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It’s that time of year again when millions of people, young and old, are racing to prepare for the first day back to school. For many, this is an exciting time, when personal aspirations meet opportunity and anything seems possible.
However, we know that this is also an anxious and nerve-racking time, when the “to-do” list seems to command all the attention. At STELLAService, we understand that students (and parents, of course) have enough to worry about, so we wanted to help by evaluating the Internet’s biggest one-stop shops for hassle-free back-to-school shopping.
We evaluated 15 of the Internet’s leading online retailers, including Amazon, Costco, Walmart, Buy.com, and Overstock.com. We measured the retailers according to six best practices exemplifying both speed and convenience during the back-to-school crunch, including shipping, returns, and payment options.
We’re excited to share these results below:
Costco.com offers the most hassle-free shopping features (6) and outpaces the others when it comes to shipping (see additional information below). Aside from fast shipping, Coscto.com makes it easy to return a product, offering a 90-day return window and no requirement for a Return Merchandise Authorization number (RMA#) should you need to send back any part of your order.
From school supplies to dorm accessories, the convenience of the shopping experience at Costco.com is an A+. We hope you find this information helpful, and feel free to share with us your own back-to-school shopping experiences at retailers beyond these one-stop shops.
Here’s to a successful school year!
Do you remember the NY Times article about DecorMyEyes.com last November? It was a story that created a big stir in the e-retail space and even caused Google to reevaluate its search algorithm to ensure that no company could use negative feedback to positive effect. Vitaly Booker, the owner of DecorMyEyes.com, threatened his customers on a number of occasions, which actually improved his position on search listings and boosted business for a while. Last month, the NY Times published this follow-up piece on the situation, stating that Mr. Booker could face up to six and half years in prison.
Although this was an unfortunate situation for every customer that shopped on the site, this case makes me proud of the way that STELLAService evaluates the service level of e-retailers. In other words, DecorMyEyes.com would have been flagged immediately by our team of STELLA analysts had we had an opportunity to assess the site’s service quality. We pride ourselves on conducting a comprehensive evaluation first-hand so that online shoppers know that the STELLA team has been there (and done that), testing everything from phone friendliness to the ease of returning a real product.
So keep an eye out for the STELLAService seal, the Web’s most trusted signal of high quality customer service.
We deal with sites that offer sub-par service by not awarding them the STELLAService seal. Other groups, like the RevZilla.com Team, choose to handle bad service in a slightly different way….
What do you do to “shoot down” bad service?
So I’ll admit it, I was eavesdropping the other night at dinner. I heard a man complaining to his wife about a poor experience he had shopping online (it didn’t hurt that the guy was one of those loud talkers). Anyway, he went on and on about some expensive tennis racquet he wanted to buy and how he didn’t really know which site to buy it from (apparently there were numerous online shops that carried the one he wanted). He ultimately purchased from one of the sites and, of course, they sent him the wrong racquet! They made him pay for return shipping and apparently no one in the company’s customer service department could be bothered for the hassle it caused this guy. He was pissed. I, on the other hand, leaned back in my chair and smiled. I know, I know…not cool to take pleasure in stuff like this, but what a case study for STELLA!
Over the past couple of years my co-founder and I have had the opportunity to chat with some of brightest folks in e-commerce, and along the way we’ve realized that everyone (subconsciously or not) thinks about online buying behavior in the same three buckets (what I like to call the “E-comm Big Three”): Price; Selection; and Service.
Thinking through this, we began to formulate an opinion that two of these Big Three (Price and Selection) we’re not sustainable differentiators for most of the e-commerce landscape. Consider this: I can visit TheFind.com, a popular shopping comparison engine claiming to have 400,000 Internet retailers in its database, and see over 200 results for the same “Spalding TF-100 Basketball”, sold for more or less the same price at each store. Should I buy at Sears.com, DicksSportingGoods.com, or Dazadi.com (Dazadi…huh?). STELLAService is our solution to this very problem. With price and product selection continuing to converge across most online categories, customer service has increasingly becoming the leading reason why shoppers select one shop over another. All else equal, why wouldn’t you want to do business with a company that focuses 110% on providing great service?
I should also mention that our team has been hard at work creating an enhanced version of STELLAService.com – it will hopefully go live in a matter of days. The new site will give shoppers a much more detailed look at the specific service features and elements of online retailers. No two shoppers are the same, and each values different service attributes differently. So we plan to share some key metrics with shoppers so they can see for themselves which stores deliver the kind of customer experience they’re really after. Stay tuned!
The team here at STELLAService loves when companies display a color coded map of shipping speeds across the US. Not only does it do a better job of communicating shipping time than just plain old text, but it also gets customers to think more pragmatically about the reality of the fulfillment process. Customers sometimes lose sight that a package may have to travel thousands of miles to reach its final destination. It’s really an amazing feat and, thus, setting clear expectations is extremely important.
Since neither CNN nor Fox News covered it, we thought we’d break the sad news that BlueBee.com has officially closed its doors. We hate to see any e-commerce company serve up its final customer, but this one hit us particularly hard.
Earlier this week, one of our customer experience analysts attempted to return a product that was purchased from the e-retailer a few days ago. She visited the Web site in search of the return instructions but was greeted by this dispiriting message:
She then sent BlueBee.com an email and received the following response within 10 minutes:
Blue Bee is closed. We have no money, no website and no inventory. There is unfortunately nothing we can do for you at this point. I am very sorry. We have fought this economy as hard as we could, but we could not make it.
We are truly sorry.
As one of their final customers, we felt obliged to break this news. In remembrance, if you ever purchased from this store, feel free to share the details of your experience. RIP Blue Bee!
As we’re all aware by now, advertisements don’t exist to tell the full story about the quality or “real value” of a product – they exist to sell. The lack of transparency in this case is known as asymmetric information. Simply put, people make purchases without knowing everything about the product or the company that sells it – advertisements help us justify our purchases in a world of asymmetric information.
Enter Michael Spence, a world-renowned economist and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. He was one of the first to formalize the argument for signaling, a common solution to the problem of asymmetric information. In economic terms, signaling is defined as the idea that one party (termed the agent) conveys some meaningful information about itself to another party (the principal). When you combine this idea with the notion that people don’t have time to do much of their own research, you can understand why a signal has to be just that – a mark that encodes a deeper, more meaningful message about something. People need to see it and immediately get it.
What comes to mind when you see these signals?
All of these organizations provide a clear signal that help you (the consumer) deal with information asymmetries. Specifically, these signals enhance the transparency around energy efficiency, environmental protection, and Web security. Ultimately these signals give you confidence that the company or product displaying it has been validated by a third-party which has done the research for you about a potential consumer question or concern. Consequently, these signals have proven to increase trust, comfort, and most importantly sales for businesses in situation where they need or want to convey something important…so important that it requires an independent third-party to verify it.
STELLAService solves one of the longest-standing and most painful and frustrating information asymmetries – customer service quality. How can you know anything about the customer service you’re likely to receive from a company if you’ve never purchased from it before? STELLAService is THE SIGNAL that puts this issue to rest. When you see the STELLA’ seal on the Web, you can rest assured that you will be taken care of as a valued customer by the company displaying the seal.
While the Web sometimes increases information asymmetries by widening the physical gap between consumers and merchants, it’s also an amazing tool for the pursuit of something seemingly impossible…perfect information. We’re thrilled to do our part in providing more transparency in the online marketplace, and who knows, STELLA might just be that signal that gives you the confidence to buy those sweet new kicks you’ve been eyeing!
We all know that it’s difficult to write clearly. Take this sign as an example:
Yes, I’ll admit that this picture was taken in a foreign country and most likely written by someone who had a few too many cocktails during their Rosetta Stone session. Nonetheless, I am sure you can relate to being in a writer’s funk.
What about speaking clearly? Do you think you’re better at conveying your message when speaking aloud? I’m not sure either. But what I do know is that you should not let an interactive voice response (IVR) system help you decide. What’s an IVR, you say? An IVR is a phone based system that allows customers to complete an agent-less transaction through self-service. You know, it’s the robot on the other end of the phone that “better directs” your call whenever you ring a customer support hotline. I personally find IVR systems annoying and on top of that, they have me convinced I have marbles in my mouth. Here’s what generally happens:
Company IVR: “Hello and welcome to XYZ Company. To better direct your call, please specify the reason for your call. You can say ‘sales’…”
Company IVR: “…I’m sorry, the system could not recognize your request. You can say ‘sales,’ ‘technical support’…”
Me: “Sales! Arggg”
Company IVR: “…I’m sorry, the system could not recognize your request. You can say…”
Company IVR: “…OK, you said ‘Sales.’ To better direct your call, what type of product are you calling about?…”
Me: At this point, I’m usually pressing “0″ as if I’m playing a video game with my nephew and required to rapidly tap a button on the controller.
Company IVR: “I’m sorry we could not process your request. Please hold as we direct your call to the company operator.”
Generally, dealing with an IVR system turns my mood from good to bad in a matter of moments, which is perfect timing for that lucky customer service representative (CSR) who handles my call. I understand that IVR systems can be a great tool for companies to handle inbound call volume, especially with the further improvement of these platforms. But for now, I can’t help but believe that IVR system’s generally hurt companies more than they help by frustrating customers and portraying an “it’s tough to do business with us” attitude. I guess that’s why I laughed so hard after watching this Ally commercial….
I read a post yesterday from Steve Curtin’s Customer Enthusiast blog that posed the following question to businesses: “does your customer feel like a guest or a nuisance?” I found the piece to be a great story on how outstanding customer service can help businesses create and retain loyal customers. You can read his blog post here.
I think I liked this story mainly because I was able to connect with his experience (Mark Hurst just wrote a blog post about Experience vs. “Experience”, which you should also check out). Have you ever been shutout from a store where the attendants simply ignore you? It’s not fun. Moreover, his reference to Cafe Ibis and his obsession with coffee made me think about my morning coffee habits. There is a coffee shop down the street from the STELLAService office that I used to frequent. After a while though, I got tired of feeling like a nuisance when I placed my order. Now, I go somewhere else that makes me feel like a valued guest in their cafe.
I’d like to say that the quality of the blend had something to do with my switch – but it didn’t. In fact, the first shop actually has a better blend most mornings. The reason I switched, however, is the mentality and attitude of the employees. The new place simply treats, interacts with, and connects with their customers better. In my opinion, many coffee shops in America have transformed into coffeehouse experiences, which is why Starbucks has been so successful. People want to go to a place that provides great service and a great experience, and Starbucks was one of the first to mass produce that kind of vision and value to customers. It’s nice to make small talk in the morning with friendly folks, especially with a warm brew in your hands. And it doesn’t hurt that people have a biological addition to the product as well.
Follow Steve Curtin on Twitter @enthused
Follow me on Twitter @johnestella