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To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

Or, to simply read the commentary in text form, continue below…

Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.

I’d like to say that this will be the last time for a while that the Harry Potter phenomenon gets brought up on MorningNewsBeat, but that’s probably not a promise I can make. After all, my experience here suggests that the boy wizard has a way of prompting not just unusual behavior – like getting kids to read – but also of getting adults to talk about important things, like the role of independent retailers vs. the chains vs. the online booksellers. I’m not sure that J.K. Rowling knew she’d be prompting such debate, but I’m also pretty sure that there’s a lot about the Harry Potter universe that she didn’t expect.

Since I mentioned last week that I had pre-ordered my two copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” – one for each of my sons – from Amazon, the online retailer announced that it had sold more copies of the book than any other book in its history. The retailer had more than 2.2 million pre-orders of the seventh and last book in the Harry Potter series, which put it comfortably in first place. The sixth and fifth Potter books, by the way, are ensconced in the second and third place in the pre-order rankings. And, Amazon said, in total it saved its customers more than $50 million on the book – which is pretty impressive.

Let me quote from the press release that Amazon sent out late last Friday:

“In the largest single-product distribution in's history, more than 1.3 million copies of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ will arrive on the doorsteps of millions of Muggles across the country tomorrow--the first day the book is available to the public. offered this guaranteed Saturday delivery option to customers for the same price as Standard shipping, and Saturday delivery was free for Amazon Prime members.”

But, as it ends up, not everybody got it on Saturday. There were some disappointed households.

Mine, for example.

That’s right. For all my gusto in describing my relationship with Amazon, my endorsement of the online shopping experience, and my defending myself against members of the MNB community who thought I was a soulless heathen, the damned book – that I pre-ordered on February 1 - never showed up last Saturday. (My son who lives in Chicago got his, but the Connecticut son did not.)

Now, Amazon’s customer service was very good about trying to figure out what happened to the book, but they were as much at a loss as I was. It just never showed up. And they didn’t even know that I’d end up talking about it to more than 22,000 people on MorningNewsBeat…it could have happened to anyone, but it ended up happening to someone with a soapbox.

You might think that this would put me off Amazon, and it might have had my son been one of those people who was planning to spend all day Saturday reading. But he worked at Starbucks on Saturday, and had plans for the rest of the weekend, so he wasn’t applying any pressure.

The thing is, over the years I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Amazon, so my instinct was to cut them a break. Besides, at one point on Saturday afternoon I was talking to a customer service person who said two important sentences to me:

1. “I can’t apologize enough for the inconvenience that we’ve caused you.”
2. “I’m immediately crediting your account for the book, so when you get it on Monday, it’s free.”

Even if I’d been angry, how could I continue being angry under those circumstances?

Listen, everybody screws up from time to time. I think the real lesson here isn’t about screwing up, but about how to deal with a problem when it happens. Furthermore, it is important to understand that by being a reliable, trusted and innovative retailer for more than 10 years, during which time there was a real relationship created between the retailer and the customer – Amazon was able to assuage me fairly quickly.

During some of the back and forth we’ve had on MorningNewsBeat during the past week, much of the focus has been on whether independent booksellers were good and online behemoths were bad. But that’s not the right way to frame the issue. What’s good is a retailer that works hard to establish a loyal relationship with the consumer, no matter what the venue. And what’s bad is when a retailer thinks that because of the venue in which it happens to operate, it deserves to be in business. Because nothing could be farther from the truth.

For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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