Magazine article Information Today

Lessons to Be Learned: Listening and Loyalty: E-Commerce Vendors Need to Be More Attentive to Consumer Feedback. (Quint's Online)

Magazine article Information Today

Lessons to Be Learned: Listening and Loyalty: E-Commerce Vendors Need to Be More Attentive to Consumer Feedback. (Quint's Online)

Article excerpt

Basically, e-commerce dot-coms have two major problems. One, they're too big. Two, they're too small. Like the pelican, their eyes can hold more than their belly can, to quote Dixon Lanier Merritt's limerick (no, it's not Ogden Nash). They have the ambition and the platform to serve a world of consumers, but they often lack the staff, resources, and installations to perform that most essential of functions in any grand marketing effort: listening. The best and brightest of them have, of course, established reliable, accommodating ways of processing complaints about orders. If you can't do that, then customers will not only leave you, they'll take their friends, neighbors, address book listings, and all their listserv listeners with them.

But when it comes to listening to more creative complaints or, heaven forfend, to good suggestions, all users get is a form email message. Every consumer over the age of 12 knows that making suggestions to people who are trying to sell you something approaches the biblical suggestion of casting your bread upon the waters. Only a miracle will keep that bread from sinking soggy to the sand. But sometimes it does work. If a sales staff keeps hearing the same suggestion from different customers and gets tired of hearing it, they may report it to their supervisors and some new ideas may actually make their way up the command hierarchy. In any case, the customers feel better getting the ideas off their chests, even if the smiling response from the vendor rep does have a certain mechanical quality to it. But those form messages saying "your e-mail received" give no satisfaction at all.

Fortunately for this consumer, I can vent in print. But before we turn to tales of e-commerce experiences, one old-economy duty remains. Let me hereby send an official notification to those myriad mail-order catalog companies that have made my postal person's life so miserable over the past several months. This consumer will not now or ever accept, use, or file for future use any Christmas catalog delivered before Halloween. No, no, no! And anyone who sends a Christmas catalog earlier than September will have their name taken down and posted in the Permanent Grinch (PG) file. The rule against buying from any PG-ers even applies to companies on my favorites list. We're talking anathema here.

But back to e-commerce. Did you know that Amazon hasn't reconciled its book listings with the listings found in overseas versions of the service? The other day I went on to find books by Rafael Sabatini, a popular historical fiction writer from the early 20th century. (Remember Captain Blood? Scaramouche? "He was born with the gift of laughter and the sense that the world was mad" No? Well you should. He's really good.) Beyond his two most famous works and a handful of other listings, had nothing for this very prolific writer. Well, luckily I know that the U.K.'s House of Stratus ( has republished most of Sabatini's works.

So, as a good citizen of the Amazon community, I wrote a message to Amazon telling them where they could find all these books. It took quite a bit of digging in their Help section just to reach the point where I could send a message--enough digging to make me wonder if I should bookmark the site.

Then I got to wondering why Amazon didn't know that already. What, they're in the book business and can't afford a copy of British Books In Print? So just on a hunch, I went over to and guess what? All of the House of Stratus material lay stretched before me and all was available with short delivery times.

So, still loyal to the Amazon republic, I sent the company another note after retracing my steps to the proper note-sending section. I asked why Amazon hadn't integrated its two catalogs.

Then I decided to check still further by seeking out as yet unread copies of Inspector Morse mysteries, written by British writer Cohn Dexter. …

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