Like you (I assume), we spent a lot of money on eBay this Xmas – lots of cheap Lego and Hello Kitty and Geomag plus toys that were unobtainable in the shops. Let’s face it, you can get anything on eBay (except a gun) but the experience is very different from shopping at John Lewis or from a catalogue. Why?
1. You’ll get objectively better customer service. Everything comes the next day. If it doesn’t come the next day you’ll get a personally-addressed apologetic note and probably some kind of compensation.
2. A good eBay rating is a guarantee of good service. You can fake an eBay reputation but not a really good one. Buying something from an eBay seller with a rating of, say, 1,000+ will always be better than buying from M&S or John Lewis or [insert your customer service King here].
3. eBay sellers worry about customer service above all. You get exactly what you were expecting. Full stop. This turns out to be a phenomenally effective retail model and it means eBay sellers can stop worrying about other classical retail success factors like terms of trade and price.
4. eBay people are people people. Grumpy, impatient people needn’t apply – they can’t be bothered to lovingly package and despatch hundreds of low cost items, manage feedback and handle dozens of trivial customer queries. Only nice people do this, so buying something on eBay is almost always a pleasant experience.
Conventional retailers have to worry about a lot of factors: customer service (timeliness, courtesy, quality etc.), terms of trade (return policies etc.) and price (cheap or not) being the big three. eBay sellers worry only about customer service. Price is taken care of by the auction process and sellers’ terms of trade are typically as tough as old boots. The lesson is simple: if your customer service is impeccable you don’t need good terms of trade and price stops being the number 1 factor.
I find myself wondering whether real world retailers could benefit from adopting some of these uniquely eBay values. A clothing retailer who decided to fanatically over-deliver on customer service might, for instance, be able to toughen up on terms of trade and thus reduce the punishing cost of handling returned items. A supermarket who went customer service crazy might find a way out of the price crunch that threatens to wipe half of them out.
eBay sellers are telling retailers: if you invest more in really unflappable customer service you can toughen up those pussy-cat return policies and save a fortune. And, of course, it’s more urgent than you think: a generation of eBay-literate customers is now saying: I’m not really bothered about your remedial, disaster recovery policies. I just want what I asked for.