Sunday, March 27, 2011

Complexity and Value - Is Amazon bothered?

@Cybersal complains about Amazon. "Yet again Amazon ships a tiny book with an unreliable courier that my postman could have shoved through my letterbox." and explains "Post office 10 min walk. Courier depot 30 min drive. Courier not a good option for such a low value item."

This raises an important question about Amazon's capability and willingness to manage complexity - specifically differentiation. Amazon already uses multiple alternative delivery channels, but introducing an automatic selection according to the value and size of the item might well further complicate its delivery processes. If Amazon wished to differentiate customers according to the convenience / cost of different delivery channels, it would presumably need to have some geographical reasoning capability. And if Amazon wished to differentiate those products that would fit through a customer's letterbox, it would presumably need to know the size of each customer's letterbox.

We can easily imagine that Amazon could build this kind of capability, perhaps using Google Maps and Google Streetview to check the exact location of Sally's house and estimate the size of her letterbox. But has Sally a right to complain if Amazon doesn't bother?

To what extent do customers have a reasonable expectation of sophisticated differentiation of service - from organizations in general or from Amazon in particular? We may note that most large commercial organizations are way behind Amazon in their ability to enhance customer value through differentiation, while most small commercial organizations are way behind Amazon in their ability to integrate across a complex ecosystem. Because Amazon has already done some amazing things, we may expect it to go even further. But even Amazon has a practical limit of how much complexity it can manage.

We are surrounded by organizations that really can't be bothered, and the value deficit in some sectors is quite disgraceful. So it may be unfair to pick on Amazon, an organization that has done more than most to stretch the limits of the possible. But Sally is right - the future belongs to those organizations able and willing to pay attention to this kind of detail, if it helps to produce direct or indirect value.

1 comment:

Cybersal said...

I lodged a polite comment with Amazon regarding the late arrival of my order and here's an extract from a quite reasonable reply that they sent.

"For UK customers, our orders are delivered primarily by Royal Mail and Citylink for Super Saver, First Class, One-day and Express Deliveries. We also use HDNL and UPS, typically for large or high value items. Our ordering system automatically assigns a carrier to your order when it is ready to dispatch.

Currently, we do not have the ability to assign certain carriers to a specific customer or address but will continue working with all of our carriers to drive improvements for our customers.

City Link do deliver packages at a safe place or to neighbours when we authorise them directly for that particular package. Therefore in future, if your package is sent via City Link and if you will not be available to accept delivery, please let us know after dispatch and we will ask City Link to deliver as per your instructions."

So it appears they already have a way of differentiating the handling of items based on size and value.

It appears that I'm not the only person with a preference for Royal Mail delivery as you can see from this Amazon forum:

This is really more of a problem for the courier companies than for Amazon - presumably repeat deliveries are not good news for them, any more than they are for the rest of us.

But I think the moral of this particular story is to use this experience as a nudge to make more use of my excellent local bookshop which can obtain most books in 24 hours.