Over four years ago I posted ‘Buy Cheap, Pay Later’, which warned of the perils of purchasing from discount retailers that sell cheap and support their low profit margin by a ‘sod you’ customer services policy. After 4 years of mostly positive online shopping experiences, it’s easy to get complacent and drift away from those online retailers with a reputation for premium customer service, being tempted away by the competitive pricing of a discount retailer. Even more so during these economic times.
And then comes the rude reminder as you fall foul of a discount retailers poor customer service!
The villain this time is Camerabox, an online company set up in 2004, that sells cameras and equipment at competitive prices. Their online experience is satisfactory, and the order fulfillment is efficient. All appears well at first. It's only when there is an issue and you need to contact their customer services team that the cracks appear and you discover that Camerabox doesn’t value their customers or understand the value of customer loyalty and retention through high-quality service.
Operating on a low profit margin, it’s not surprising that some retailers such as Camerabox are reluctant to invest their profits in customer service. Unfortunately it’s also common during downturn management that some retailers skimp on staffing further impacting their ability to deliver a high level of customer service.
So should I really act surprised when I stray from those retailers that uphold a high-service level, and get burnt by a discount retailer without a reputation for customer experience?
Unfortunately, in most cases the answer is a resounding 'No'. The shocking customer service suffered at the hands of Camerabox is probably at the far end of the 'sod you' scale, but it's a fierce reminder of what buying cheap may cost you.
At the date of the original purchase the cost difference between the item purchased, an Olympus Mju Tough 8000 camera, at John Lewis and Camerabox was about £30. As an anecdote to buying cheap and paying later, here’s a comparison of a recent customer services experience at John Lewis compared to that of Camerabox in resolving a product fault .
Response & Resolution Time
The John Lewis process was quick and painless. From the time I initially contacted them, a working replacement was with me within 9 working days.
With Camerabox the story is very different. When I returned the faulty camera, I was reassured by Gary Smart, Online Response Manager (ORM), that he would ensure a speedy resolution. Every time I contacted Gary Smart he reassured me with the same promise that he'd do everything he could to ensure the speedy resolution. There was no evidence that he did little more than offer me lip service and he shouldn't make promises unless he intends to deliver upon them.
7 weeks later I received a refurbished replacement that had a further fault. The camera was returrned a 2nd time.
A further 9 weeks elapsed, without a single progress update.The only communication I received in this time was in response to a email I sent voicing my frustration at the poor customer service and how long this was taking to resolve. David Carter (Camerabox Returns Manager) again played lip service that he would look in this ongoing issue and be in touch as soon as possible. I didn't hear back from David.
When the camera was eventually returned it included a note to say that the fault could not be identified. It took Camerabox 9 weeks to come back with this response!
John Lewis ensured that I suffered minimal inconvenience offering me several options and ensuring a fast resolution
A different story with Camerabox. The camera has been faulty from day 1, and spent 30% of the 12 months being investigated and attempting a resolution with Camerabox. In response to my complaint with regards to the ongoing issue, David Carter responded that they were acting within their SLA. A strange response, that clearly highlights the concerns that they are certainly not a customer-centric retailer.
There was an even more alarming response from David Carter, in response to my request for a refund. His response stated that they could not offer a refund as the item had just exceeded the 12 months warranty.
‘unfortunately due to the fact that your item is just over a year from your original date of order…’
However, this was untrue. I kept the post office proof of when Camerabox received the camera which confirms that they received the camera 10 days before the 12 months had passed. David Carter, had delayed his response 10 days, so that on the day he responded to me the 12 months had just passed!
The financial cost suffered through my John Lewis experience was negligible.
The costs suffered through Camerabox were significant; two lots of carriage, to return the original item and the replacement item which was also faulty. I had to purchase a cheap replacement camera for £49.99 to cover the lengthy periods that the faulty camera has been in repair.
Even more important than the financial cost has been the disappointment of missing out on capturing priceless family moments by being without a working camera.
John Lewis’s response to my initial query regarding a faulty item was apologetic for the inconvenience.
“I was sorry to hear of the problems that you have experienced with the xxxxx which you purchased..”
Compare this to Camerabox’s response from David Carter, Camerabox Returns Manager, which went on the offensive by raising the question of whether the item is covered under the warranty.
“Please send the item back to us; we will need to investigate to see whether there is a fault, or whether your item has suffered some form of accidental damage, which is not covered under warranty “
John Lewis’s subsequent email was a positive response to resolve this quickly, with a solution that best works for me, the customer.
‘I am quite happy to arrange to send you a quantity of xxxxx with my compliments, however this may only prove to be a short-lived solution. Alternatively, I can supply you with xxxxx in the hope that these would prove more satisfactory. if you feel that you have lost confidence in this product I shall be happy to take them back so that you could select an alternative xxxxx. In any event I would be prepared to reimburse you for any subsequent xxxxx fees incurred.’
This is in huge contrast to Camerabox. My first two emails were ignored. David Carter eventually responded to my 3rd email, and that wasn't until 2 weeks after they’d received the returned item.
Over the 12 months, I sent a total of 13 emails.On not one occasion did Camerabox proactively contact me. Any communication was only in response to my emails, and were only to say 'we will look in to this...'
What all this worth it for a saving of £30? Certainly not.
A study by Collect+ found that 58% of online shoppers will steer clear of a trader whose delivery or returns service falls short. The findings also suggest that 30% of customers hold the retailer directly responsible for poor delivery or returns. Mark Lewis, Collect+ chief executive, said, “the hassle and cost of online returns has been the dark secret of retail for too long, with our research showing that shoppers are abandoning outlets that fail to get it right.
So ultimately the retailers loses out, but in the meantime many frustrated customers are caught out by buying cheap and paying later. Paying more offers no guarantee of a better level of customer service, but often those online retailers that are known for providing a high-level of service don’t compete solely on price as they value the importance and investment in service excellence.
So when you next make your purchase, consider the retailers service reputation and whether you are willing to take a gamble. It’s been another costly reminder for me, and probably another 4 years before I stray away from those retailers I trust again!