If you have a Ham Radio Store in your town, you're very lucky! You can enjoy a short drive to the store, have a nice relaxed browse, have a play, chat with the helpful staff, have a brew and hopefully, find a great piece of kit, haggle on price and take home your dream radio that very day.
The rest of us reach for the computer!
No matter how good a business is on the high street, you can't expect a similar online experience it seems. Obviously they can't give you a coffee over the internet and they can't walk you around the store showing you all the latest goods (although ML&S and W&S do a some videos reviews). Some sites also have live chat facilities, but I've never found them to be particularly helpful.
Fortunately, radio hams are a fairly intelligent bunch of folk and they usually do all their research before even approaching a seller. They pretty much know what they want and it's just a case of finding someone who has it in stock (the most important thing) and which reputable store is selling it the cheapest. I guess it's at this stage that the internet has a distinct advantage over the person who travels to a local store and lashes out whatever price is on the label in front of him/her. But there the advantage seems to end - or it does with radio ham stores at least! Many other online businesses give me no cause for concern at all - but more on that later.
--------------Now just let me clarify something - I'm not the sort of person who whinges for nothing. I don't sit at home moaning about stuff for no reason. I complain about poor service and I praise great service. I try to take everything into consideration and apply a dose of "$hit happens" to situations before reacting. Basically, I compare other businesses to the one I personally work at and to other businesses who provide good customer service. I don't expect Silver Service if I choose to eat at McDonalds, if you know what I mean.
--------------What I do expect from an internet-seller, is an informative, easy to navigate website with lots of product images and full specifications. In an ideal world, it would be nice to see links to reviews of the product too - either in text or video. The more expensive the item, the more information I expect to find. After all, spending £3,000 on a base station is not the same as spending £30 on a cheapo handheld!
I'd then like to be given the cost of the item and the cost of the carriage - with options for next-day delivery and options to pay by card or PayPal.
If the price of an item is cheaper elsewhere, but I prefer to shop at a particular store, then I would like to be able to ring the company and get a price-match and a "voucher-code" to use on the website to reduce the price to the level agreed on the phone. Why not just pay while you're on the phone?? Because sometimes I want to pay by PayPal - maybe because I want to use PayPal credit or because I've got a lump of money in my PayPal account from the sale of another radio.
Once I've paid online, I expect to receive a prompt email confirming both the order and the delivery date. Out of hours, one could only expect an automated response to confirm receipt of the order, but during business hours I would expect full details within a short space of time (depending on the delivery service requested).
I would be looking for reassurance that my purchased item was being despatched that same day and would want a tracking number. It's worth mentioning at this point that many resellers send a tracking number with no reference to the shipping company, so a search through all the carrier's websites ensues until you find one which recognises the tracking number. Very annoying!
The very next day (or the day after if 48hr delivery was chosen) I would expect my parcel to arrive and proceed to enjoy my new purchase, patting the seller on the back for a sterling service.
But in my experience, that's a rare occurrence. All too frequently, resellers leave their great customer service firmly planted in the showroom! Online customers are treated in a way that is almost dismissive!
I won't mention any names here, but I will discuss some of the things that have happened to me when buying radio gear online. Of course I DO UNDERSTAND that some buyers won't be as 'fussy' as me, but if companies are serious about providing their customers with great service and a pleasant shopping experience, then they need to recognise that these shortfalls need to be addressed and a customer spending £1000 online is every bit as important as the customer spending £1000 in-store.
Okay, so some examples of my experiences....
1) You buy an Elecraft KX3 after looking at the resellers description and images. You add the internal ATU, battery pack and 2M transverter. You opt for express delivery and it comes to approx £1,800. The company email you with delivery details and the gear arrives just in time for a weekend of fun - great!!
You've already got the shack prepared and then whoa, there's no microphone!! You ring up angrily and they nonchalantly tell you that you don't get one with the KX3. You explain to them that the main image on their website shows a microphone with the radio, but they just repeat that the KX3 isn't supplied with a microphone, grrrrr.
Well my response to that is - Why didn't you ring me or email me to say, 'thank you for your order - can we point out that the radio doesn't come with a microphone but you can add one to your order'. Apart from massively helping the customer, it also benefits the seller by giving them a chance to upsell.
2) You order an item that is "In Stock" and the next day you get an email from PayPal to say you have a refund. Hmmm, that's odd. The full amount has been refunded and you have no idea why. You search your Inbox for an explanatory email from the online retailer but there's nothing.
The next day there's still no email from the store, so rather than sitting there waiting for them to do their job, you ring them and ask why you've been refunded. They explain that the item isn't in stock. Okay, so the website isn't up to date with stock levels - mistakes happen!
But why not contact the customer and say 'thank you for your order but the item is actually out of stock. Do you want us to refund you or do want us to put it on back-order - they're due in next week'. To just refund with no contact is ridiculous - dare I say ignorant!
3) You order an item that is "In Stock" and the next day you get an email from PayPal to say you have a refund. Hmmm, that's odd. The full amount has been refunded and you have no idea why. You search your Inbox for an explanatory email from the online retailer but there's nothing.
You think I'm just repeating myself don't you? But no. After seeing the above item was in stock some weeks later, I order it again and get another email saying I'm being refunded! It beggars belief! It turns out it was a clerical error and I was going to get my item, but what a wind-up!
4) You order a £1,000 item at 10am on a Monday morning. You pay an addition £17 for EXPRESS NEXT DAY delivery. You receive an automated email saying your order has been placed. The next day you don't receive your order but you do get an email saying 'Here's your invoice'.
You email them and ask them for a Tracking Number so that you can see what time it's going to arrive and they email back with a tracking number. You use the tracking number and find that the courier has not even collected the parcel yet!
You email the Store and ask why the parcel wasn't sent out on Monday by Express Delivery? They tell you that they don't work weekends(?) and apologise for the slight delay.
After another email, I get a refund for the carriage charge but when the parcel arrives, there's no mains plug in it. Good Lord!!
Now just let me explain why the Store mentioned 'weekends' in their email even though I ordered on a Monday....
Online retailers arrive at work on a Monday morning and (like my wife's workplace) walk in to find maybe 300 online orders that customers have placed over the weekend. They have to process all these in addition to the orders they receive on Monday. One can understand that they might not be able to get through such a huge quantity of orders in a single day!
Personally, if I left my shop open 24/7 over the weekend (online) I'd make sure that I had the resources to deal with the resulting barrage of orders which had to be dealt with on the following Monday. If it's a Bank Holiday, the situation is even worse!
Basically, the huge backlog of orders are processed in Date-Order. That seems fair IF you explain all this to the customer while he/she is in the "Cart" and IF he/she hasn't paid £17 for Next Day Delivery!!
I could go on and on,
but it would just get
more boring than
it already is.
My point is, you are a second hand citizen if you're an online shopper with most of these companies. And what annoys me the most is that these professional high-turnover businesses are being beaten by blokes drop-shipping on eBay from their back bedrooms, when it comes to customer service!!
I can order a £2000 radio from a Ham Store and a £20 lead from eBay and the lead will arrive the next day with a thank you note and the radio will arrive a day or two later with an invoice! Is that not crazy?????
In the last 9 months I have
purchased ham gear to the
value of almost £12,000!!!!
WOW! That's incredible. Obviously, I've not got 12 grand's worth of radio eqipment - I've bought and sold it, but nonetheless, 12 grand of purchases has been made in nine months and it's all been online. I can order 12 quids worth of crap from a teenage eBayer and get better service than I can get from some of these companies.
So what's the answer? I'm not here as a Business Consultant - I'm here to provide valuable feedback as a customer. If these businesses choose to take heed and improve their processes to provide customers with a better service and make them feel valued, then they will be the beneficiaries.
The business who does something about this state of affairs is the one who will discover loyalty and increased market share.
73 de M7MCQ
I'd just like to point out that MOONRAKER and MARTIN LYNCH both contacted me personally to say that they'd seen this post and appreciated the feedback. The guy from Moonraker actually printed out a copy for each member of staff and asked them to read it.
It's good to know that some companies have reacted positively to the post and are taking the feedback seriously.
UPDATE : 2
I ordered a V2000 antenna and I'm pleased to say that after paying £12 postage, it arrived the very next day. I contacted the company and thanked them for doing a great job.
UPDATE : 3
Just when I thought it was going good, I placed an order for a Morse Code Training Oscillator Key and paid the usual (overpriced) carriage fee, expecting pretty quick delivery considering that it was "IN STOCK".
Sadly, it took 12 days to arrive and in all that time I received zero communication about the order. It just arrived in a flimsy jiffy-bag and upon opening it, I found that it hadn't survived the journey 😡😡
This unit is packaged for retail-display shelves in a vacuum formed bubble and it's easy to see that this will offer virtually no protection to the device while in transit across the country. As a result of it being poorly packed, the key was completely detached and the jiffy-bag was full of black splinters of plastic.
I immediately returned the item - not because it was broken, but because I'm just sick of shit service and non-existent communication. I'm no longer going to accept it and have decided to vote with my feet. From now on, I refuse point-blank to buy from this (unnamed supplier) unless they have something which is absolutely unique to them and can't be purchased anywhere else.
I've spent over £6000 with this company and despite bringing all this to their attention previously, they continue to work at a sub-standard level of service and communication.
I did receive a telephone call a few days after returning the item, apologising for the fact that their website had shown an out-of-stock item as being in-stock and I did receive my money back the next day.
What I didn't receive was my wasted time waiting 12 days or my valuable time going into town to post the item back at a cost of £3.70 to me (plus the cost of providing adequate return packaging)!