business news in context, analysis with attitude

On Friday, I wrote a piece that contrasted Staples' stated desire to create a voice-enabled Easy Button system that would differentiate it from the competition with the sad reality of shopping in an actual Staples store, where it took more than a half hour to get someone to help me when I wanted to buy a new desk chair, and then more than a half hour to get someone to find it after it had been built and I went back to pick it up. Next time, I wrote, I'll going to Amazon...which, I added, are six words that no retailer should want to hear.

MNB reader Jerome Schindler wrote:

You say "Next time, I'll go to Amazon. (Which are, by the way, six words that no retailer ever should want to hear.)"

A dollar to a donut you are going to have to assemble that chair from Amazon.

I am a person with a T-Shirt that along with an illustration of a screw driver says "I am mechanically inclined - I screw everything up".
I am also a very frugal person that does not like to pay for assembly.

I have purchased a number of items requiring some assembly from Staples over the years.  I will say that most were not that difficult to assemble. The instructions were usually great. 

That said, I agree that Staples' customer service has certainly slipped in the past few years.  But they do have some good bargains.

It is fair to say that I got a good bargain. It was a $150 chair marked down to $35...which makes me think that not only did they irritate me, but they didn't make any money on me.

My experience on this may be unusual, in that I never was going to spend a ton of money on a new desk chair. My feeling is that it only has to last until we move to Oregon, because I'm not taking it with me.

MNB reader Gary Loehr wrote:

No excuse for the lack of service from Staples, but to be fair Amazon does not solve for the two reasons that you went to Staples to buy the chair in the first place.

One, you wanted someone to put it together for you. Two, I assume that you wanted to sit in the chairs to see which ones were most comfortable.  Amazon does not currently provide either of these two services.  Reviews help, but comfort is not the same for everyone.

I don’t find your experience with Staples much different from mine.  Office supply may be a business that is ripe for someone to come in and really compete.  The current players miss the mark in a lot of areas.

And MNB reader Jeff Gartner wrote:

Kevin, just read your new office chair adventure. You concluded "Next time, I'll go to Amazon."

Perhaps it's because I live in the office furniture capital of the US … Grand Rapids, MI … and have done work for Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth (the 3 leaders) along with other smaller firms, but they're a so much better value option than Amazon for not only chairs but other office furniture as well. (I'm now sitting in a really nice ergonomic Steelcase Leap chair, in Coach black leather so it looks as good as it feels.)

You would get a much better quality office chair from their local dealer. And most of their dealers have special offers on refurbished products that are almost as good as new. Perhaps your immediate town doesn't have one of their dealers, but NYC and Boston certainly do, and I'm sure they would have delivered it. Fully assembled too at no extra charge.

I'll look them up when I move to Oregon.

MNB reader Andy Becker wrote:

In reference to your chair experience at Staples, this is the key that retailers are just not getting. If they want to compete, it IS a verb as you point out, you have to provide something to the customer that amazon can not. Many retailers are simply not providing anything other than a product available for purchase right now instead of waiting. I'd rather wait two days than put up with a frustrating experience trying to buy something.

And MNB reader Michael J. Eardley wrote:

Unfortunately, I think I can one up you on the Staples story.

I was home in San Antonio over Christmas and the Garage door opener had broken. A very simple repair of one small part that I thought I could handle.

Being a long-time retailer I went to two hardware stores along with Home Depot and Lowes. I asked the Lowes clerk why no one carried the switch.

He answered, “You know it’s a lot easier to just go online than coming here.”

I said, “You know, unfortunately you are right”

Went home, 5 mins later had my order placed and Amazon delivered it the next day.

As Jimmy Malone said in The Untouchables, "Thus endeth the lesson."

On the subject of some labor issues being experienced by Instacart, MNB reader Tom Murphy wrote:

Just reminding you that these delivery folks are NOT the face of Instacart, they are the face of the retailer!  And there may be fewer smiles on these faces…which cannot be good for the retailer.  Reminds me of some entry-level cashiers at a large chain who spent more time talking about last night’s hot date than scanning and bagging my groceries.  Take your pay to low, and the quality of your customer experience can only go downhill…a real death spiral!

You don't have to remind me. But I do think that some of the retailers that decided Instacart was the answer to their prayers do need to be reminded.

And finally, responding to my review last Friday of Michael Connelly's new novel, "The Wrong Side of Goodbye," MNB reader Jesse Sowell wrote:

You said: “Connelly's books always have been strong on both plot and characterization, but the best part of them always have been the ride - through the neighborhoods and mean streets of Los Angeles, and through the psyche of his driven, principled, flawed protagonist.”

I say: you captured it perfectly. Big fan. Discovered Bosch 12 years ago when I moved from South Orange County up to LA proper. Reading the books was a great introduction to the city, not just geographically and culturally, but spiritually. And Bosch is such a complex, fascinating character.
Great work, Kevin. Keep it up.

Thanks. Other Bosch-related news - the third season of the Amazon series based on Connelly's books is likely to debut sometime in the next couple of months, and a fourth season already has been ordered.

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