Amazon’s Data: The $12 Firelog Mistake

The other day, Amazon – that arbiter of online customer experience – made a mistake. It shipped the wrong product. Twice. And didn’t know how to fix it.

You might say it’s no big deal – and in some ways, it isn’t. But for any company that sees gold in moving more low- touch sales directly to the web, it’s an important glimpse at what could be lurking.

The story began small, with a single order of synthetic fireplace logs. The price seemed right, $12 or so for the package. But when the logs arrived, instead of the standard six in a pack, there were just two. That’s kind of pricey, even for New York, which is where this delivery played out.

The customer service person at Amazon did right. “Keep the logs,” she said. “I don’t know what happened, but we’ll send you a new order.”

Now cue the next package. There’s still just two logs. Same call, same response. Same free logs.

Sure, it’s nice to get free firewood, and the customer satisfaction team can say they resolved the issue. But, there’s a vulnerable underbelly. The real detail, and success, lies in the utterly mundane business of SKUs and clean data input. That’s what happened here, either in Amazon’s warehouse or, more likely, with the supplier.

Given Amazon’s volume, this particular product – even if the SKU goes unfixed – is immaterial.

For the customer, it’s an annoyance. But for the thousands of companies desperately trying to find new ways to reach ever larger audiences while reducing operational costs, and boosting customer satisfaction, the devil may be in the exceptionally tiny, tiny details, like SKU codes. Long live the supply chain.