How much are online customers worth?

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Two things happened yesterday which gave me a strong impression about how much online stores value their customers. Horror stories aside (I’ve had my fair share), these two incidents are pretty darn amazing to me. One involves the online superstore, Amazon, while the other involves a startup electronics online retailer, Wicked Electronics.

Let’s start with Amazon, which many of you might already have experienced their great customer service. A Singaporean friend, Anggra, needed to renew his .Mac subscription and since the online Apple Store charges a lot for it, he buys it through Amazon.com ($100+, but cheaper) and sends it to my work address, where I would simply email him his .Mac subscription codes. The Amazon shipment apparently arrived last Monday and thinking it was a delay in inter-departmental mail, I waited until this Monday where I started to freak out. I called US Postal Service about it (not sure why Amazon shipped it via USPS), while my friend called Amazon. While all I could do was to file a report of a missing package with USPS, my friend had incredible luck. Amazon simply said they would be shipping another one to my address, via UPS instead. That’s neat. Peter, who runs his own online business, said that sometimes bigger companies have insurance on all their shipments, which would account for this.

In the case of Wicked Electronics, I did a “Buy It Now” on a decently priced Memory Stick Duo 2gb via their eBay store. Since their eBay reputation had only 10 positive feedback points, I knew they were a new player to the scene. Checking their online store gave me a little more confidence before I made my bid. As the story goes, I paid immediately only to hear from the store owner that the flash memory didn’t make it to him from his distributor, citing a shortage of supply. He promptly emailed me an apology, refunded my money, and on top of that, gave me $5 via paypal as a compensation to my inconvenience. I’ve never heard of an online retailer giving hard cold cash as an apology. Here are his exact words:

With this payment, we hope you accept our sincerest apologies for the mix-up. We have learned a valuable lesson from this experience and this situation will be one which we will not repeat.

Thank you again for your consideration and we hope that this gesture will give you confidence to shop with us again.

Thank you for your consideration

I didn’t feel right taking $5, so I refunded him the amount. Nevertheless it really impressed upon me how reputation and trust are things that are never easy to earn, especially in the beginning. From personal experience, Peter told me about how it’s easier for sellers to get negative feedback rather than positive one, simply because good service is expected and only when something is out of the norm (e.g. bad shopping experience), would customers leave their remarks.

To summarize:
Amazon literally spent $100+ shipping another .Mac package to my friend Anggra
Wicked Electronics literally refunded my money AND paid me $5 in cash (not store credit) for my inconvenience

In my readings about online shoppers versus offline “brick & mortar” shoppers, there are conflicted studies as to whether online shoppers are the least brand loyal, since they are able to go to whichever web site offers the cheapest deals. Speaking from my own experience, my purchasing decision differs according to what I am buying. If it is something generic such as books and DVDs, I might buy them from my favorite online store, Amazon.com. If it’s something more specialized (e.g. digital cameras), I might buy it from whichever online store which has the best deal for it. Still, the way these two online retailers care for their customers blew me away.

I don’t know about you, but wouldn’t simply call this customer care, it’s Customer Love!
Doesn’t this convince you to love them back?

3 thoughts on “How much are online customers worth?

  1. I wanted to thank you Kevin for telling your story. I wish that it could have had a different ending, but your story put the emphasis on why I started Wicked Electronics in late January of 2005.

    As a startup, we sincerely appreciate every person that pays us a visit at wickedelectronics.com. We realize that unlike brick and mortar stores who only have 5-10 local competitors to worry about, we’re probably one of over a thousand places on the web to buy electronics.

    What sets wicked electronics apart? Exactly what describe in your article. We really do appreciate our customers. You can see it in the personal service we give as well as all of the “perks” we give to our customers.

    Thanks again, and I hope we can help you in the future.

    Phil Marcelino
    Wicked Electronics

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