I have a love-hate relationship with Amazon. I love the way they keep rising to every new challenge that the internet throws out — and, yes, like almost every other book lover on the planet, I love their low prices.
But I also hate what they’re doing to this trade of ours, drawing suppliers and customers alike down, down, down in ever decreasing circles: will the time come, I wonder, when, like a black hole sucking in everything in its orbit, the whole thing implodes? Not a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but a singularity at the end of ecommerce? Or more prosaically, like used bathwater down the plughole to the ocean’s oblivion…
This week, they sucked me in again: an irresistible offer of Jodi Picoult’s House Rules at half-price — except, as you can see from the screenshot, it wasn’t half the current £16.99 hardback price, it was almost half the forthcoming £7.99 paperback price. I clicked through… only to find — as you too will find if you succumb — the actual offer was £8.38, just under half the hardback price.
“What’s going on?” I asked them. “You’ve offered it to me for £4.99, but the online price is £8.38.”
Their first response came within 24 hours and was simply a stock reply as if mine were a generic stock enquiry, explaining that they sometimes run out of special offer items due to high levels of demand, yadda yadda yadda…
Being the awkward customer that I am, I contacted them again with a request to read and respond to my specific enquiry; and they did — again within 24 hours — with an apology and instructions on how to obtain the book at the emailed offer price. But then they went one better: rather than take off the difference, £3.39, they took off the £4.99, leaving me with only £3.39 to pay. That’s what I call customer service!!
As for what this has to do with us as booksellers and as Christian traders in particular: are not we the ones who should be setting the standards that other businesses aspire to? What, I find myself wondering, has gone so badly wrong with our trade — with, dare I say, the Church of which we are assuredly a part — that so often it’s the world that sets the standards that we must aspire to?
What has gone so badly wrong with a company like Kingsway — a company that excels in so many other ways, whose employees are all, as Melanie has rightly pointed out, “wonderful people … friendly, polite, considerate and try[ing] to do the best they can…” — that its leaders/marketers seem to regard comparing their own so-called RRPs to their own actual selling prices as a reasonable business practice? In the case of brand new albums, such as the Very Best of Kendrick album, the so-called RRPs are prices that have never been charged anywhere, let alone by themselves — with nothing even to suggest that this is an introductory price: it is, quite simply, Kingsway’s “Our price” v/s Kingsway’s RRP.
On a more hopeful note, however, the new STL seem determined not only to offer us the best possible customer service but have also invited us to help them work out exactly what standards they should be aspiring to. If you haven’t taken their Customer Service Survey, please do consider it. It will probably take a good half an hour or more to work through the 30 questions, but if enough of us do it and STL take our feedback on board, it will surely be time well spent.