Practical Ecommerce

The Shopping Experience: Really Old Records

Screen capture of the Really Old Records' home page. Since 1998 Really Old Records of Natick, Mass. has been offering a selection of “unusual and collectible recordings,” taking full advantage of the Long Tail concept. But the store was slow to ship and did not communicate at all with me after I made a purchase online.

On December 22, 2008 with my house full of the smell of baking cookies and nostalgia, I surfed to and began clicking through the inviting lists of long play vinyl records. It was like taking a trip back in time and I enjoyed it. But I was not a usual Christmas shopper. No, I was carefully recording the purchase for this, The Shopping Experience.

Each month Practical eCommerce goes shopping, making a purchase from a real merchant. We create a video of the shopping experience and report back to you about the overall checkout process, customer service experience, and delivery. The goal of this review is to gain a customer’s perspective about the featured merchant in particular and about general online retailing practices. To make sure that we don’t get preferential treatment, we do not notify the merchant about the impending review. Think of it as a secret shopper program for the Internet.

Unfortunately, Really Old Records did not do a good job of communicating, and, therefore, serves more as a lesson to contact your customers and set proper expectations.

Video Shopping Experience

Really Old Records and The Long Tail Concept

First, I have to confess that I really like Really Old Records’ niche segment. It takes full advantage of Chris Anderson’s Long Tail concept. And I am reminded of something I heard marketing guru Seth Godin say during a recent webinar (I paraphrase), “half of Amazon’s sales come from books other online book stores don’t carry.” Really Old Records has a great inventory of vinyl and other recordings that I believe buyers will seek out. And I am willing to bet you won’t find these titles at too many other record shops.

Several photos of the package as I open it.

If I had been on a mission to get Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Soul Revolution LP, for example, finding the Really Old Records site would be like wondering into the promised land.

Web Design and Professionalism

With eBay’s ProStores for a shopping cart, Really Old Records is a professional looking store with an easy-to-navigate design. As a customer, I had the impression that they were an honest and direct merchant. But it is not the most beautiful bit of web design I have seen, and the site left me feeling confident that Really Old Records was a relatively small business—nothing at all wrong with that impression, but nonetheless, I would not have mistaken them for a large multichannel merchant.

The Shopping Cart

Once I had made a selection—a classical LP featuring mandolin pieces from Beethoven and Schlick—the checkout process using the ProStores cart took about seven and a half minutes to complete. More than once, I was not exactly clear about what I should do. For example, as soon as the cart opened, I was offered a PayPal option that gave me the idea that I would be swept away to yet another cart. I was also given a sign-in option that was a bit confusing because of the placement of an “Are you a new customer” link—the link sort of looked like a title, but might have meant that the sign in on that page was only for returning customers. And I had to input my address information twice, because I did not know that site registration was required.

Finally, when I clicked to confirm the order, I waited one minute and 16 seconds for the cart to respond. One minute is an eternity for a shopping cart to respond, especially when the shopper (me) is using high-speed broadband that was pinging at 8,800 kilobytes per second on the morning in question.

Customer Service

Really Old Records’ did not communicate with me after the purchase. At first, I thought that perhaps the confirmation email had gotten caught in my email client’s hyper-aggressive spam filter, but after searching through 3,114 junk messages, I could find nothing from Really Old Records. I never received a shipping confirmation either.

Photograph of the Really Old Records shipping label showing that it took five days for the order to ship.

Shipping and Delivery

As mentioned above, I ordered from Really Old Records on Monday, December 22, 2008. It was just after 7:00 AM in the Mountain Time zone, making it shortly after 9:00 AM in Massachusetts. I also paid $4 extra to secure U.S. Priority Mail shipping, a service that usually takes about three days. But my order was not shipped for five days, and did not arrive at my home for nearly a week and a half.

On a positive note, the record I ordered was well packaged and arrived as described, eventually.

Lessons for Us All

When I first visited Really Old Records, I was excited about the concept. I could have been a potentially good and loyal customer. And in hindsight, Really Old Records didn’t do anything “technically” wrong. I got what I ordered. But they did not provide me with a good customer experience. Here are a few suggestions for Really Old Records and for us all.

  • Send an order confirmation email. Most carts offer this feature as an automatic option. If I had gotten that email, I would have quickly discarded it. But not getting it set me to worrying.
  • Set proper shipping and deliver expectations. Perhaps Really Old Records only ships on Saturdays. Great, tell the customer that. As a customer, I generally assume that my order will ship within 24 hours or so. Don’t keep me waiting. Make it clear how long an item will take for an order to ship.
  • Send a shipping confirmation email. Let your customer know when an item has shipped and provide them with a tracking number so that they can check out the package’s progress for themselves.


Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. Eric Anderson January 12, 2009 Reply

    Nice write up Armando.

    I have many years experience with ProStores and thought I would share some insight into the software for other readers. When setting up a new client with a store, we _always_ show them how to setup the Order Confirmation email – it’s very important. Setup is simple and straight forward – check a box, enter a store email address – done.

    Unfortunately, this check box is not checked by default and most merchants just don’t know to go looking for the setting. Shipping Confirmation emails are an advanced feature only available in the Advanced and Enterprise versions – not as important as the Order Confirmation, but still a feature customers expect.

    It’s really a shame that such a simple store administration bit could cause a lower quality UX, but it does… over and over. I agree with you wholeheartedly… merchants must communicate after the sale. No bones about it.

  2. Armando Roggio January 27, 2009 Reply

    I received an email from Really Old Record’s Proprietor, Roger Wade. I was very impressed with the way Mr. Wade responded to the review, and I got his permission to share the email with you here.

    Hi Armando,
    I’ve been meaning to contact you about the review of your shopping experience at Really Old Records published online at "practical ecommerce".
    I want to thank you for the evenhanded approach you took, and for the extremely helpful suggestions you made for improvements. No excuses. Most of your comments have been addressed already and all of them will be.

    Order Confirmation email: Thank you for pointing out that this was not occurring. I had my store set up to provide order confirmation emails but it turns out that there was an error in the mail server setup that was preventing them. This has been addressed and, hopefully, fixed.
    hipping Confirmation Email: I discovered that my postage provider, Endicia, can provide shipping confirmation emails very easily. This change turned out to be easier than I expected and shipping confirmation emails now are routinely sent.

    ime to Ship: No excuses for the 5 days it took me to ship your order. Mea culpa. I ordinarily try to meet or exceed Amazon’s standards, which require shipping within 2 business days. This is a one-person, multi channel operation, selling also on ebay and Amazon where we have 100 percent feedback ratings. I retired from my full time job on January 15th so I now have the time to handle sales surges without falling behind in shipping.

    Checkout: This one troubles me a bit. I shifted my site from a different provider (Powersellersunite) about 2 months ago, primarily due to their somewhat clunky checkout process that I was convinced affected sales negatively. Everything I had learned about the ProStores shopping cart led me to believe their checkout process would be smoother and more professional. Your experience with that checkout process bothers me and I will look for some help in improving it.

    I’m pleased that your record arrived safely and in the condition you expected. I hope you will give Really Old Records another chance in the future. My goal is to increase listings from the current 440 to about 4,000 over the next several months.

    Thanks again.
    Best regards,
    Roger Wade
    Really Old Records