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Damien's Blog

Did Amazon Buy Zappos in Hopes of Improving Customer Service?

By Damien Patton, (948 words) Posted in Corporate on August 13, 2009
There are (75) comments permalink

Last week I wrote a blog with my opinions about the Amazon and Zappos merger. Is it possible that Amazon simply bought Zappos so they could improve their customer service? Anyone who knows me, knows I am a big fan of Jeff Bezos – especially his latest project, the Amazon Kindle. Other than my ipod, The Kindle is the single best piece of technology I own. That being said, the current customer service at Amazon needs a major overhaul.

While traveling this past week from Seattle to Las Vegas, I drove from a ranch in Montana to Las Vegas. I did this because I knew that driving the 1400 miles would give me at least a couple of days away from my desk and phone (thanks to no cell reception) and time to think about new ideas. During the drive I needed to order a Kindle from Amazon for Ryan, our VP of Internet Marketing, for his 30th birthday. The following is a shortened version of what occurred.

When I ordered the Kindle for myself, I had no idea it would arrive preloaded with my name and the credit card I used to purchase the Kindle. Knowing this, I realized I had to find out how I could order a "blank" Kindle without any credit card info as this was going to be a gift. I looked for a customer service number to call on the Amazon site and could only find a click to call button where an Amazon customer service rep would call me back. My call was promptly returned but the Kindle department was closed and was told to call back in the morning. The only way to call was through the computer which I knew I wouldn’t have access to on the road. The next morning, I tried calling back the click to call number that called my phone the night before. Surprisingly, I was able to reach a representative. I told the Amazon customer service representative that I wanted to purchase a Kindle as a gift. Here is where the amazing lack of customer service started.

Keep in mind Amazon doesn't have a convenient way of contacting them offline to place orders. The Amazon customer service rep then proceeded to tell me that they don't allow Kindles to be sold over the phone and that you must order online. So, if you don't have access to a computer, you are out of luck – or if you are one of the I will venture to say millions who don't feel comfortable placing your credit card number on the Internet and would rather talk to a person on the other end of the phone, you are also out of luck. Isn't it plausible that many people who see the Kindle in public will want to call Amazon right away to order one? Isn't it more plausible that Bezos and Amazon want as many people as possible to convert to the Kindle from traditional books? If so, then why would they lock out the millions of people who don't have immediate access to the Internet, don't use it at all, or simply don’t feel comfortable submitting their credit card number over the Internet.

So, there I was, wanting to order a Kindle, but couldn't. I had to find a computer and had to order online. There was still the question of ordering it as a gift. After a period of time off and on hold, I was told I had to order it online and select the "gift" option. I knew the gift option simply allowed one to gift wrap and/or leave a note with the packaging. This in no way assured me the Kindle would arrive blank. While loading the Kindle with your name and credit card information is a great concept, it was becoming a nightmare to gift a Kindle. Imagine how many people have ordered one as a gift and are surprised when they learn all of their information is preloaded. Clearly there should be a very obvious box to select which allows you to preload the Kindle with name and credit card info and one which allows the Kindle to be purchased blank. The preload concept is great, however, it needs immediate improvement. (Apple should probably look at having a preload option with the iPod and iTunes. Surely having this information preloaded would allow sales to convert at a much higher rate. It will be interesting to see if Apple adopts the Kindle concept of preloading.)

At this point, had I not been so happy with the Kindle itself, I would never have pursued the purchase of the product. I ended up stopping at a hotel outside of Yellowstone and borrowing their computer to order the Kindle before continuing on to Las Vegas.

My conclusion after this very real Amazon customer service experience is that they need help – a lot of help. Then it quickly dawned on me as I thought to myself, who is the best online customer service and how would they handle this? The answer was immediate; Tony Hsieh and Zappos have become legendary for their customer service and innovation in that area. Perhaps Amazon felt it was easier to import that culture through acquisition instead of trying to re–train internal reps.

The bottom line is this: If you want a Kindle and you read a lot I encourage you consider purchasing one. Just make sure you are prepared to go online to order it with the credit card you want to use in the future. If you have to contact customer service, you will have to use the click to call feature through a computer. You will not be able to place an order over the phone. Hopefully the Zappos customer service will soon have a strong influence in the Amazon world.

While the Kindle is an amazing easy to use product, actually buying one may present a bit of a challenge.

Icon: author blog About the Author:
Damien is the Founder and CEO of FindAnyFloor.com as well as several other technolgy businesses specializing in social media and search.
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Comments (75)

NMQ posted on: August 17, 2009

Oh no! I used to shop at zappos.com for 2 reasons: 1) I wear a weird size and can only get shoes out of catalogs or websites and 2) Zappos always had free overnight shipping.

With Amazon in charge, I can tell prices may go down, but bye-bye to free overnight shipping, and their no-hassle return/exchange policy.

Damn monopolies.

Zappos Fan posted on: August 18, 2009

I too love Zappos and their great customer service. As for Amazon, I agree that they need a lot of help in the customer service department. If everyone online was more like Zappos, malls would be in trouble in the US. If Amazon does accept the Zappos culture, I would be very nervous for Borders books as they can't afford to lose more sales.

Love Zappos posted on: August 23, 2009

I love Zappos, mainly for their selection but more for their customer service. Reading the above post, I had to laugh about Borders. I went in months ago looking for Kathy Ireland's book for busy moms (gift for my sister) and the woman at Borders said they did not have it. That was surprising to me as it was a new release. I asked her to look it up in her system and not only did they not have it, she said they had no record of Kathy Ireland ever writing a book. The girl asked me how to spell Ireland and I told her just like the country. I was beginning to get frustrated as I KNEW the book was out....finally I asked the girl how she was spelling Kathy Ireland and if you can believe it, the girl working at Borders books was spelling Ireland incorrectly. All I could do was look at her and say "WOW!"

When comparing any other company to the customer service at Zappos, I would dare say Zappos would win every single time. Let's hope Amazon can learn from the Zappos culture.

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