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Your competition isn’t who you think it is

17/01/2013

An interesting chat yesterday with a big online retailer who is interested in having a white label site to sell magazine subscriptions. It would open up significant new markets for publishers and the retailer is very keen to add subs to their offering.

But there was one thing that they just couldn’t get their heads round:

“You mean it can take eight weeks for the customer to receive their first magazine?”

- Generally six to eight weeks from ordering, a couple of publishers are pushing ten weeks at the moment because of Christmas.

“Do the publishers keep the customers informed? Do they send out letters to say how long the order will take to be fulfilled.”

- Some do, some don’t. Some say they do, and don’t. Some think they do, but their bureau doesn’t bother.

“Do you tell customers what the order status is?”

- We tell them that a sub can take eight weeks to set up. We’d like to tell them exactly which issue their sub will start with and when they can expect to get the first issue, but we can’t, because we don’t get that information from the publisher.

“Why not?”

- I don’t know.

I’ve banged on about this before and I’ll continue to do so, but the way we as an industry treat new customers is lamentable and anachronistic. To survive as an online retailer means delivering beyond the customer’s expectations, not making them fit your outdated pattern of service.

Here you have someone who is so keen on your product that they buy it, and their first experience is a six week wait for the first issue to arrive. Remember: your customers don’t give a stuff about the problems you have with your systems, nor do they care that “this is the way it’s always been”.

The competition you face isn’t (just) from other magazines or other publishers, it’s from iPlayer, YouTube and Angry Birds; it’s competition for a finite amount of customers’ time and a decreasing amount of their disposable income. And you’re losing.

And the levels of service your customers expect aren’t being set by Hearst or Conde Nast, but by Amazon, John Lewis and Next, where you can order today and have it in your hands tomorrow.

The online retailer is going to consult with her bosses and get back to me, but if they go ahead they will want the delivery and communication SLAs that they have with their other suppliers. At present there are no publishers and no bureaus that could come close to meeting those.

That is a terrible indictment of our industry and the levels of service that we think are acceptable. If you want me to solve it for you, give me a call.

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