Customer Service: A Tale of Two Companies

by, A Winner. Target Stores, A Loser.

This is a story about customer service and how the same problem was handled by two different retailers, one a leading bricks and mortar operation and the other, an on-line business.

I’m talking about, Inc., the on-line business headquartered in Seattle,  and Target Corporation, based in Minneapolis.

Here’s my tale of how the two major retailers, using totally different business models, provided service to a customer, me, when I had a problem with a defective product. Amazon, the on-line retailer, did it correctly, beyond my greatest expectations, and will continue to receive lots of my business. Target, the hugely successful bricks and mortar retailer and one of my favorite local places to shop, completely dropped the ball, to the point of rudeness and stupidity, and has lost a big chunk of my business forever.

On June 24, 2010, I purchased a Kindle digital reader from my local Target store in West St. Paul, Minnesota.  I paid $189 and change for it and was happy to get it. I added a nifty leather carrying case to protect it and was off and running. The service I received from Target electronics people was helpful, and everything was good. I spent money with my local retailer, and I got the product I wanted at the price I wanted, all without the problems sometimes encountered with on-line purchases of sophisticated electronic products. Life was good.

And it stayed that way for several months as I downloaded book after book to my Kindle quickly, easily and at prices I liked. I read three novels during my week’s vacation at the lake without a problem. I read in bright sunlight with no difficulty, and I added a neat little night light that I purchased from Target for less than seven bucks so I could read at night in the cabin while everyone else was sleeping.

But then, on Sept. 14, my Kindle developed screen problems: ghost images, lack of contrast, and blacked out areas. I tried everything recommended in the Kindle manual, but nothing helped.

Well, good thing, I thought, that I bought the Kindle locally at my friendly Target store; the company’s well known for its customer friendly attitude, and willingness to accept returns. I’ve had nothing but great experiences with Target customer service people in the past. But not this time.

I started out by visiting the Electronics Department and talking with a knowledgeable sales person, who told he couldn’t help me directly, that I would have to go through Customer Service. He did say, in passing that, they would probably just give me a new one since there had been some problems with screen failure.

Next stop, Customer Service.

Even though I didn’t have my receipt, I did show the nice lady there a copy of my credit card statement containing the June 24 purchase at Target. That’s fine, she said, get one from Electronics and we’ll make the exchange.

Back to Electronics. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any Kindles of my model.

Return to Customer Service. Could I just get a credit, I asked? NO, interrupted another, very unpleasant, woman behind the counter. You don’t have a receipt and it’s longer than 90 days, anyway.

Not exactly, I pointed out. My purchase was June 24, and this is only Sept. 15. Well, do you have the original box, she hissed, moving quickly beyond the 90-day point. We can’t take it back without the original box and materials. Wow, I thought, that’s crazy.

I don’t think I have the box, I said, but I’ll check. I don’t normally save boxes for three months. Who does? I would need an extra garage if I saved every box for three months. Do you save all of your packing materials, I asked her? Would you like to speak with a supervisor, she demanded, obviously tiring of dealing with me.

No, I said. Let me check on the missing box, and if I don’t have one, I’ll be back. What a horrible person.

Several hours later, about 10 pm Minnesota time, I was slouched over my computer still thinking about my really nasty experience. You don’t suppose, I thought, that maybe, just maybe, Amazon could help me, do you think? Really, not very likely. It’s 8 pm in Seattle, and if their retailer is so unhelpful, what are they going to be like? Gads, I can’t face it.

But then, I thought, what the hell? I’ll go to the Amazon. com site and see what I can find out. Quickly, I moved to a section that asked if I would like Amazon to call me, and if so, when would I like a call? This is too good to be true, I thought. I punched the NOW button, wondering how long I should wait. Moments later the phone rang.

I won’t go through the entire conversation, but here’s the bottom line result: If you have a problem with your Kindle, said Amazon, we’ll fix it. I provided my serial number, and the rep said they would ship me a new Kindle. Just, please, return my defective Kindle within 30 days. I would receive an email containing a mailing label and shipping instructions. And thanks for your business.

This is unbelievable. The problem is totally solved in minutes by an on-line retailer after I was stonewalled by folks at my friendly Target store. Now I just have to wait for my Kindle to arrive; being the cynic that I am, I figured it would arrive, maybe this month some time.

The next morning I received an email from Amazon. It contained a UPS shipping label and complete instructions on how to return my defective Kindle. And, oh yes, we’ve shipped your new Kindle overnight so you can get it as soon as possible. It should arrive on Sept. 17.

It’s now Friday afternoon, and I’m holding my brand-new Kindle, just as Amazon promised. What more can I say? Amazon, 10 points; Target, zip, nada, nothing.   JD

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5 Responses to “Customer Service: A Tale of Two Companies”

  1. michael Says:

    thats because Amazon sells all the books period so why not give you a free thats where it came from anyway, as an online merchant amazon has slowly put people like me out of business although I love amazon also they will let you sell a product on their site and when it does well they grab it and undercut you

  2. Mike Jackson Says:


    The comparison you made IS NOT between two retailers – it is between a manufacturer and a retailer.

    In your example Amazon is a Manufactuer (higher margins and responsibility for warranty).

    I agree that the CSR at Target was rude, but she was probably acting under rules put on Target by Amazon (I doubt Amazon was going to credit Target back for the broken Kindle, even if they did the exchange).

    Anyway – Amazon’s retail policy ( we sell hundreds of items on Amazon) is geared toward cusotmer service. so the Premise that Amazon does a better job at Customer Service is true. But that is because they have lower costs, and higher ROI for providing these services.

    Glad you like your kindle. Bought one myself and it was lifted off the nightstand by one of the kids, bought the iPad (not a kindle replacement by any measure) then it was lifted by one of the other kids. Now I’m waiting on one of the 7″ Android Pads – still have one more kid so once I find the one I want I’ll guess I should buy two!

    Great article Joe – keep it up.

  3. Joe Delmont Says:


    You’re correct, of course, that Amazon manufactures the Kindle, and as such it probably has financial advantages over the retailers in works with, such as Target. However, there are two points to consider in this situation:
    1. If Target entered into an agreement with Amazon that is so restrictive that it prevents Target from providing even minimum customer service, it made a serious mistake, in my opinion. I believe it will lose more than it will gain in this relationship.
    2. The fact that Amazon is a manufacturer and has control of its distribution channel is really beside the point here. At the end of the channel, when it is dealing with the consumer, it is functioning as a retailer, and it is perceived as a retailer by me, the end user. In this sense, we’re comparing apples to apples, retailer to retailer, in terms of the customer service they provide. And in this situation, Target lost badly to Amazon in the way it dealt with one customer.

    Thanks, Mike, for your thoughtful comments. I’ll keep posting, and you keep reading.


  4. Mike Jackson Says:

    LOL – you got it Joe – I’m here for you.

    BTW: I actually drove to Target this weekend to checkout the new Kindle. (reason why Target would agree to a crappy deal – to get me to ‘touch’ the kindle before buying, and buy some theater candy while I’m there)

    My wife has GEN2 and likes it but it is too big for her purse. I ordered the DX for me to read newspapers and such, but it was too big and hell I’m at a PC 20hrs/day so why do I need a device when my computer reads the paper to me (Word 2010 text to speech is pretty good – just copy/paste the whole page).

    Back to the Point:

    Customer Service = Repeat Business = Profit.


  5. Art Says:

    Hi Joe. In this issue you were the consumer. It makes perfect sense how you would compare Target and Amazon and choose Amazon to be the better company to deal with. The Target employees certainly dropped the ball.
    I guess I still am reading this coming from Dealernews as insite into ‘net vs brick companies. What’s your take on it from that point of view?
    A few questions come up for me:
    1. Does Amazon’s online model create better customer service or was it a case of a poor employee destroying your faith in Target? I think there is alot of truth to simply say Yes….yes to both that is.
    2. As an insider, do you see a case of increased failure likelihood on Targets end as they try to compete with the manufacturer who is also a retailer? Do you agree with my own rule of not competing on retail with my distributors? I think it’s a rule that should apply regarless if the products are sold online or not.
    In the end I’m thinking it’s important to know that there are issues here in competing with online companies as well as new standards of customer service that require a clearer message about it’s importance being directed to our employees. After all, online companies really have set the bar in many cases. Requiring the box and all materials when you return something used to be a requirement but the world has changed.
    Thanks for bringing this subject up. I think it’s so huge that we can’t delve into it completely but just knowing that there are many NEW considerations for customer service and knowing your (online) competiion is a requirement for all of us.

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