As much as I prefer to shop at the lowest price, reputable e-tailer for many things, Amazon is one of the places I trust to always have a great customer experience.  I still wander around local bookstores and buy books in person (you never know what you might find, plus the kids love to search for that special new book.) 

Tonite as the family sleeps, I wander online to return an item to Amazon.com, frankly what turns out to be an easy experience.  

Easy?  No, really.  Amazon makes it easy, not just to buy but to return as well.  It's a company focused on a great, all-around customer experience, due in no small part to the dedication and attention to service of founder Jeff Bezos.

As noted in the New York Times today by Joe Nocera, Jeff Bezos has an unceasing attention to customer service and prides himself on the "the customer experience" provided at Amazon... 

"Just a few months ago, for instance, he appeared on Charlie Rose’s talk show to tout Amazon’s new e-book device, the Kindle. Toward the end of the program, Mr. Rose asked the chief executive an open-ended question about how he spent his time, and Mr. Bezos responded with a soliloquy about his "obsession" with customers.

"They care about having the lowest prices, having vast selection, so they have choice, and getting the products to customers fast," he said. "And the reason I’m so obsessed with these drivers of the customer experience is that I believe that the success we have had over the past 12 years has been driven exclusively by that customer experience. We are not great advertisers. So we start with customers, figure out what they want, and figure out how to get it to them."

So true.  No wonder that Brian Valentine headed to Amazon when he left Microsoft last fall: he's passionate about technology and providing a super customer experience.  (The stock's done quite nicely, too, thank you.) 

Of course, Wall Street wants short term results, and may not consider investing for the long haul...

"Wall Street, however, has never placed much value in Mr. Bezos' emphasis on customers. What he has viewed as money well spent — building customer loyalty — many investors saw as giving away money that should have gone to the bottom line. "What makes their core business so compelling is that they are focused on everything the customer wants," said Scott W. Devitt, who follows Amazon for Stifel Nicolaus & Company. "When you act in that manner many times Wall Street doesn’t appreciate it."

Here are a few of the reasons I like Amazon, and why the etailer is a success...

Amazon alerts me when a price drops (or rises).  I appreciate that when I log on to Amazon, I'm notified when an item that's saved in my shopping cart has gone up or down in price: on occasion, that's been one catalyst for me to make a purchase. 

Tracking Amazon's fluctuating prices.  If you've visited Amazon often, you probably realized by now that prices change regularly on products at Amazon.com due to supply, demand and I'll guess popularity.  Because of these changes, there are times when a particular item you want may suddenly go on sale, but there's little chance of finding a notice of the new price. 

RSS to the rescue: you can track Amazon prices by various methods, but quite easily via RSS. I prefer to use RSStalker to watch specific prices of items on Amazon, in addition to tracking comparison shopping pages with Feedity via RSS (such as a specific product on Pricegarbber.com).  When I'm shopping for a consumer device that is subject to price fluctuations, one of these two methods usually comes up a winner.  (Dealcatcher.com is also a great place to find the lowest daily prices on popular items, but that's fairly hit and miss.)

A wide range of purchasing choices.  I also appreciate that on product pages, I not only see the discounted price from Amazon, I'm also presented with "More buying choices" that allows me to window shop from other Amazon sellers via Amazon's payment system.  

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In this case, I found a copy of Bill's book in new condition from a reputable reseller for $3.71 + $3.99 shipping, a bit of a discount over the $11.53 for a new copy from Amazon. [Disclaimer: I already own the book ;] 

Jeff Bezos: Business Executive And Founder Of Amazon.com (Ferguson Career Biographies)If you're looking for a copy of Bezos' biography by Bernard Ryan Jr., "Jeff Bezos: Business Executive And Founder Of Amazon.com" you're in luck: "only 1 left in stock--order soon (more on the way)." But if you miss out, there are 24 used & new from $12.92 from other reputable Amazon sellers.

imageReal customer reviews online.  I also like that I can see which products customers ultimately buy after viewing items like the one I'm considering.  Sure, there are probably a few shill reviews from the manufacturers and even competitors, but it's easy to weed these out: as with eBay, the community votes on reviews. 

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Real customer reviews help you get a feel for a product, the experience of using it and even the after-sale service from the manufacturer (as many dedicated Amazon customers update their reviews months after their original purchase).  You can see which reviews others found helpful: on one item I considered, I found that 20 of 21 people found a particularly detailed and thoughtful review was helpful. In this case, I found that 72% purchased the item featured on the page, and get links to other products that customers purchased. 

This also helps long after the sale, too, as one review was particularly informative: it details that the buyer (who purchased the item back in July) had some difficulty with the manufacturer on an issue that should be covered by the warranty:   

"Update: January 4, 2008: The repair company said it'll take 3 months to get the replacement part. I called [the company] and they said they'll try to see if they can get the part faster, but no promises. They won't give me a replacement..."

That's eye opening.  When I was at a previous company, I used to watch the reviews posted by customers on Amazon about our products and contact the customers for follow up (particularly when there were problems).  Overall, it's not surprising that "according to Forrester Research, 52 percent of people who shop online say they do their product research on Amazon." [from the Times article]

Price Guarantees.  Recently, I noticed that a product I had purchased as a gift for the kids had dropped in price.  Although Amazon.com does not price-match with other retailers, Amazon does offer a Post-Order Price Guarantee.  The process is simple: you have 30 days after the item has shipped to request a refund of the difference in price. 

I've even found that when I've requested a price change 30 days after receipt of the item, Amazon still honoured the price guarantee.  As for the refund on the item I requested, an Amazon customer service agent contacted me via email within a few hours of my original mail and made the adjustment.

Easy returns.  And if you've ever had to make a return, Amazon makes it easy... too easy, actually.  For instance, we had to return a product that didn't quite make it in one piece to our home, and the return process at Amazon was smooth and simple: open the original on-line invoice, click the item, specify the reason for return and Amazon emails you a shipping label.

And if the problem is Amazon's (such as poor packing, which has been my experience in the past), you're not charged for any shipping or return costs.

Amazon certainly doesn't get all my business, as other mass merchant etailers such as Buy.com and Newegg.com are very competitive and offer similar discounted shipping and low prices (not to mention no sales tax for Washington residents).  Amazon is consistent and offers great value for the price.

IMHO, it's clear that Amazon is focused on the customer and the shopping experience. 

So, what's it worth, this focus on an improved (if not best-in-class) customer experience?  Turns out, a lot.  With more than 72 million customers (Amazon's estimate), Amazon has a high repeat customer rate. 

Good customer service makes good sense: to paraphrase the old shampoo ad, a satisfied customer tells two friends, who tells two friends, and so on, and so on...

Now, I've got to order that new Robert Fulghum book...

 

Tags: customer service, Amazon.com, Amazon, etail, retail.