Last week I ordered a used, out-of-print book from an Amazon vendor. For some reason, Amazon sent the vendor the wrong shipping address, which I caught immediately on the order confirmation. I contacted the vendor with the correct address, but it was too late. The amazingly efficient vendor had already shipped the book.
As it happens, the address to which the book has been shipped is my old office, which no longer exists. I notified the vendor that the book would be returned, and that they should re-ship it to the correct address. I made it clear that I would pay whatever extra shipping and handling charges the mix-up incurred. Problem solved, except: they don't reship returned orders. That's their policy. They bill you for shipping and a 15% restock charge and that's that. Even if I agree to pay the additional charges, they won't re-ship.
I'm sure there's a reason for that. I'm sure they got screwed in the past by people who make mistakes and, smugly believing that as customers they're always right, demand free shipping and all kinds of other things that make serving them unprofitable. But this isn't one of those cases. I seriously don't think I made a mistake in the order; I deleted the old address a couple of months ago. But even if you assume the mistake was mine, I offered to pay the extra shipping and handling. I just want the book.
I order about 30 books a year through Amazon, most of which are used, out-of-print titles from associated vendors. (If you haven't used Amazon to buy used and rare books, you're missing one of the best things about the web.) The books vary in condition and cost, and because of that I prefer to buy from vendors I've done business with before. I generally buy the books for research; this particular book, for example, has an account of the life of the Marques de Riscal that I need for my book proposal. My credit cards work fine, I don't make a fuss and I'm not real price sensitive. I am, I think, a good customer to have.
In this case, I'd used the Amazon vendor about a month ago, buying a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Silverado Squatters -- research for the book proposal, again. The transaction went just fine. But this time, something got screwed up. The vendor was nice and everything, but didn't care even a little about helping me solve the problem. They cared about enforcing their policy.
Well, I have a policy, too. My policy is that vendors in commodity businesses who are more interested in their policies than solving my problems don't get my business again. For the record, when they emailed saying, once and for all, they weren't re-shipping the book, it took me exactly 45 seconds to go to Amazon, find another vendor, and place my order. In less than a minute I'm back on track and they no longer exist for me.
No hard feelings; I wish them well. But the web commoditizes almost everything and in that environment, you'd better not piss a lot of people off. If you do, it's not like they have to drive across town to find someone else selling the same thing. All it takes is 45 seconds and you're out of business.