Don’t get me wrong – I love Amazon.
We literally order from them a hundred times a year and if they had better access to groceries, I’d probably never leave the house. The extent to which they’ve streamlined the purchasing process means that for most items I honestly don’t even shop around anymore – I just hit the button and a day or two later, it’s here!
Unless … it isn’t.
I would say that 97% of our orders come through with no problems, and Amazon’s return process makes it super easy to exchange something that arrives damaged, shipping out replacements almost immediately and giving prepaid labels to return broken merchandise.
That said, one thing I’ve found that Amazon isn’t good at dealing with is replacing items when they sent the wrong item or if the description of an item is incorrect.
Sara ordered this set of Beyond123 learning books that was supposed to come with a cardboard slipcase to keep them all in – trouble is, apparently the sets on Amazon’s shelves just have the books loose, without the case. And I say set(s) because over the last two months we’ve received three of them trying to get one complete with the case, but every single one was missing it.
Next, and unfortunately a bit more timely, is this SmartGames train that Matthew was supposed to get for Christmas. Instead, we got this bunny game, so we very quickly processed a return and requested a replacement that arrived yesterday … in the form of another bunny because somebody mislabeled them when they arrived at Amazon’s warehouse so all of the bunnies are mislabeled as trains!
And the problem in both of these scenarios is that while Amazon is extraordinarily efficient at moving stuff around the world and even refunding your money when they mess up, they don’t seem to be equipped to deal with these problems when you don’t want a refund, you just want the correct item that you tried to order!
Back in my former life when I worked in an auto parts warehouse, occasionally we’d find ourselves hunting around for a part either because it got put in the wrong place on the shelf or somebody just wanted to make extra sure that they could actually get what they were looking for that day. Human errors happened from time to time because somebody was going to fast or maybe transposed some numbers, but we also audited our inventory pretty regularly to make sure that the computer matched what we had on our shelves and everything was nice and organized.
Amazon doesn’t have time for that because of their scale, so instead of having distinct sections for BOOKS and VIDEO GAMES and AIR CONDITIONER FILTERS, everything is just mixed together on the shelves in their massive warehouses by even more massive algorithms to maximize speed, and the people walking the floor are there strictly to pull items off the shelves or put them back, all using barcode scanners so instead of saying, “Grab this train game from the game section,” they’re told, “Grab the game from Shelf B, Bin 7” without having to pay attention to what game was actually ordered.
In theory, their scanner will buzz if they grab the wrong thing … unless the label itself is wrong!
There’s nobody to call to “go take a look at an item” to make sure it contains all of the pieces or to review the inventory to make sure that the items labeled as TRAINS are actually trains and not BUNNIES instead. And because the Customer Service rep that you’re chatting with isn’t even in the same country as the warehouses that your order came from, they’re limited with how they can help – either ship another item and hope for the best or offer a refund instead.
Unfortunately in both of these cases, we ultimately ended up just throwing in the towel. For the book set, they said they’d give a partial credit for the missing case but I didn’t feel like sitting through another 10 minute chat for a $5 credit; for the toy train, I took a refund and ordered from another site … that sadly won’t have it here now until after Christmas.
It’s too bad because in theory neither of these scenarios should be too difficult to solve. They’ve got to have leads or quality people at each warehouse at some level, so Amazon just needs to be able to flag an order for their review before it gets shipped. And granted, that would impact shipping times to some extent, but after receiving multiple incorrect items, I for one would be fine waiting an extra day or two at this point for these specific orders to try and get them right!
From afar, Amazon is an impressive monster of a fulfillment company and the vast majority of the time, the end result that they deliver for us has been pretty fantastic. Still, as customers I don’t think it’s too much to expect that they have better channels for fixing mistakes when they do arise, and the solutions they have in place today could still use some work.