First, a statement: I was one of e-commerce's early converts in Kolkata. I placed my first order on Amazon.com for a book called Digital Darwinism back in early 1999. At $14 shipping, this was meant to be an one-off, just for the experience. However, for all the excitement, the book did not arrive even after the promised three week delivery time. I obviously chose the cheapest shipping option, which meant the book had to come by India Post from Mumbai. So, I decided to give Amazon a grace of a week, knowing how our postal system works. But when it still did not arrive, I wrote to Amazon - half-hearted - saying that the books have not arrived yet, and if they could let me know when it was shipped.
In three days time, I received a replacement copy of the book, sent Fedex First Class. The original book did arrive, in a leisurely eight weeks. But by then, I have become a convert.
It isn't difficult to see why Amazon lost so much money in its first years. But then, they bought my lifelong loyalty through that extraordinary act of responsiveness. I do buy books and gadgets worth £250 every month [that's my estimate/budget, so I definitely spend more than that amount] and almost all my purchases are through Amazon UK. Who says long term thinking does not pay in business?
So, when in India, one thing I surely miss is the extraordinary online shopping experience that I get in the UK. And, believe it or not, as I try to assess how my life will be if I moved back to India, this, along with the availability and speed of Broadband, is my biggest concerns. I know India will catch up, but it has a long way to go.
As if to illustrate this point, I had this amazing experience with Indiaplaza.in recently. I used to be regular at Fabmall, the site's earlier incarnation, and even maintained a book club membership when I was in India. Since then, I used it occasionally, primarily to buy books not otherwise available in the UK, or in some cases, to avail Indian edition prices.
Compared with my Amazon experience, Indiaplaza.in offers low value. The interface is clunky, and the order process is slow and payment gateway often fails [I had to try thrice to place my last order]. But there is more than that. I am a regular book buyer, and I find it easier, cheaper and more reliable to buy books on Amazon than in a physical store. I am sure I owe an explanation, especially why I find this easier and more reliable: obviously for the user ratings and feedback. Amazon also gives out quite a bit of detail about the books, its physical dimension, number of pages, when it was published and even the editorial comments. For some books, it is even possible to look inside the book, and flip through the table of contents. Indiaplaza.in, by comparison, is pedestrian, often missing out on the book's cover photo, and dishes out only very limited detail. And, this is why, while 100% of my books and electronics purchases are online in the UK, I only occasionally buy through Indiaplaza.in, preferring Crossword instead [though the web site is roughly 20% cheaper].
The other problem with Indiaplaza is its customer service. It is terrible, in short. My latest interaction today pushed me over the edge - made me feel angry, a rare thing :) Here is what happened.
I noticed a promotion on Indiaplaza recently. They were offering a very good deal - if I pre-ordered Nandan Nilkeni's Imagining India, they were promising an author-signed copy for a limited time, a Rs. 100/- Gift Certificate and a free Book Club membership, which will entitle me enhanced discounts. I read excerpts of Mr. Nilkeni's book on newspapers, and wanted to read the book. So, I immediately clicked and placed the order.
Here is what happened next. The book arrived, unsigned. A mail notified that the book club membership and the gift certificate will be sent on a particular date. The Gift certificate arrived on mail, but not the book club membership. Surprisingly, I did not complain - I have gotten used to such sloppiness and may be the Indian indifference inside me is alive and well. But, indeed, I was not impressed.
However, I lost my cool when I tried using the Gift Certificate and was prompted that it will only work for orders over Rs. 350/-. Not a big amount [I was trying to place an order worth Rs. 300/-], but this was a bit too much. I felt obliged to write, especially because I filled in a survey recently wherein I was rather complimentary about Indiaplaza.
What happens next is instructive - things businesses should avoid. First, I get a reply, which is insensitive at best, though I shall classify this as bureaucratic and rude. I shall quote the mail here:
Dear Supriyo Chaudhuri,
I would like to inform you that that you have placed the order for Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century with out authors sign. The price of the book with authors sign is Rs 573.
The free gift certificate worth Rs 100 and the book club membership worth Rs 500 has been sent to you. The GC sent to you for the book Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century is a conditional GC and it can be redeemed only against the order value of Rs 350/-.I apologize for the inconvenience caused to you in this regard.
I am put off by the "Dear Supriyo Chaudhuri" part itself. I would have expected a "Dear Supriyo" or "Dear Mr. Chaudhuri", or at least a Hi. That format of addressing tells me that I am possibly getting a mail from a Bot. But, then, the content - they are telling me that the price with Author's signature is more [an usual thing on auction sites, but slightly out of place for a mainstream bookseller], after the promotion is done and the order is placed. My complaint was that I was not told whether the book club membership has been activated, and the flat statement clearly tells me that I am a liar. And, in context, the apologies in the end appears insincere and cosmetic.
By now, of course, my mind is made up - I am not going to touch Indiaplaza.in ever again. However, no one wants to be called a fool and a liar in consecutive sentences, so I had to write back. I wrote this:
One clarification: where do you think that option was given - to pay more for the author-signed copy?
I clicked on your promotion - and got this book. Am I right in thinking that the promotion was intentionally misleading?
I would have appreciated if I was told about the book club membership and the fact that the GC is conditional. I do think there is a serious problem with communication, as I felt rather infuriated with the tone and content of this reply. I do think that you haven't got it at all.
And, lo behold, this is the reply I get:
Dear Supriyo Chaudhuri,
I am very that the promotion displayed does not show the amount of the books. But actually the promotions shows the 2 different books available.
Also the gift certificate details regarding the condtion is mentioned in the terms and condition whereas it is not mentioned in the main page.
As the promotion is being run by our vendors we are unable to help you in this regard.
While I am used to talking to an automaton and being addressed Supriyo Chaudhuri all the time, I am stunned because (a) the mail is so carelessly written, including the missing word - was it sorry? angry? annoyed? amused? - in the first sentence; (b) The promotion does not show two books, as I could dig out the original promotion email, which clearly states the price and promises a signed copy - so the agent is lying; (c) The company is guilty of hidden catches, as they seem to be burying a very important point - that the Gift Certificate is conditional - in the 'Terms and Conditions' [which one does not read while committing the original purchase]; and (d) The company, or the agent, is naive and committed the mother sin of Internet shopping, by trying to blame 'the vendors'. I did not place my trust on the vendors, did I?
It is ironic that this experience centers around Mr. Nilkeni's book, which is an optimistic assessment of India's chances, and places its faith on Indian entrepreneurship and inventiveness. The story, without trying to find mal-intent, shows the systemic issues that Indian companies must face: a provider state mindset. In the socialist states, and in the past, the power belonged to the seller, the supplier. But that is past: Today, the consumers control the agenda. I am the consumer in this case, and can reasonably expect a bit more respect and care. I surely deserve a sincere apology, and definitely not deserve to be called a fool [because i did not notice there are two books] and a liar [because I say I did not get a notification on Book Club membership].
So, that is the most captivating incident of my Day Three in trying to figure how life in India will be. I spent yesterday in College Street, walking through the ruins of Bengali Book Trade and regretted the lack of imagination. Today, I stood face to face with the unimaginative corporate India, which can't get basic things straightened up. Indians may soon be in the moon, and create Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, but to create an Amazon.com, it is going to take a while.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
A lot of conversations about Kolkata is about its past; I want to talk about its future. Most conversations about Kolkata is about its decline - its golden moments and how times changed; I want to talk about its rise, how its best may lie ahead and how we can change the times. In place of pessimism, I seek optimism; instead of inertia, I am looking for imagination. It is not about catching up, I am arguing; it is about making a new path altogether. It had, indeed it had, a glorious past: One of the first Asian cities to reach a million population, the Capital of British India, the cradle of an Enlightened Age and a new politics of Cosmopolitanism. And, it had stumbled - losing the hinterland that supplied its Jute factories, overwhelmed by the refugees that came after the partition, devoid of its professional class who chose to emigrate - the City's commercial and professional culture evaporated in a generation, and it transformed into a corrupt and inefficien
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.