ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is Amazon the Perfect Retailer?

AMAZON is often pointed to with that disapproving look and faulted with the closing of traditional brick and mortar stores like the BORDERS chain.

They play unfair, say critics, because they don't have the expenses an actual store does.  True.  But my argument has always been that many of those same stores have websites themselves but they treat them more like an unwanted stepchild than an active component of their business.

I can say with certainty-- and I have extensive retail and merchandising experience in stores doing an excess of a Million $ a week-- that the first retailer to have equal parts 'real' and 'virtual' stores will knock Amazon on its ass and be THE player in American business.

So far, no one comes close.

Wal*Mart has been putting some serious effort in- with their free shipping from site to store offer, but the downside is you then have to go into a Wal*Mart to pick up your item and that particular retailer does an absolutely awful job in terms of delivering anything close to the level of service Amazon does.

Let's boil it down, a truly successful retailer MUST have all of these components:

1. Plentiful stock with reasonable prices
2. Pleasant shopping experience
3. Ease of Checkout
4. Helpful/knowledgeable staff
5. Simple return policy

Amazon does 4 out of 5 exceptionally well, but drops the ball completely with #4.  If you want to reach customer service at Amazon you'll find it's easier to speak to Klatu on Mars than it is to get a real person to answer your question.

Amazon has an outstanding search engine program.  Compare it to Book of the Month Club (  Search for something on Amazon, even if you don't know it's actual name and you are likely to not only find the item you're looking for but you'll find items you didn't know you actually wanted or even existed but you want 'em anyway.

I searched for the PEANUTS Reprints Fantagraphics is doing at BOMC-- I know they have them because I saw it in an ad.  Searching PEANUTS I got five cook books and Martha Stewarts biography.  Searching Charles Schultz I got nothing.  Nothing even though he's the only author listed on the book.  Same search on Amazon and I get all 12 volumes PLUS the exceptional book Chip Kidd did and a few other comic strip collections.

Amazon's website is simple by design.  No flash, no fancy gimmicks.  Type what you want, get it, add to cart check out.  Done.  Oh, and the price is likely 30% off what you expected to pay.

I've heard horror stories about their return policies-- not so.  I ordered an APPLE TV player back when I was trying to decide between cable and satellite.  Got it, hooked it up and realized it was not going to work for what I wanted.  I simply clicked on my account history and chose the option for RETURNS- Amazon allowed me to print return shipping which I placed on the reboxed item and within 24 hours I had my full purchase price refunded.

Compare that to a recent visit at Best Buy where it took me 40 minutes just to get to the window to argue why I was bringing something back.

Amazon is vulnerable, retailers.  Train your staff-- then retrain them, then re-retrain them.  That is your strength and you're not capitalizing on it.

More tomorrow (sorry!).