New media hails the return of old fashioned values

I’d like to report how one online retailer – Amazon – has managed to shock me with its attention to good old customer service. It perhaps demonstrates how e-commerce companies can create customer satisfaction and genuine loyalty, and might even start to justify the high values of some Internet stocks.

It all began with the release of the latest Harry Potter book by JK Rowling – the popular series of children’s novels.

Four weeks ago I pre-ordered the book for my children from online bookstore Amazon. It took about 30 seconds to find, and five seconds to order. It cost &£8.79.

Quick and easy. But the day before publication I received an e-mail telling me the book’s price had been reduced. Now, when was the last time that anyone reduced the price of a product or service, after you had already paid for it?

Imagine an estate agent coming back to you after contract exchange and acceptance of a banker’s draft and saying: “Great news. Your new house is 25 per cent cheaper than we told you.”

OK, so the book trade is becoming increasingly cut-throat – particularly online. But consider the marketing effect of such “post hoc” discounts.

Back to Harry Potter. The book arrived on time, and several hours before it was available in retail outlets – giving my children the kudos of getting it before their friends.

All in all, everyone should feel good about this experience: me, because it was cheaper and Amazon had helped me give my children something that was important to them; Amazon, because I will be back; and my children.

I read recently that it’s only really in the past 100 years that we have become accustomed to the idea of fixed prices, and there’s been plenty written recently about how the Internet might challenge notions of set pricing.

All that might be true, but Amazon’s discounting helps establish its reputation beyond the sphere of price competition.

Amazon is bringing in to play an old-fashioned notion of individual customer service that does not rely on bland “personalisation”.

The company culture is clearly based on customer care. If I were competing against Amazon and unable to contemplate replicating this buying experience, I’d be afraid. Very afraid.

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