Are we being served by online retailing?

We are regular users of online retail services, and generally speaking we are fans of the sector and find it convenient. It has a great product choice and generally offers good value. Over recent years we have also been impressed with the online approach to customer service and communications.

In particular we found it impressive that suppliers would contact and recommend product based on customer history. Good sales and after service, we thought. Also impressive was the regular request for feedback that we took as a genuine example of customer care and research. We have even considered that some digital retailers offer better customer care than the live human experience.

Recent events, however, have led us to think some practices are a bit thin and to question how effective and genuine these techniques are. Perhaps more relevant for the supplier, how sustainable are they?

For example, it is noticeable that the recommendations are driven by pure technology. You often have already purchased the product offered, and there would be no valid reason why you would need two. One of the real frustrations is that the language used is very personalized as if the recommendation has really been thought about. It is this contradiction that we find in customer service terms. Perhaps the language should change or the technology will be developed to disguise the issue. We suspect the latter, and then we will be no more the wiser.

Regarding feedback that we have recently engaged in, it was interesting to have it published only to be told later in one case that it had been removed due to the reason that it did not conform to the supplier’s feedback policy. Our feedback was factual, and why ask for it and then object to it because it did not fit your needs? In a second case we were offered a refund to remove the feedback, which being sincere we declined. In the latter case there was a human effort to at least retain the customer.

What are your experiences and views? Do you think the digital process needs to be humanized more, or is it not relevant? Does price, value, speed and convenience make real service and after care a secondary issue, or is there an opportunity for online competitor advantage and consumer strategies?