Musing #64: Escalation and issue resolution with Amazon, Flipkart and other services


The holiday season implies sales and savings on the major e-commerce websites but along with it comes the headache of dealing with customer service, or lack of it, when things go wrong. This dark side doesn't pop up when making occasional purchases through the year but raises its ugly head during the sale season on account of en masse purchases, which inevitably increases the probability of things going wrong.

Musing #44: Shipping from US to India (eBay GEB, Amazon, HopShopGo)


Despite rampant globalisation, there are always a few things that are seemingly out of reach. On the flip side, you can almost get anything you want if you are prepared to the pay the price for it. Custom duties make importing a financially challenging decision, perhaps rightly so, and hence there must be a need rather than a want for those items. However, as human nature goes, it is always the latter and that is mostly the case with me as well.

I am of course not new to importing items that I deem to be worth their price. However, importing anything was not under consideration until eBay launched its Global Easy Buy service in India several years ago. Since Flipkart or Amazon were not in vogue or even existence back then, this service was quite useful in getting hands on some products that are easily available today. However, the major international reseller on eBay, i2cworld_inc is extremely unreliable as their order acceptance rate is around 1 out of 5. Most of the times, the excuse is that the item is unavailable with major retailers when in fact it is listed on every major retailer's site. While I was able to use coupons with this service a couple of years ago, they no longer work with GEB products, even the ones issued by banks. There is no major appeal in using this service, though it is still useful for some items that are only listed on eBay.

The other major and extremely reliable option is to use Amazon. However, there are in fact two import services that are independent of each other. The major one is the International Shipping option offered directly by Amazon.com. The inventory of items is limited but is far greater than what is offered by the other service - the Global Store on Amazon.in. Also, the USD payment is usually cheaper on account of lower conversion rates offered by the credit card provider in comparison to what Amazon charges. The INR rates on the Amazon.in Global Store are on par with the Amazon converted ones and hence a bit more expensive. However, on the flip side, one can avail of the cashback offers that can make the INR purchases cheaper than the USD ones on Amazon.com.

Lastly, there are the forwarding services that allows one to purchase anything under the sun, at least as long as it is not perishable. I had registered on multiple sites but never used any of them since I never quite liked the uncertainty of not knowing how much I will end up paying. However, I finally bit the bullet a couple of weeks back and decided to have a go, if for nothing else than to take in the experience.

HopShopGo had a new user offer which included free Express shipping upgrade along with $10 and 20% off on shipping. I decided to go with two relatively lower priced products to check out whether consolidating packages results in any savings in comparison to other services. The finance didn't quite work out the way I had hoped as I barely ended up saving anything in comparison to purchasing from international resellers on Amazon or eBay. However, the HopShopGo service itself delivered as expected. I would sum up the experience using the following salient points:

1. The unique "c/o" identifier may not be included by the merchant shipping the product, in which case it is opened by HSG and you have to provide the tracking details to confirm the same.

2. If the product arrives without an attached invoice, then the onus falls on you to declare the value of the goods.

3. I had ordered 2 items weighing less than 150g each but HSG rounded each one to  0.5 kg resulting in a 1 kg shipping weight. No repack is allowed for such lightweight items.

4. On the other hand, DHL declared a total shipping weight of 0.45 kg, which means the added weight was to HSG's benefit.

5. When calculating the CIF (cost, insurance, fright) value, HSG used the shipping cost value exclusive of their discounts. Due to this, the CIF value ended up being more than twice the value of the goods.

6. The Indian customs added 10% customs duty on the CIF and then another 28% IGST on the cumulative value of CIF and Customs. ED and SHE cess, though not amounting to much, were added as well.

7. The biggest kicker is DHL's handling fee of ₹500 along with another 18% GST, even though they cleared my package together with 10 others.

Looking back at all the experiences, I would certainly say that Amazon's Global Shipping is the best option available, if you are indeed able to find what you need. Forwarding services hardly save much, though some benefit can be realised by combining packages and picking out the odd items that Amazon wouldn't ship. Anyway you cut it, there is no small price to pay for protectionism.

Musing #42: The Amazon advantage over Flipkart


It is that time of the year again when the big online retailers jostle it out for the customer's mind and wallet. There is no bigger test than this time of the year as Amazon and Flipkart get stretched thin in offering their best. However, this also allows for a better view on who's on top of the game. For me, having experienced both the sides, there is no doubt who the winner is.

The reason Amazon wins is because it lives up to its vision of being earth's most customer-centric company. I have been a Prime member since its launch but never really utilized it to the maximum since I believe most people will find value in Prime Videos which I don't peruse much often. While ₹499 for Prime membership remains a steal, it is the customer service that makes dealing with Amazon much more satisfying. There hasn't been a single issue that has left be unsatisfied, be it cancellations, refunds, cashbacks, compensations or claiming of warranty, which is what makes me come back to it time and again.

As you can imagine, the experience with Flipkart has been a polar opposite. They have never managed to specifically respond to any issue but mouth platitudes. There is no escalation done by the first level staff in trying to identify the root cause. In the recent sale, they took no responsibility or provided any resolution for the failure in their checkout process which was unable to handle the load, consequent to which I was unable to complete the payment for an already checked-out product. Worse still, their refund initiation is held up for hours on account of which the discount availed for a cancelled product remains blocked and unusable for other purchases. The customer service comes back to state the obvious without offering any resolution or insight.

It doesn't take much to observe that Flipkart doesn't really place the customer first. For me, it is a fall back option that I have to take recourse to for a few exclusives. Even then, every dealing leaves me further disillusioned. At one point, it did offer exceptional service, perhaps when it has money to burn. Now, it may just be a cost consideration but it feels that the rot is much more systemic. It is not only the customer service but the incessant failures on the technology side which indicates they are neither passionate about the customers or technology. Ultimately, that is the path to oblivion.

Review #1: BenQ 24 inch EW2440L (Monitor)


First up, kudos to Flipkart for their service. It took some convincing, but they refunded the price difference that was effected the day after I received delivery of the product through Flipkart First. 5 stars for that. Coming to the product itself, I would rate it a 4.5/5 and my line of thought goes as follows:

Having used a TN panel for 6 years, there was no way I was going to buy another one of those again. Gaming is one of my main purposes, but even 120Hz and 1ms response time (at a significant price premium) was never going to convince me otherwise.

The default option then was an IPS panel display, especially from the Dell Ultrasharp series. It overcomes the shortcomings of my previous display, mainly the flicker, colour and viewing angles, but has its own cons in the form of IPS glow and a higher price which need to be balanced out.

With my mind set on finding the middle ground, I came down the path presented by the AMVA panel. This Benq model features an AU optronics panel which is about as good as it is going to get for this technology. I say middle, but while it comes at a small price premium over TN panels, it trades punches with IPS panels in terms of quality. In effect, it is a real VFM.

So how do the listed features stack up on the goodness scale?

MHL: Seems like a cool thing to have if your phone is MHL compatible. For now, my mobile sits snuggly in the stand while getting charged, alerting me of any notifications while I work/play.

Cinema Mode: Just a preset mode with higher contrast and sharpness.

Super Resolution: Really cranks up the sharpness and is not very pleasing to use.
Smart Focus: Dims out certain part of the screen to watch videos that are not in full screen mode. If it sounds banal, it is.

Flicker-free: A deal clincher for me. I had to previously take recourse to a pair of Gunnar's to be able to use the PC for an extended period of time. This monitor is really easy of the eyes as it does not use PWM to adjust the brightness.

Low Blue Light Mode: Another "healthy feature". Ruins the colour akin f.lux, but is particularly useful when reading in low light conditions. '

Apart from these, I would like to mention some of the other hardware aspects that are kind of unique to this product. 

First up, the bezels. The picture accompanying the product is certainly marketing drivel as it chooses to ignore the inner bezel. However, all things considered, the bezels are still slimmer than most monitors of this size. Also, the thin outer bezel makes this thing a piece of art when switched off, a perfect aesthetic complement to the living room.

Next up, the touch controls. It is frankly undetectable in all but flood-lit conditions. The
"Low Blue Light" sticker aids in finding its location but you have to take random vertical swipes hoping to hit one of the controls. Thereafter, on-screen prompts aid in completion of the task and in that way it is better than having physical buttons that wear off quickly or act wonky over time. Regular usage in my case is limited to switching between picture modes and hence there isn't much to complain about. However, something as simple as luminescent markings would have helped immensely.'

The other aspect is the ports provisioning which is conspicuous by the absence of DVI. It immediately renders my GPU's dual DVI ports useless along with the cables. I did have an HDMI cable on hand (not supplied by Benq) to connect my monitor, but that meant I had to disconnect my TV as my GPU has only one HDMI port. This is nothing an adapter won't solve but just brings in to picture (pun intended) an extra hassle that can be done without. 

Coming to the display attributes, the settings allow enough freedom to come up with a satisfying picture quality. The true 8-bit panel without dithering enables to easily come up with an eye-pleasing setting which is more than enough in the absence of any calibration equipment. Among the cons, there is the "MVA glow" which I honestly find to less irksome than IPS glow or general backlight bleeding. Also, while screen legibility is not impacted when viewing at extreme angles, there is certainly a perceptible off-centre colour shift which might be an issue if you are not viewing the monitor straight up. The speakers are best forgotten. 

I would like to put in a special mention for the contrast of this monitor which is frankly breath-taking and cannot be matched by any TN/IPS panel. I had engaged in back-to-back sessions of the original Bioshock on my old monitor and this one, and was frankly astounded at the details I could make out in the dimly lit regions. The contrast remains intact even with low brightness settings which is also useful for reading and surfing in a dark environment.

To sum it up, unless you are a professional gamer or artist/photographer, this is the best everyday 24" inch monitor you are going to get at this point of time. Bang for the buck at Flipkart's price of 12420.
Originally published on Flipkart on 6th September 2014.