What do Zyrtec allergy medication, Hunts tomato sauce, and Barilla pasta have in common?
The answer? Search for one (Zyrtec) on Amazon, and you’ll get recommendations for the other two. Or, at least, I did. Website recommendations really stand out when they miss the mark. Of course, relevance is relative, but as one of the companies that brought recommendations to the mainstream, we expect Amazon to be better.
In our research, we have asked scores of marketers, experts, and consumers which companies they think are most consumer-first, and almost everyone we’ve ever asked mentions Amazon — often as their immediate and only response. It’s remarkable, therefore, when Amazon is only average.
And, while it’s possible that its because we live and breath consumer-first marketing that we notice an ineffective product recommendation, but I was really taken aback recently when returning a product to Amazon.
Some quick background: My son is in 7th grade, and beginning to slowly think about the high school applications he’ll need for next year. We bought a few different test prep books from Amazon, and when we realized that two were almost identical, we decided to send one back.
The returns process online was nice and easy, and then I got surprised – and not in a good way. Amazon often offers free return shipping for Prime members (and subsidiary Zappos pretty much pioneered the idea of ‘buy, try, and return’). I think of free returns as a ‘nice-to-have’ not a ‘need-to-have.’ After all, why should the retailer pick up the cost of my decision not to keep a product. I appreciate when a company provide free returns, but I don’t expect it. What shocked me was that it cost the same to return the product via UPS as returning it to an Amazon Locker. Of course, an item still has to be picked up from the locker, but doesn’t Amazon want customers to use the Lockers – to get used to visiting places that have them (such as Whole Foods), and to get used to using them so that outbound shipping costs would be lowered – by delivering in bulk to one location?
Maybe if this was another company I wouldn’t have reacted so negatively. Nick and I often talk about the “transference of entitlement” in which experiences we have with one company set expectations for other companies. In this case though, Amazon helped to set the level of entitlement, and then needlessly failed to live up to it.