Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Dark Side of E-commerce

As I mentioned in a recent post, Amazon has focused on the convenience of the customer instead of the convenience of their business.   Yesterday’s New York Times highlighted the trend for the hotel industry to do the same.

In my post, I lamented that some industries including old school industrial companies and healthcare have not widely adopted customer focused technologies.    To their credit, Marvin Windows followed up with me and promised to accelerate their automation efforts.    I was impressed.

However, all is not completely rosy in the transformation from brick and mortar to e-commerce.

In an effort to reduce costs and presumably increase the value of an Amazon Prime membership, Amazon has moved away from traditional delivery carriers - UPS, Fedex, USPS etc. deploying  its own delivery service.   The Amazon cargo vans seem to be scheduled such that there is no consistent driver who knows the neighborhood, the people, and  property specific delivery details.

Many of these drivers have no experience delivering to rural areas.      Many are terrified by the chickens, guinea fowl,  and ducks wandering around Unity Farm.   I can tell you that  poultry are not a threat to delivery people. Maybe they’ve been watching too much Monty Python.

The drivers have decided that throwing packages out the window and speeding away is the best way to avoid contact with the animals.   We’ve had packages thrown at the barn, tossed into bushes, submerged into puddles, dropped out of windows, and left in the middle of the driveway.      I can only guess they used this as a training video.

We’ve had so much damage that we’ve had to make a decision
1.   Stop ordering from Amazon entirely
2.   Open a post office box and hope that Amazon will deliver items there unharmed
3.   Change our shipping address to the Unity Farm Sanctuary where horses and goats live in paddocks and the most threatening free range animal is a squirrel.

We’ve decided on #3, giving up on Amazon’s ability to deliver to a rural setting because it has built an army of inexperienced delivery people.

The recent United Airlines passenger dragging scandal illustrates what happens when corporations emphasize growth and profitability over long term customer relationship management.     Maybe as a society we have become desensitized to the gradual degradation of relationships with those who provide us services and we’re unwilling to pay for higher quality experiences.   As we continue to accept poorer and poorer service, we’re likely to see income disparities increase with inexperienced service people paid less and the companies they work for earning more.  Is it any wonder that the middle class continues to shrink?

I would be willing to pay a bit more to have a consistent delivery person who understands my neighborhood.   E-commerce is great but only when the last mile is representative of the rest of a superlative supply chain operation.   At present, I would call Amazon’s move to direct delivery a failed experiment as it relates to our needs, and I will have to work around it.


Medical Quack said...

The dark side of e-commerce is just starting, sadly. The pilots who work for Atlas Air, the Prime Amazon air cargo contractor airline, can't keep pilots. In January 23 new hires left and went to work for UPS for better pay, so they can't keep pilots either. The quant business models of Jeff Bezos do catch up with their limitations. We have delivery folks who are not properly credentialed in Southern California delivering packages and they too are paid very little, so there's no real loyalty there and getting to know a community either. I buy more from e-bay anymore than Amazon and it's cheaper, get new products there as well. When busy times arrives, Atlas also has a contract with Fedex and will ditch some Prime airline runs for Fedex to fly their freight first as it pays better, just a warning for when the times get busy with air freight parcels.

Anonymous said...

Expertise covers up and can compensate for many process problems. We see it in IT as well. When companies want to do labor arbitrage and send work offshore, there are always problems because documentation is never perfect, there are cultural nuances that can't easily be captured, and most organizations don't operate at such a high level of maturity that expertise is unnecessary. The pendulum usually swings back toward paying more and hiring people who know what they're doing if the business owner depends on repeat customers.

Regarding attack-fowl, I'm a city boy so I'd likely not get out of the car if there was an aggressive guard-goose coming at me when I pulled up. Keep up the great works, Doc.

Anonymous said...

We have 13 Guinea Fowl from your farm that are dutiful guards of the property. Our regular UPS driver is well accustomed to them and ignores them like we do when walking around. However, when he had a runner around Christmas I was able to witness the young guy jump out of the truck and sprint back when the hens ran around the corner. The regular guy was laughing the whole time because he knew it would happen. I'm glad he was able to get some entertainment value on what was probably a long day.

Yes, when delivering to a rural area the driver needs to be aware of the property. We have a spot in the barn that the packages go and whenever something shows delivered but it is not there I have to do a hunt. Luckily for right now it is usually the same guy.

kitkat said...

Until recently, I had not appreciated our regular delivery people enough! Our usual UPS driver was away for a couple of weeks and we received a badly damaged package on our doorstep one day. I live in a very rural area and it was only a few months ago we decided to add a motion activated security camera due to concerns of home safety. Seeing the damage to this poor box we went to the video footage to see how this played out. The temporary driver slowly approached the doorstep with said box, being careful not to disturb anyone who might be home. As he left the package and walked backwards away from the house he suddenly hears our dog barking inside the house and takes off running. It was comical to watch, and the sending company happily sent us a replacement (vacuum) - but it is now over a month later and we have to jump through hoops for them to come and pick up the damaged item (otherwise we will be charged).

I am a nurse getting my MSN in Informatics. I truly hope the healthcare industry will realize the benefits of the transition from Marvin Windows to the Amazon model, for both clinicians and patients. I am thankful that more clinical end users are getting more involved in the development of healthcare technologies.