Buy Online?

I received some good feedback on my article "Buy Local". It was pleasing to know people actual read my stuff. Although you know I write this because I need to write it, not because I need people to read it, if that makes sense?

So I had another brilliant experience buying online that I wanted to share. I've bought a few things from Streetwise in the past. They keep the fabulous Rain Design M-Stand for example. And lots of Mac goodies, cables and the likes. A few Facebook friends suggested other places that were slightly cheaper, but I keep going back to Streetwise. In short they deliver.

Just the other day I got an automated email from the author of some software I use informing me of an upgrade. As this particular program is a DVD that you have to boot, they offered a replacement DVD for $24 as a minor upgrade. Call your retailer. Well bugger if I can remember where I bought this one in the first place. But Streetwise was listed as a reseller so I tried their web site. No upgrade, just full product. Bugger it, I'll email them.

A few short hours later (on the weekend) I get a reply pointing me to a free download of the upgraded product. No money, nothing in it for them, just here you go. So I thanked them in a reply. They just cemented my repeat business.

So that's the sort of online reseller you need to find. Ones that care. Ones that offer customer service even though they hide behind a web site. And there are plenty of them.

We bought our last camera from Digital Camera Warehouse and they were great. I love the Apple online store. And Dell has it all down pat. There's Amazon or Fishpond, heck even Dymocks online is good, although I won't go back to the Hobart store ever again. But that's another story.

And I'd have to be desperate to pay $99 for cable from Harvey Norman when I can have it delivered to my door for $49. My USB hub, cables, memory sticks and just about everything else came from a mix of good locals (like NybbleIT) and online.

There are of course plenty of bad online experiences. E-Bay is so variable. Find a good seller with a good deal and you're in clover. But there are bad ones and the recourse to E-Bay isn't as good as you think. My wonderful wife, Queen E-Bay, has been caught a few times and she's an expert, I'm an E-Bay novice.

There's Grays Online. The Aussie E-Bay for tech stuff. Again, hot and cold. I know a self confessed Grays addict. He has suits, wine and more than one Dell PC, all discount, all as advertised courtesy of Grays.

So in this age of social media, you need to get savvy before you spend. Research, recommendation and above all common sense. Excuse me, I have to order my socks online, the local shop is out of them!

Buy Local?

The tale of two retailers.

In Hobart at the intersection of Elizabeth and Melville streets on diagonally opposite corners are two retailers almost as opposed diametrically as they are geometrically.

One is Ken Self Cycles possibly the best bike shop in Hobart, the other is McCann Bros, certainly the largest music shop in the same turf. Both hold fascination for me.

Now if you venture in to Ken Self Cycles you will find a small, crowded shop lined with bicycle Heaven, staff who seem to know what they are talking about and most importantly prices that are not an insult. This retailer gets that there IS an Internet and customers CAN shop around. By staying competitive and still offering service they stay in business. I recently bought a mounting case for the iPhone there at exactly the same price as I could get it online. My grips, tights (lycra fetish) and the few other minor things I've bought all priced sensibly so as not to scare me off.

Across the intersection the story is quite different. The McCann Bros adhere to the same school of retail as my former boss of a hundred years ago, Captain Beaky. (aka Nigel of Sandy Bay HiFi) This guy never sold anything at a loss. If he paid $500 for an amp, it was priced at $1000 and it stayed on the shelf until someone was prepared to pay that. So years later, out of warranty, out of fashion and worthless, he packed that amp up and moved it to his house when he went broke and closed the doors. And now he wants $1100 for it on Ebay (gotta cover the Ebay costs!) and he'll never get that.

So I've lusted after several items at McCann Bros, but the massive premium price has meant I bought these items online or in Melbourne. $200 extra on a $200 item is NOT freight, it's rip-off. Refusal to bargain, see reason and accept cold hard currency is not going to get you the sale, boys.

I'm Ok at maths. I can add freight costs to an advertised price and figure out my total spend. Further to that I can understand that local stock, service and shop front is worth something to me. Less and less as the Internet provides most of the information and my need for a knowledgable salesperson diminishes. But there is a value on that too.

In the old days there were two main methods to sell things at inflated prices. We practiced them both at the HiFi shop. The easy way was FUD - Fear, Uncertainly and Doubt. In those days the enemy (that would be the competition to you) was The Green Guide. A supplement in The Age newspaper actually printed on green paper. It held a few scant articles on HiFi (and later computers) but mostly it was ads from Melbourne shops for lust worthy items. Typically the ads were mostly columns of prices, there were rarely any photos or details. This was a market place for buyers, not a recommendation engine.

So how did we sell the same item in Sandy Bay for more cash? Considerably more cash in fact. We played on the unknown. "Oh who's going to do the warranty?" "How do you know it will actually turn up?" "Often they substitute for cheaper products" and so on. Lots of FUD sown in the minds of the buyer rude enough to compare our prices to those of this green rag.

I said there was another method. This was slightly harder. This was actual selling skills. Provide customer service, concentrate on the total package. Provide good advice, demonstrations, installation, after sales service and never mention the competition. Sell your product. An ancient art, now long gone I confess, but an art never the less.

Regrettably, McCann Bros don't use either technique and so have yet to acquire a single dollar from me.

Bad customer! Service?

There are some customers who deserve a punch in the mouth, or at least the audience’s line from “Am I ever going to see your face again?”.

There are some people who should have their licence to shop taken away from them.

Let me give you some theoretical examples;

The “customer” that couldn’t afford to get his laptop fixed. He brought it in. The price is on wall, it gets explained to him, quoted to him and he signed to say he understood. The bloody laptop is worth $1500, you telling me he can’t find a hundred bucks??? So he gets time to pay, lots of time. Then he pisses off to Queensland (strangely that would have cost more for the flippin’ air fare!) So he gets phone calls, letters and a dozen chances to make a arrangement, any arrangement, but he doesn’t. So he gets a final notice, long after the 3 months we promised (in writing) that we would keep trying. And when all else fails, we reluctantly sell his laptop to raise the money he owes. A year later he wants to know where his laptop is. Did he get the letters? Yes he did. Does he remember speaking to us on the phone? Yes he does. Does he remember the bit about “final notice - we will have to sell your laptop to recover the cost” yes he does. Which bit of “we sold it” does he now not understand?

The “customer” that asks for a quote to fix his laptop. He pays the quote fee, we quote. Strangely enough, our quote matches the one he got elsewhere because they came to the same diagnosis we did. But that’s not good enough. He wants it “diagnosed”. Hang on, that is what we did. Hence the quote, we’ve tested, diagnosed and we now know what is wrong and have provided a plan and quote to fix it. But sorry, that is not good enough. (repeat the above paragraph 8 times, going round and round in circles...) So he’s claiming we breached our contract and wants to go to court. Frankly, I’ll welcome an adult taking a look at this case.

The turkey that dropped his laptop. That’s not why he’s a turkey, we’ve all dropped a laptop, that’s an accident, they happen. Its how you move forward that defines if you are turkey or a reasonable human being. So, he brings it in under warranty. Obviously he had forgotten to mention to the manufacturer’s call centre the bit about dropping it. So we do what we can, we order parts and we don’t mention the dropping bit either. But when you order a screen, keyboard, top case, bottom case, DVD, mainboard, hard drive and just about an entire laptop, there are going to be questions. So when asked by the manufacturer “Has the laptop been dropped or otherwise damaged?” I quietly say “maybe”. And his warranty is cancelled by THE MANUFACTURER, not me. But of course who does he want to punch? That would be me. He’s a turkey.

Are we allowed to punch them in the face or tell them “no way, get F’d, F’off”? No, we are not. That would be bad customer service. We grin and bear it. We try like heck to focus on the 99% who are decent human beings. We’re in the service business after all.

So the next time you have an issue with the service anyone provides, may I suggest you remember they are human beings too? Quiet, polite, honest and above all respectful will get you places, shouting, abuse and insults will not.

Do we screw up? Yes we do. That would be the human part. Do we have good intentions and will we sort it out given a reasonable chance? Of course.