Just as I completed my last story, the door bell rings. Lo and behold my HP Chromebook 13 G1 arrives. Whooppee do! Except that it isn't. As I said on Twitter:
I know the UK has a lot of immigrants but sending me a laptop with a CZ keyboard and EU power plug doesn't do it for me. @laptopsdirectuk
— (((Den Howlett))) (@dahowlett) September 13, 2017
I can handle the plug issue - just snip it off and replace. A pain but heh, I can live with that. The keyboard is an altogether different issue. It means at the very least changing some keys even after assigning Chrome to a UK keyboard layout. Like many others, I'm not a touch typist and don't always know where every key is located on the board. Plus the fact every manufacturer of keyboards does things slightly differently, which makes knowing keyboard assignments difficult without visual cues.
At that point I knew the machine has to be returned.
Calling up from the 08xxx numbers at 13p or 5p per minute (take your choice from two on the Laptopsdirect website) put me in call center hell. Five minutes of waiting was long enough for me.
Google Maps on the other hand provided me with a local number to call which costs me nothing on my call plan. I was still put into call center hell but thankfully didn't have to wait too long for a human to pick up. Eight minutes by my reckoning out of a 12 minute call.
The person on the other end was very apologetic and provided me with a case number, telling me that a returns rep would be in contact within the next 36 hours or probably today as "they're on top of returns at the moment." OK - so now I need to keep my phone close to hand which isn't always convenient and definitely puts today's planned swim out the window.
Then I get this email:
WTAF? The call center person never told me any of this.
Not only will I have to wait a likely 3-4 days at least to get the replacement but the way this is worded, it feels like the onus is upon me to resolve their problem. Why would I or anyone else for that matter call to say the keyboard is not UK specific and THEN also have to take photos?
Worth noting -> When you get through to customer services automated call system, the first thing it tries to do is push manufacturing problems direct to the manufacturer. Last time I checked, UK consumer law does not require consumers to get into that level of issue. Instead, your contract is with the seller, in this case Laptopsdirect. That's a case of misdirection in my opinion.
Laptopsdirect touts itself as the UK's largest supplier of machines and I have no doubt that's true. I also suspect they're working on razor thin margins as this is a segment that has intense competition. That explains the manner in which they effectively discourage returns. I get all that. But this is a supply chain problem they have to address differently to the standard terms and that won't come cheap.
In order to make me whole, at the very least they will need to recoup returns costs for both myself and back to the manufacturer. In addition, they'll need to check every item of stock to discover the current stock status. External packaging doesn't help because the country label has been misapplied.
Now compare this with Amazon. Anything they supply has a (near) no questions asked return policy. My partner is what I call an Amazaholic, a habit picked up during our time in the U.S. and is constantly receiving goods from them. Occasionally, stuff isn't right and she sends it right back to them with refunds coming through very quickly. Here is what Amazon says on its returns policy:
Please use the online Returns Support Centre. It can take up to 15 - 25 days for an item to be received at our fulfilment centre, and it takes 2 business days from time of receipt for the refund to be processed and 3-5 business days for the refund amount to reflect in your account. For incorrect, defective, or damaged items, you’ll be refunded for original delivery costs, as well any Import Fees Deposit(s) for the returned item(s), once your return is processed.
Please note that your return label may require you to return the item at your own expense. Amazon will automatically refund up to £20 for return postage costs. If your return shipping costs more than £20, please keep a copy of your return postage receipt.
That 15-25 days sounds long but we've never experienced anything like that delay, either in the UK or the U.S. Note also the question of returns costs. Not mentioned by Laptopsdirect.
One more thing. I am willing to bet a good amount of moolah that the Chromebook I received is one of a supplied batch because Laptopsdirect are saying they have stock for immediate dispatch. I find it hard to believe I am the only person in the last (say) week who has not experienced this issue. If that's the case then what's happening elsewhere? Why haven't these machines disappeared from the website or noted as 'out of stock?'
Amazon has established the gold standard for customer experience in the digital only world. Amazon has set customer expectations at a level with which others simply have to compete or better. Consumer suppliers who don't match up to the Amazon experience will find themselves increasingly marginalized, even where Amazon pricing is higher than available elsewhere as is the case in my example.
Consumer vendors who operate digital only storefronts need to have immaculate supply chain execution. Those that don't will face hidden and hideous costs in returns and replacement that can cripple thin margin businesses like the one I am discussing today.