I have seen on my credit card statement that everything is in order I may start again, re-ordering the same item from the same supplier, through Amazon. Just as though it never happened.

Just a minute - you mean they can't take the initiative to send me the correct item without further action from me? No - the transaction ends when they have their goods back, I have my money back, and Amazon's audit trail rings the Angelus. Then I may feel free to start all over again.

Mustn't make a fuss - things usually do go very well. My hopes for a quick, convenient purchase of an instrument case have vanished without trace, however, and I have the additional hassle of checking I get all my money back. Then I have to decide whether I am sufficiently impressed with this episode to risk going round the process one more time.

No. In fact I had already ordered the same item online (outside Amazon, from a shop in Derby - for only £48), within an hour of the conversation. If the original seller in Yorkshire had given even a token pretence of contrition I'd have considered ordering from them again - they will have to pick up the tab for my return shipping, after all. But he didn't. Fair enough. If he doesn't give a stuff, then neither do I, and whether the world is a warmer and more caring place as a result is well beyond me.

Move on - nothing to see here.


  1. Think yourself lucky Tony that you don't have to order anything through Amazon France. Delays and lost items are the norm, even worse is the almost audible Gallic shrug when you attempt to sort things out. Now Amazon Germany...thats a different kettle of fish. Damn those Germans and their ruddy efficiency!

    1. In the musical world, the German firm of Thomann are unbeatable for online sales. I have had a few excellent experiences with them. Typically, postage is free on a large item (their prices are already very attractive), I have a named sales rep put in charge of my purchase and delivery - I can contact him or her personally at any time - I even have a photo of them! - and the delivery is often faster than UK supplier could have managed. If anything has to be returned then no problem, no charge, etc etc. Formidable.

      The only firm that can match them is a new one, set up along similar lines, based in Bratislava.

  2. The flip side is a happy tale me-thinks that shows the rewards of supporting bricks and mortar outlets and ordering direct from high street retail in the first instance if possible. I was in an art shop in another county last week whilst on a short break. The owner was having great trading difficulties because essentially Amazon has become the first port of call for buyers. Her bitterness towards the organisation and its impact on their high street could not be disguised. My own art shop closed last year. I have a game shop and a camera shop in the next town that I treasure.

    1. No arguments from me - if I had somewhere to shop locally I would do so. My nearest viable music store belongs to my mad mate Brian, in Berwick - he is struggling now because he has to match Amazon's prices, so his mark-up is not what it was. In fact he does a fair amount of business on-line now, so maybe that is a lifeline to small businesses.

      I have a couple of issues with some of our local traders - when a big Asda store opened outside Dunbar (circa 2007?), the local high street traders' association were in a state of panic - they were all terrified they would have no customers left; on the other hand, very few of them were prepared to do anything about it - to start opening on Sunday, or doing without their traditional half-day closing. Weird. At that time, Summer Sundays in Dunbar (which is supposed to have some claim to be a sort of seaside resort) were like a post-apocalypse movie. I don't know how it is elsewhere, but in this part of Scotland there is a strange tradition that shopkeepers, since they own a shop and most of their customers do not, often feel they are a cut above their customers in consequence. Faint whiff of entitlement culture - these guys are easy meat for the big corporates.

    2. I'm going to play Devil Advocate here :)

      Unfortunately(?) online retailing will carry on growing at the expense of actual high street shops because of the convenience and choice and the price. Why would I want to find a local shop that hopefully(!) might have the item I want, visit them to find they either don't have the item or have very little choice and then pay far more than I would online?

      Buying online allows one to choose a wide variety of retailers (not just via Amazon), have a huge choice of any particular item and pay far less than in a high street retailer.

      I buy nearly everything online now because of these factors. Yes ideally one would like to support "real" shops (although many of the online retailers do have actual shops, not just an online presence). But for me personally, I'm not prepared to pay the higher price (in some cases considerably higher) I would be charged if I bought face-to-face.

      That's my thought anyway :)

    3. I have no particular problem with your comment - it's a pretty standard view, and my own retail behaviour is largely driven by the same principles. Beyond satisfying our immediate wants at lowest price, I'm not sure what the longer term implications are of a society with less and less face-to-face interaction and more and more digital convenience. Our dying town centres are horrifying places - please spare me any Darwinian explanations about survival of the fittest!

      Something big and profound has to happen - I don't have answers, of course, and it's not my fault (of course), but I don't feel good about it.

      The point of my post (somewhere up there) was merely that the combination of Amazon and its outlying specialist suppliers is fine when it works, but very difficult for all parties when it doesn't. The old-fashioned retail situation was that someone did actually care just a little - there was no-one else to pass the blame to, and there was a physical address the customer could go to in order to grab someone's lapels and focus his attention.

      Devil's advocate? Maybe.

  3. We are certainly going through a revolution and an evolution on the high street, but that journey is ongoing and as a nation we don't seem to fully know / understand or even care at this point what the final destination will look like. Looking at my own local town, a tipping point has already been reached and decline, no matter how you dress it up with bars and café shops, is already well under way. My two do everything on line, it is an automatic behaviour, so maybe that transition is just a generational thing of change, rather than a right / wrong thing, but it still doesn't sit easy with this dinosaur :-)

    1. Again, I wouldn't disagree with any of that. As far as knowing and understanding what is going on or where we are headed, everything seems to be obscured by an industry of misinformation, not to say lying, which is not helped in the UK at present by Brexit (whoever he might be). Apparently business has never been healthier - right - come and have a look at the empty shops in the towns up here in Scotland - I'm really not interested in the stats for alleged new jobs created in London.

      The nail bars and the hairdressers and the cafes rely on there being money around. Ultimately, I believe, they are in trouble unless someone is making something, growing something, digging something out of the ground or providing some genuine expertise which has real value. If all we are doing is painting each other's nails, then we can save the cost of the new Heathrow terminal, for a start - even London is going to be a very quiet place quite soon.