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What is holding e-Commerce back?

I had a truly infuriating experience with a local brick and mortar luggage store, and it got me to thinking, “Why didn’t I buy this online?” Why indeed.


I am a geek. I admit it. And as a geek, I am far more likely to buy things online, not just books, but unusual things, than others are. But I recently needed to replace my falling-apart wheeled luggage before I take my next trip for a speech. And I did not buy it on the Web.
And boy did I pay. My first mistake was venturing out on July 4, a holiday here in the U.S., because even though the store was open, they did not carry the particular bag I that I saw on the Web site. At this point I was told that they couldn’t order it because the central office was closed until the next day. (Now, I could have ordered it that day on the Web and gotten a discount to boot, but I wanted to see it before I bought it.) I offered my credit card for a deposit, but the salesman told me he’d call the next day and take my card over the phone if they could order the bag I wanted.
The next day, the salesman called and asked me to come back in, somehow developing amnesia on how to take my credit card on the phone. (Now, I know that I could have ordered the bag the previous day on the Web for less money without leaving my house.) So, I dutifully trudged into the store and slapped down my card (paying 100% of the price as my deposit) and was told that the bag would come into the store within ten days. (Now I know that I could have gotten the bag shipped right to my house faster than that.)
20 days go by (yes, that’s not ten is it?) and I get the call to come in to look at the bag. I look at it and I like it, so I start to leave, but the salesman says, “You need to show me the recipt we gave you when you ordered.” I said, “You were the salesman that took the order—you know it is me and you know I paid the full price.” He was impassive and said that he could not release the bag without the number on the receipt. I asked why we couldn’t look up the number—surely the store had a copy. No dice.
So I wend my way back home and come back with the receipt. As I hand it to him, I carefully recapped my experience so far and told him that I can’t imagine ever coming back to the store. He provided a perfunctory apology while he looked at the number on my receipt and then pulled a pad out of the deak and matched it to their copy. (Yes, he could have done that without sending me home.) Then he attacked the computer, furiously punching buttons to beeping responses.
And I waited. Punch, punch, beep, frown. Punch, punch, punch, beep, beep, grimace. Punch, punch, beep, beep, beep, grunt. I am not sure how long it took, but it seemed like a lifetime after all the inconvenience that preceded it. Then he got on the phone. Talk, talk, punch, punch, beep, beep. And then once more, with feeling. More talk. More punching. Lots of beeping.
I asked, “Can I leave now?” No answer. I waited another couple of minutes and realized I had been there for 15 minutes when I had paid three weeks earlier. At this point, I carefully pulled the receipt from the salesman’s hand and quietly said, “I need to go.” The salesman remained on the phone and never said a word to me as he continued punching and grunting amid the beep festival. I heard him say on the phone as I left, “The customer took his receipt and left.”
Now, this is just another story of incompetent retailers. You’ve been there. And this isn’t a tragedy. Was this experience so bad? But it made me realize how accustomed I am to getting instant access to order exactly what I want at a discount and have it delivered to my house. So why didn’t I order it on the Web?
The dreaded return. I was unsure that I really wanted it until I saw it. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was what I wanted. But the possible hassle of packing it up and sending it back seemed too much of a risk to take. So I endured a lot more hassle instead, and then I ended up keeping it.
Perhaps I am unique, but usually I am boring and typical. If I could have bought the luggage on the Web with the offer that I could return it to a store if I did not want it, I would have jumped at the chance. Some retailers have connected their stores to their Web sites this way, but suppose you don’t have a store?
Why don’t e-tailers make a deal with FedEx or UPS or some other shipper to accept returns? The customer can take a look at what they got, stuff it back in the box, show the receipt and hand it off to the shipper to send it back—free shipping would be best, but I think I would have been willing to pay to return it if I just did not have to pack it up and get the awful RMA number.
I think I have learned my lesson, though. Next time, I will order on the Web and deal with the return hassle if I have to. But if returns were not any more of a hassle than they are with physical stores, I would be buying even more.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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