The problem for nearly every other company in the world selling to consumers is that Amazon is a nearly perfectly tuned fulfillment company. Meanwhile, other companies that should know better keep doing things poorly and losing customers to Amazon. Two recent, personal examples:

Walmart JNIT  (just not in time) inventory control: It's tough to sell from an empty shelf

Walmart—now here’s a behemoth company that continually shoots itself in the foot, most recently with a ‘supply chain’ shotgun. They're always out of whatever I’m looking for. Whoever is running their ordering process seems to have confused “just in time” inventory management with “not in time” inventory management. People shop at Walmart for one reason and one reason only—cheap prices. They definitely do not go to Walmart for the shopping experience. So when I go on an excursion into that heart of darkness, it’s very anticlimactic to not find the items I want because they are out of stock. I liked to buy ginseng and arch supports there, but after about 5 failed attempts over the period of a year, a light bulb went off to go look on Amazon, and sure enough, not only was what I wanted in stock, there were all the usual accoutrements of shopping on Amazon--nearly infinite choices, a wide range of prices, thousands of customer reviews, free shipping, and guaranteed arrival in a day or so. That was it for me. Walmart is off my shopping radar except for paper goods. 

And now that I think about paper goods, we’re on subscription with Amazon for TP and paper towels. That’s a great way to never run out, but if you pay attention like we do, you’d better have plenty of storage because the stuff just keeps coming unless you put it on hold. This is what's extra, after all bathrooms are stocked up.

And the next delivery is in a week

As just a side note, Walmart’s pathetic attempt to outdo Amazon’s online ordering process is laughable. You can order on line and elect to either pick it up at a store or pay to have it shipped. At our local store, online pickup over Christmas was handled at a card table set up by the entrance with a couple of bedraggled employees sitting there with no fulfilled orders in sight.  I guess you go ask them for whatever you might have ordered, and then cool your heels standing there while they go try and find it. Impressive. Best Buy is the same way. Sure you can order online and then drive to the local store to pick it up, but when I last tried this I could have manufactured the product by the time they found my order.

 

Our Dyson vacuum, 10 years old and still working great

Online shopping at Dyson.com was even worse….almost to the point of unbelievably bad, considering that Dyson makes an incredibly good vacuum—it sucks up so much dirt and dog hair that it’s embarrassing that stuff was actually in your rug. And, adding insult to injury, the canister is clear plastic so your household detritus can be seen by everyone.

The vacuums are also made to be easy to fix by a homeowner. It’s like a puzzle, but the whole machine comes apart and can be easily be put back together.  A really incredible device. 

However, every once in a great while something breaks, and for me, it was a small rubber washer on a plastic assembly just prior to the filter. I figured I’d just go online at Dyson.com and order the part. Hours later I temporarily gave up.

Here's the sequence of events on Dyson.com:

It was like whacking your thumb with a hammer, but took longer

1. I needed the serial number of my machine, which I easily found. However, I was only able to type in the first 3 + 2 characters out of a ten character string on their website. I kept trying with no success, and then noticed in the fine print at the top that they only wanted those first 5 despite the other 5 spaces looking to be available.

2. Unfortunately there did not seem to be a sufficient link between the first 5 characters of the serial number so as to determine my particular vacuum, so the next step was to choose your vacuum from about 45 pictures which all looked pretty much alike. This resulted in me having to take a photo of the vacuum to prevent continually walking over to it and looking. 

3. The photo didn't help much so eventually I guessed at it, which later turned out to be wrong, but regardless I then had to go through two more levels of choosing which machine I owned, meaning there was no way I was getting it correct, so I decided to try chatting with the folks at Dyson.

4. That didn’t work either—“chat was not available at this time”, so I decided to call. That message said that the wait times were exceedingly long, and that I should email Dyson, which guaranteed a two hour response time. So I did.

5. I got an email back within the two hours, but it just told me the name of the part but no part #, a link which I mistakenly assumed took me to that part, and a suggestion to chat. Figuring chat didn’t work, I clicked the link and ended up in a parts ‘search’ feature. Even the search function was remarkably messed up. Not only couldn’t I find the part I was looking for (keying in the description yielded 100s of items but none correct), but even just searching for the search feature was difficult. Clicking on the word SEARCH took me to another screen where I could key in the search.

6. I emailed them back, and I received a link to chat with a customer service rep. I figured it probably wouldn’t work but it did, and soon I was chatting, but only on my smartphone, not on the computer. The type was incredibly tiny, even on my extra big iPhone, apparently on both ends, as I had to key my serial number in twice because it was truncated on Dyson’s end. 

7. A half hour later we finally zeroed in on the item, but then came the coup de grace—I was sent a link on my phone to a place where I could key in my credit card information, and when done, get back to the Dyson chat agent to make the purchase. I now was running late for another appointment, plus wasn’t feeling too warm and fuzzy about the whole transaction, so I texted the very polite and pleasant customer service rep that I had to go, but could I complete the transaction later? She said yes, but be sure to ask for her by name so we didn’t have to start over. 

8. After ending the chat, I thought, “that’s a lot of work for a small piece of my vacuum…..I wonder if Amazon stocks Dyson parts?” I tried it, and not only did they have everything, but a few moments later, with “one click”, the piece was on its way. Processing time at Dyson.com was 72 hours and up to 7 days shipping, and no free shipping. I’m not even sure I could have simply placed the order with Dyson before the Amazon order arrived.

9. While I was on Amazon, I also bought tennis shoes and a set of arch supports, putting one more small #6 finish nail into the coffins of Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods. 

Now to be honest I think Amazon is far too big. It’s as least as powerful as Bell Telephone or Eastern Standard Oil were when they got hit by antitrust actions, so maybe that’s coming, but in the meantime, if you are a business that doesn’t have proprietary products, you’re not going to beat them, so if you can't at least meet their standards, consider joining them. Amazon's ordering and fulfillment processes are nearly perfect, and that's now the standard for what consumers expect.

 

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