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 ReallyOldRecords.com 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Chris Anderson, The Long Tail, Wired Magazine October 2004