Both eBay and Amazon have been major players in the online retail market for many years but How are they to use for business? We've been using eBay for business over the last decade, mostly to obtain hard to find replacement parts for laptops, desktops and servers that we still have on maintenance long after support has been withdrawn by the manufacturer, but Amazon is a new voyage of discovery. Amazon offers a service known as Prime, which for a fixed monthly charge (currently £7.99) gives FREE next day delivery on a large range of products, which in itself can be an attractive proposition for businesses who spend a fair amount on carriage annually. In fact, our carriage bill for the last 30 days is £134.98, so if we could source everything from Amazon we would save £126.99 over the month. We cannot of course purchase everything from Amazon, but we're looking to see if the Prime deal is workable and viable.
In order to offer a fair comparison we will select a few business consumables and then order them from Amazon, eBay and an online store and review the whole journey.
|Item Description||Amazon Prime||Ebay||Online|
|Duracell CR2032 Lithium Battery 2 pack||£4.99 (2 days later)||£1.69 (next day)||£2.89 Curries (next day)|
|EPSON WF-3620 EXTRA LARGE BLACK CARTRIDGE||£33.32 (next day)||£30.00 (2 days)||£37.59 Cartridge Discount (3 days)|
|HP 24f Display||£99.00 (two days)||£109.00 (5 days)||£99.00 AO (next day)|
|HP PREMIUM PHOTO PAPER A4 x20||£13.98 (next day)||£13.96 (2 days)||£19.76 Photopaperdirect (2 days)|
|hulker 3 way power strip||£15.99 (next day)||£23.00 (3 days)||£18.99 BlockCube (7+ days)|
Amazon Search me not
The first thing you notice about Amazon search is that EVEN IF YOU SELECT PRIME ONLY, and EVEN IF you select order by LOWEST PRICE FIRST ( both of which you have to do EVERY TIME YOU SEARCH because they reset to Non-Prime and "Featured" ) you are presented with a bunch of items that are not prime and are not what you searched for. In our first search for the Duracell CR2032, with PRIME and SORT PRICE LOWEST FIRST set, we first get double A cells, chargers, and a "Homidy Digital Hygrometer Indoor Thermometer, Xiaomi Mijia Rare 360°HD E-ink Display Room Humidity Monitor Swiss Sensirion Industrial Grade High Accuracy Temperature Humidity Meter" which is so far out of scope it makes no sense at all. HP Premium Photo Paper A4 again Primed and Sorted Lowest price gives you HP Office A4 80gsm, Kodak Premium Glossy Paper, Hp Everyday Glossy Paper - see the issue here, NOT WHAT WE SEARCHED FOR!. This makes purchasing from Amazon awkward and time intensive. Notwithstanding their unreliable search functionality, Amazon used to be country specific, that is, amazon.co.uk was for UK buyers and sold UK goods, but those days seem to have passed and now many of the items you see in search results are from overseas and its made impossible to know which because the fact is nowhere to be seen, and there is no way to filter 'uk only'. Buying from overseas unintentionally is almost impossible to avoid with Amazon and I guarantee you will also be waiting 4 weeks for something you expected next day only to find it arrives with a customs charge attached.
Unlike Amazon, eBay's search results are actually of the items you searched for, but since its inception you MUST select UK ONLY, and Order Lowest First for nearly every search or you will unwittingly end up buying something from China. That notwithstanding, eBay is fully loaded with fraudulent items, both electrically unsafe, non-compliant right through to outright illegal knockoff copies that underperform, all seemingly in the UK but when your item arrives its from overseas. I don't believe eBay has any intention to deal with this since its been happening for at least a decade and they've done nothing about it so far. Users can 'report' listing for being in appropriate, fraudulent or otherwise but this doesn't seem to have any effect since the seller will just re-list without penalty.
Amazon may be a more sanitised marketplace but ONLY if you select PRIME and even then be aware that not all PRIME items are actually delivered by Amazon and guaranteed next day and even the next day guaranteed rarely arrive next day in our experience. eBay is the wild west of Internet shopping, but as long as you select and reselect UK only, check the sellers feedback then its functional search greatly speeds up the experience. With both Amazon and eBay, and other online stores you need to be sharp because anyone can now throw up a believable storefront, list believable items when in fact the seller is in the far east and the items are counterfeit or dangerous. You may think that Trading Standards are hot on the heels of these fraudsters, but no, they actually no interest or activity in this area instead focusing their time on bootleg dvd's at car boot sales and other dangerous goods that threaten our way of life.
Paying, eBay accept most payment methods but clearly prefer PayPal, Amazon ONLY accept credit/debit cards and no Paypal. This isn't a huge problem for most, and I can understand Amazon's approach given the volume of issues that comes with PayPal, but if you're a PayPal Business user and use this to control and manage your spending then you'll need to think again.
Price & Performance
As you can see the price performance on these few items swung marginally in favour of Amazon Prime. Don't forget we've paid a monthly fee for the one day free delivery and that one day usually means two or more, but its still less than eBay and Online overall. There are however other issues to consider when using Amazon & eBay as opposed to online stores and retailers. With both Amazon and eBay you are isolated from the seller, more so with Amazon but anyone who's used eBay for a while soon learns that the phone numbers provided in the listings are rarely real numbers. Both eBay and Amazon do provide a method to communicate with the sellers via messages, and eBay has their "Resolution Centre" which is actually quite useable as long as you're prepared to wait 40 days for your refund, but Amazon will only get involved in PRIME items otherwise you're on your own.
Help me Amazon
Today I'm going to focus on Amazon, simply because this was a new journey into procurement, there was a promise of free next day, and because their communication was certainly lacking.
Taking our first Item, the Duracell CR2032, these were required for part of a presentation system that was being shipped the next day. I ordered them on a sunday for delivery Monday (as is the promise with Prime) but by late afternoon they were still a no-show. I sent someone down to our local supplier to get them for our shipment, but I then thought I'd contact Amazon and enquire as to where they are? Your first greeted with the Orders page, you find the item and hit Track and you'll see something like the screen to the left. Pretty uninformative but gives some hope that its going to arrive today, even if it is long after the office has closed.
Then you go on a veritable treasure hunt to find the missing contact us page hidden within the depths of the amazon.co.uk website. Even for this article I've spent another 10 minutes trying to find it again. For anyone else being sent around endless help pages looking for it, its at https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/help/customer/contact-us
Now you've got here, and ignoring Track Package because you've already done that, select "Where's my stuff" then "check status of my order" and moments later you're given the options of e-mail, phone or chat which is recommended. So I enthusiastically clicked Chat and was presented with the screen to the right. Great news, I'm blocked for some reason, and this is the first time I've tried to contact amazon for anything. Never mind I'll use the Phone option, it's probably just as quick.
Amazon offer a callback service, which makes total sense and saves you from an endless queue of poor quality music. I entered my desk phone number and clicked "Call Me Now". I was excited to receive the message immediately to the right. I have no idea why my number would be blocked, I've never contacted them before but there is a pattern forming here.
Given that attempt 1 and 2 have failed let's see if e-mail is any better. Following the e-mail option you are quickly reminded that email's take 12 hours (normally) to respond, which is of no use today then. I did call the 0800 number and after some time got through to a very nice person who told me simply that it wasn't going to be today and *should* be tomorrow, a fact which I was already aware of since it was long after 17:30 and I was the last chicken in the henhouse. Is this journey indicative of Amazon or did I just pick a bad day? I don't know, all I can show is this day.
What can we take away from this article?
Amazon is certainly an option worth considering and overall may save some money at least in the shipping department, but the awkward search and lack of any assistance is a significant downside for business supplies. eBay is great providing you're not in a rush for anything and are happy to live with ordering a proportion of orders from China simply because you forgot to click "Uk Only" every time you search. Online stores I think are going to be increasingly rare in the future with Amazon and eBay taking up ever increasing search engine results with their listings (and there proxies). Ignoring the cost, independent online stores only winning features are accurate search results, contactable and not inadvertently buying junk from China, all of which I don't believe are sufficient to draw market share away from the big two. For us, we are committed to purchasing from distribution in quantity, and that won't change, but one off items such as cartridges where we would normally pay £10 in shipping could be beneficial in the long term.
As a hardware supplier, the goods we provide are quoted very competitively with margins between 2% and 3%, but we are occasionally told that "I can buy that cheaper on eBay" to which our reply is always, go ahead. This is always going to be a risk reward based decision for any business, if the customer can save £5 and get it from eBay that's great but when it breaks who you gonna call? That's right, no one.
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