Amazon Alexa showcases tomorrow’s world but with today’s problems

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David Brackin is the managing director of Stuff U Sell, the leading eBay trading assistant in the UK and a regular Tamebay contributor. Here he considers a recent experience buying an Echo device with the intention of further using Amazon Alexa.

One of the recurrent themes of late is about how digital assistants, such as Amazon Alexa, would be inserting themselves into the commerce flows. And while it is early days for the technology, the number of devices sold and in use in the UK means that this needs to be taken seriously. I myself bought a number of Echo Dots and love them. And recently I saw Dot’s bigger brother, the Echo, was on special offer so I snapped one up to join my AI menagerie at home.

Ask any Prime customer what they believe about Amazon and they will tell you that it’s about next day delivery and great customer service when it comes to returns. I was about to find out that this belief is now outdated. Amazon itself, selling the Amazon Alexa Echo unit, with a Prime service – what would you think the expected delivery date would be for a purchase on Sunday morning? I was surprised to see it was the following Friday – perhaps they are having some supply issues in the background – something that doesn’t bode well this far in advance of peak period. However, my weeks are busy so I probably wouldn’t set it up until the weekend so I went for it.

When it did arrive, the problems started. It wouldn’t connect as easily as my Dots had done. Fortunately there’s a handy app which allows you to call for customer service. After the best part of an hour trying to understand a heavily accented tech support provider we finally got it to connect. So, when it started playing up and disconnecting over this weekend (change volume and it disconnected from the internet), enough was enough. It was time to return the device as it was clearly faulty. Perhaps the supply backlog meant that corners were cut and quality slipped, or perhaps I was just unlucky, but I knew that Amazon would make it quick and easy to process a replacement.

That was my second mistake. I explained to the Eastern European lady that I’d already burnt a precious hour with my family trying to get it set-up so could we just process the replacement? Well, no: she had to go through a whole troubleshooting process before I could even talk to tech support who could process the replacement. The call lasted 45 minutes until the Tech Support in Asia could process the replacement. And would I mind providing my credit card details? I guess we’ve all grown a bit wary of that question. It turns out it was so they could charge me for my return if I didn’t return the faulty unit in 30 days.

Fair enough – they deserve their unit back. What’s the address for me to send it to? Oh. I have to go to a “local” parcel shop to drop it back but it turns out the nearest one is nearly 3 miles from here. After some haggling, we finally agree he’d give me the address of their returns centre to post it back. Did I need to include any identifying information with it? No – just pop it in a box and post it back. I think I’m going to ignore that advice and put a copy of my original order in with it. I’m sure they are good in Dunfermline, but probably not that good.

The order for a replacement device has come through and it will be delivered tomorrow, despite the product page on Amazon teasing me with delivery this afternoon if I buy it again. But it’s to be provided without a power adaptor. Does this mean it’s a refurbished device? They are entitled in law to send that as a replacement for a faulty device but I could have bought one of those for considerably less than I paid to have the security of owning a brand new device. I’m left with a bad taste.

I feel that Amazon have really let themselves down here with their showcase product. The economics of the Echo must be close to justifying giving one away to everyone on the planet just to convince them to use Amazon more, so to provide slow and frustrating customer support around it, simply erodes Amazon’s hard-won brand value of excellent customer service that dates back to their launch.

Have they simply grown too big to remain excellent? Nearly two hours of home time with my family used up for a simple fault. That’s starting to look like poor judgment on my part for a time-saving device. It’s just as well my son likes talking to Amazon Alexa just as much as he likes talking with me: I’ve been mostly on the phone to Amazon this week.

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