When is Amazon “Corporate” and Whole Foods Not?

People that know me know that I am very particular about food, not just about restaurants (it’s service quality that matters more to me in a restaurant, assuming the food quality is on par for the price) but also food ingredients. I will go to considerable lengths to get the best meats, produce, cheeses, breads… and honey.

I am highlighting honey because I had an interesting customer service experience yesterday that has stuck with me. Not all honey is created equal, the type of flower that the honey bees feed on produces uniquely flavored honey. I happen to prefer honey made from wild blackberry blossoms… can’t explain it beyond saying this is the flavor that is most appealing to me. I found a great supplier that is semi-local, Katz & Co., and when I ran out I went online to purchase some more.

Like many small businesses Katz & Co. does not have enough volume to command low shipping rates for online purchases but I was really surprised to see that one jar of $11 honey was going to cost me $8.90 to ship. Surprised because a jar of honey is physically small and weighs less than about one pound, so the curious cat inside me came out and went to fedex.com to see how much it would cost for me to ship a package of that approximate size from their zipcode to mine… and it was $6.85, so throw in a box and supplies along with a handling charge and you are at $9, but keep in mind that is retail shipping cost, like you or me going to the fedex office, and not what a business should rely on for shipping online orders.

I ordered 2 jars of honey because the shipping jumped up to $11 so my cost per jar was less… but crikey 2 jar of honey is going to last me over a year because even though I like honey I don’t have it everyday. In the comment box on the order I wrote that I thought the shipping charges were pretty outrageous and maybe they should look at Amazon for doing their fulfillment. I clicked “confirm order” and forgot all about it. Please don’t comment that “well he got you to double your order” because 1) that’s pretty lame, and 2) he didn’t increase my consumption, ordering 2 jars just pulled forward future demand… he really didn’t sell more honey.

Later that day I get a call from a 707 area code number I don’t recognize, it was Mr. Katz. He was concerned about my comment and said two interesting things right out of the gate, first that they would never go with Amazon because they were “corporate” and that’s not what their customers expect, and that if I wanted to avoid the shipping charge I could go to Whole Foods… seriously, how the heck is Whole Foods not “corporate”? If anything Whole Foods is the bad corporate citizen because they don’t make any effort to bring consumers the lowest possible prices and best quality service. Mr. Katz also mentioned I could also get his products at Draeger’s for reasonable prices but I have never heard “Draeger’s” and “reasonable prices” used in the same sentence before so I doubt that solves my/their problem.

My conversation with Mr. Katz was frustrating because I kept telling him that I loved his products but he should be not be lining the pockets of Fedex with my money in the process. He couldn’t hear me because he was talking through me, saying that he didn’t see the problem because every year he sells out of the honey… good for him but he should not confuse that with customer satisfaction because csat in the merchant-customer relationship goes far beyond product utility.

Mr. Katz also kept hitting on the nature of the product, being somewhat boutique, and high prices are what I should expect. Really? It seems to me that I’m not really paying a high price for the product, I’m paying a high price to SHIP the product. In this case he would be better to raise the price of the product from $11 to $16 and reduce the shipping charge to $4, in which case he comes out neutral and I don’t feel like I’m paying through the nose for something that isn’t at all related to the product itself, shipping. Heck, I’d probably enjoy the honey even more knowing that it was $16 a jar!

The reason the conversation stuck with me is that I still don’t understand how Mr. Katz could not understand that I love his products (despite my saying that 3x) and my point that serving your customers goes beyond providing a great product still stands. The irony is that while I appreciated him calling me I actually thought less of his business after the fact because he demonstrated a lack of concern for how much of my money was going to Fedex because he couldn’t be bothered to tap into a less costly logistics solution. Every interaction with a company adds to or detracts from your brand value… I keep saying…

I still love his product and will probably continue to buy from him but I won’t be a brand enthusiast or loyalist at this point.