Amazon Schools Customers on eCommerce

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Recently, Amazon carried a ‘buy one, get one free’ promotion on DVD box sets for its customers. Due to a technical problem, however, customers were able to ‘get one free, get another free’ instead. After the fact, Amazon is looking to recoup those funds, which is rubbing customers the wrong way.

From the “Ways to Irritate Your Customer Base” school of online commerce, Amazon is poised to lecture business students regarding the finer points of customer service and building consumer trust.

Does everyone have a writing utensil handy? Get one quick; you’re going to want to take detailed notes on this one.

Lesson #1: Pricing

In reviewing your order placed on 23-Dec-06, we discovered that due to an error we did not charge you the correct amount for the items you purchased. According to the terms of the promotion, purchasing one DVD at the regular price entitled you to a free DVD of equal or lesser value.

Because these items have already shipped to you, you can either keep the items and we will charge you the amount you should have been charged or you can return the items – at no cost to you – to Amazon.com within 30 days. Please note that we can only accept the return of unopened items in their original condition.

Did you catch all that? When informing the customer that there has perhaps been a mistake in pricing, never apologize for the inconvenience. In fact, it’s important to instill a sense of guilt and obligation into the customer. Turning the tables of responsibility can be an effective tool in retail.

Lesson #2: Payment Processing

If you decide to keep the items or we have not received the items you wish to return by January 28, we will charge your credit card for any unreturned items in a manner consistent with the terms of the promotion described above.

Please be assured that the amount that would be charged to your account is the same price that was listed on the product detail page on our web site at the time you placed your order.

When dealing with sensitive financial information, such as the credit card numbers of your customers, it’s vital to give them peace of mind. By instituting practices of arbitrarily charging credit cards at will, Amazon is reinforcing its underlying commitment to the highest standards of consumer protection.

Does this sound like solid eCommerce strategy to you?

The truth here is that Amazon is doing more damage to its reputation, which is far more valuable than the expenses the company could ever hope to regain by retroactively charging its customers for items that have already been shipped and received.

As it turns out, however, this mindset is not altogether unusual according to those who know the inner workings of the company.

A former Amazon employee, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the company’s business philosophy and workplace culture as “Super Nazi’d Out.”

After witnessing a retail debacle such as this one, I’m finding it difficult to disagree with that analysis.

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