Regional Online Shopping

With most shopping having been restricted to online offerings during March and April we tried to buy as much as possible from regional online shops. For the sake of this article “regional” means companies with physical points of sale in our region or that produce either in Austria or the surrounding countries. Sadly, not all that many of them made it attractive to skip Amazon.

Over the course of these two months we made orders at the following large retailers (not including Amazon):

  • A: Large Swedish furniture company (their local store is only 5min away by bike)
  • B: Large German DIY store (next to A)
  • C: Large Austrian furniture company
  • D: Large Austrian furniture company
  • E: Danish retailer for mattresses et al

None of the orders made at these companies worked as expected. Our order at A for a couple of drawers got postponed (after about a month had already passed) without any specific target date just to arrive another week later, the one at B was cancelled shortly prior to the expected delivery and multiple weeks after the original order was placed. We have absolutely no idea what’s up with C since they don’t respond to calls. If they weren’t a known company, we’d consider the whole thing a scam and file a legal complaint. It is one thing when a delivery takes multiple times the estimated time, but it’s another level of damage to a company’s reputation when the customer service doesn’t even pick up anymore. The order with D also took far longer than expected and estimated. E was split into multiple deliveries due to the warehouses being understaffed with one coming about a week before the other.

To summarise: 3 out of 5 orders were actually fulfilled by the time I’m writing this. 1 was cancelled due to a mess-up in their stock management and 1 is … still in limbo.

The blame-game

After talking with a customer service representative of company D we learnt that their warehouses were full with deliveries ready to be shipped but the postal service was simply not picking them up. Honestly? Amazon is using the Austrian postal service, too (among others like DHL and DPD), and I assume also out of their distribution center in Austria! If packages aren’t leaving a warehouse one of the reasons for that might also be that the warehouse doesn’t make it easy for the delivery service to pick them up in bulk!

K&Ö and other large local stores

Right when the whole mess started and all stores that weren’t selling food and medicine had to close down their points of sale, one large local store (Kastner & Öhler) was complaining that they were losing 5M EUR per week (!), that they weren’t selling anything while having to pay wages for around 1,900 employees, and that people should start ordering from local companies instead of going with Amazon.

Their main store brands, Kastner & Öhler and giga sport, have online shops, so they should have warehouses. We didn’t make any orders there but heard through the rumor mill that their customers also had to fight with some delivery delays after the company basically had to go online-first all of a sudden. I know that everyone is employed with a specific role description but why didn’t they ask their employees from the stores to help out at the warehouses or do at least the local deliveries from the stores themselves without allowing customers to enter them? This is not meant to criticise the management there but I’m just curious if this was even considered and if and why it was rejected.

One local mall a couple of kilometres south of our apartment did something quite innovative in this regard: While they were closed, you could still order from most of their stores and the security company would handle the delivery as they themselves had not all that much to do compared safe-keeping every single shop. I really don’t understand why they seem to have been the only once with this idea…

Marketplace and small stores?

The orders I described above where not the only ones we placed during the lock-down but they were the ones at large retailers. What actually worked was ordering from small independent shops or directly from producers. These are also the ones that I want to list by name here:

For even smaller companies there are still various market places out there where they can sell their goods without having to invest too much into the online-shop itself. Etsy et al. exist for a reason, people just have to use them 🙂 Seller should just make sure that the selected platform is not only convenient to them but also to their potential customers. It doesn’t help if the fees are low but the site takes half a minute to render the actual product listings 🤪

There are also various initiatives for aggregating regional shops that offer vouchers for the time after like Zusammen Leiwand but even offering vouchers seems to be a problem for some shops and restaurants. For instance, we wanted to buy a voucher for one of our favourite restaurants and all we got was a link to a PDF that didn’t exist. Luckily, this was quickly resolved with a call since their contact form didn’t work, either.

Ideas

I want to close with a couple of things I’d like regional online shops to implement. On this I’m mostly someone who really likes purchasing things regionally but also online and who has some experience implementing online shops.

  • A simple site that is fast is always better than one with all the bells and whistles that takes forever to load. Originally, I also wanted to order at another site but gave up after waiting half a minute for the product listing to appear…
  • Know your stock levels. Very few things are as frustrating as when you place an order and hours or days later your order is cancelled because the product is no longer available.
  • Delivery estimates should always be realistic. Also, if anything changes about the shipment, proactively let your customer know!
  • If possible, use your own store infrastructure to also handle local deliveries. I’m pretty sure that quite a few customers would appreciate getting their orders (if they are small) on the same day and eco-friendly and would be willing to spend a bit on getting that!
  • Offer as many payment options as possible. Services like ApplePay help streamlining the shopping experience even more and make impulse shopping even on shops where you don’t have an account already possible. Use them!
  • If products are out of stock offer a notification feature so that potential customer don’t have to check your site all the time to see if what they want is available again.

Please! I really would like to order less from Amazon but if they are far more reliable than the alternatives it’s really hard to!

Updates

  • 2020-05-27 13:23 +02:00: Minor updates regarding the K&Ö part of the article

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