Category Archives: Customer service

British traders being disadvantaged by pathetic mail service

BRITAIN’S Royal Mail service is royal no longer. Indeed, one could question whether it is a mail service at all, it takes so long to deliver material for which people have paid. At times deliveries do not take place at all.

This comes at an unfortunate time for a country which was once known for its efficiency. The number of people buying things across borders has soared with the development of the world-wide web and if things are not delivered in time, then traders risk losing customers.

Nobody will come back to a trader who cannot send his goods across in time. This is unlikely to be the fault of the trader but that does not bother the increasingly self-centred customer.

Apart from losing repeat sales, the trader also loses in another way. When the outside date for delivery is crossed, the customer often asks for a refund – and he or she is only willing to wait so long.

It is often the case that the goods turn up at the address they were intended to reach a week or so after the refund is granted. And the trader loses both the goods and the customer.

This happens with all kinds of goods. It has happened to me with books and shoes. In both cases, a week after the outside date for delivery, I wrote to the vendor and he sent me a refund. A few days later the goods landed.

This could well be exploited by an unscrupulous public to obtain goods free.

It is the responsibility of the country to provide a decent mail service and by letting the efficiency of the service go down the drain, Britain is also killing the hopes of traders who hope to join the growing throng of those who sell across borders using the wonders of modern technology.

Why Australian retailers suck

AUSTRALIAN retailers are always quick to whinge about the trading conditions they have to put up with, due to the high value of the Australian dollar.

They are very quick to offer excuse after excuse for their poor performance.

But there are other, more fundamental, reasons why Australian retailing is going downhill. The following anecdotes, drawn from my own experience, may provide some insight.

A fortnight ago, I visited JB Hi-Fi in order to purchase a pair of earphones. Before going to the store, I had looked at the company’s website and decided which one I wanted.

When I got there, the saleswoman told me that the model I was looking for was not in stock. JB is a big retailer with stores all over Australia but its website had no way of telling a visitor that a particular item was not in a particular store. Score one for the retailer.

Anyway, since I had gone there, I did not want to waste the trip; I looked around and chose another set of earphones, one made by Sony, which was marked at $99. The one I had wanted to buy was marked $69 on the website.

When I got back home with my purchase, I decided, on a whim, to find out how much it was retailing for in other outlets.

I was quite shocked to find them for sale for $53 in Britain. Another $9 would bring them to my door in four or five days.

That’s nearly a 60 per cent markup – $62 to $99. And this was happening at a time when the Australian dollar was worth about $1.03 US dollars – if anything the price should have been cheaper.

Australian retailers often try to escape criticism about this kind of price rip-off by saying that the outlet offering the cheaper price can afford to do so because of volume purchases.

But JB cannot do this; it is one of the bigger electronics retailers in the country and can easily buy as much volume as any other trader.

I took the earphones back to JB and returned them. The woman at the counter asked me why I had brought it back and I told her that it was because I was being ripped off. I added that I did not mind paying up to $75 for the convenience of getting it in hand, but that $99 was akin to daylight robbery.

It’s not the pricing alone that puts one off Australian retailers. Shop people have a sloppy attitude and often do not seem to know what is in their own place of work. I went by Rebel Sports that same morning to buy some athletic supporters. The woman I encountered did not seem to know what supporters were. She understood when I used the cruder word, jockstraps.

She then directed me upstairs. On my way thither, I encountered a young man who asked what I was looking for. When I told him (he did not understand the term “athletic supporters” either), he told me they were on a shelf downstairs!

I then told him that a woman on the ground floor had told me very confidently that what I was looking for was displayed upstairs. He shook his head and said he would take me downstairs and prove that he was right; we found a single supporter in the display area there.

On my way out, I asked the woman why she was unaware of the location of items in the store she worked in; she had no reply. No customer would return to that store again after encountering such stupidity.

A third example. A company called Our Deal offers rebates on good from various sources; one has to visit the site and look for deals, then provide one’s location and purchase the deal. Vouchers are then provided to the buyer and these, when taken to the outlet, can be redeemed for the product in question.

But Our Deal differs from the average outlet that accepts credit card payments; in every outlet I have dealt with over the last 10 years, the final screen after the purchase provides a receipt that be printed out as proof of purchase. Our Deal insists on sending the vouchers to an email address – which means that they can keep pumping their spam out to you day after day.

I always give fake email addresses to sites like this as there is no reason for them to contact me again; hence I had to contact Our Deal again. They have only a form on their website to make contact – and apparently it takes seven days for a reply! Seven days for an online outlet in the 21st century – now you know why Australian online outlets are not attracting too many customers. But the company’s phone number is easily locatable on the web. After two phone calls and a bit of tough talk, I got the vouchers sent to an email address that exists. It took two hours in all.

The person at the shop where I went to redeem the vouchers had never heard of Our Deal. Score one for communications. It took a few phone calls up and down the line before I could redeem the voucher.

I also got an email from Our Deal, saying that their “detectives” were onto the job to investigate my complaint. Add childishness to incompetence, a rather potent combination. Good reasons to avoid Our Deal like poison from now on.

Myer is a sad shadow of what it used to be

MYER is one of Australia’s two big department stores – and by that I mean stores which belong to Australians. Over the 14 years that I have been visiting the store, it has noticeably gone downhill.

I visited the store this morning to send a gift to the daughter of a friend who is getting married shortly. Myer has a gift registry where a couple can create their own wishlist and send the number of the list to their intended guests. The guests then either visit the store or else call up and order an item from the list; one has the option of having it delivered to the residence of the bride and groom.

The wishlist can be accessed on the Myer website but an indication of how far Australian stores are behind the rest of the world is evidenced by the fact that there is no web facility to order and pay for anything on that list using a credit card. One has to call a number and do it that way. Why has a payment option not been added? Strikes me as backward in this day and age.

Since ordering something on the phone and paying by credit card is normally a frustrating process, I went to the local Myer store this morning. The first thing that struck me was the fact that there are very few staff in what is one of its main stores, at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Doncaster.

On the ground floor, a young woman very confidently told me that I should go down to the basement and they would be able to look after me. She was wrong. The woman at the desk I went to directed me to another desk diagonally across the basement floor. That was the wrong place as well – I was then directed to go up to the second floor.

I went to the second floor and found the gift registry. It was unattended but the desk next to it was manned. A man was having a conversation with a woman there, and both, judging by their attire, appeared to be employees of the store.

The man finished his conversation and, after a glance in my direction, started walking off. I am game to this kind of tactic and rather loudly said, “Are there no staff in this store?” The man immediately turned and headed in my direction. He asked me what I needed and when I showed him, he sat down and started logging in to the terminal at the gift registry desk.

His name tag indicated that he was the manager. I asked him why several of his staff did not know where the gift registry was located and whether it was a new service. He said it had been existing for yonks and the fact that staff did not know was peculiar.

I asked him why the list on the web was not linked to a facility for credit card payment so people did not need to visit the store. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “that’s the system, sir.” Myer uses some kind of ancient application software and he could not show me the couple’s wishlist on the screen to check if the gift I wanted to buy was still on the list. He had to print out the entire list – and the output, all four pages, looked like it had been produced on the type of printer that was manufactured soon after dot-matrix printers went out of style.

The manager then took me a to a desk where he handed me over to a young employee who took care of me. While I was waiting for this youngster to check whether the item I wanted was in the warehouse, I asked another woman who was working there why there were such a few staff in the store. She made a face and said, “I guess it’s the budgets.”

After the young man got the gift organised, he had to send me back to the gift registry where a senior employee completed the process. She knew her way around, the only person I met in the store who did not need to ask anyone about procedures. I told her that it must be difficult to work at Myer, given the paucity of staff. She laughed ruefully. It’s a sad commentary on what was once a grand store and the last word in customer service.