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Articles: When Too Much Technology Might Be A Bad Thing

These are exciting times. It’s a time of dramatic changes: in the way we receive information (and how much we can access), the way we communicate, the way we purchase products, even the way we run our businesses.

However, none of us really understands all the long-term repercussions of the internet and related technologies, because it’s all so new. We’re actually in the middle of a great technological revolution. As most of us know, you can’t understand all the repercussions of a revolution until it’s over.

This lack of knowledge is complicated by the fact that it might appear on the surface that the “Internet Boom” has blown over: the winners were left standing, and we have our PC’s interfacing with the internet pretty much the same way they were while the internet was exploding. But while PC’s haven’t changed all that much, the background services that support websites are just plain running wild.

Specifically, websites designed to conduct commerce are in the middle of a gigantic free-for-all in how products are brought to market. The technologies that run websites are developing at incredible speeds.

It’s truly mind-boggling that this whole thing is barely a decade old. But anyone conducting business on the web in a fashion that was acceptable just a year or two ago would probably be considered woefully out of date today. Heck, it used to take a couple of years just to see if a new product was going to be successful. And it was really just a few short years ago that buying online was a bit of a novelty only for the very brave. A whole ton of people had concerns about typing in a credit card number. The way that’s evolved in such a short time is truly a staggeringly fast mindset change for an incredibly large number of people.

The result is that before a lot of companies can even catch their breath, some consumers have come to expect certain things from all commercial websites. This poses some problems that I’m not sure are considered in terms of the larger picture.

As an example, we recently had a customer post a two-star review of our site on Google with the following comment:

"Placed an order of an item, appeared to be in stock, got the confirmation email. An hour later, apologies – it’s not in stock. But it only took an hour, so you don’t get 1 star.”

From my personal point of view, if I had that interaction with us as a customer, I’d give us five stars. Because I’d appreciate the personal interaction, especially within an hour of placing the order. But it left me contemplating why someone would regard that as such a negative experience. It’s apparent that certain individuals demand that every product listed on every site be in stock and ship the same day no matter what; end of story, nothing else matters. If companies all try to accomplish this unreachable feat, there are going to have to be trade-offs. People need to think about what those trade-offs will be before their actions and comments demand that all sites do-that-or-else.

Ironically, we just received an email from a customer who encountered the exact same thing as the two-star reviewer, who said “Thank you so much for the prompt response. It is really nice to find a retailer that offers a personal touch and good customer services. (Can’t imagine receiving a personal email from Bust Buy’s sales staff.)  Anyway, as I am impressed with the sincerity of your response, I would like to go ahead and place the order and just take delivery in mid September.”

Same situation, polar opposite responses. Quite a conundrum for an online reseller!

I was also told of an individual who claimed he’d never buy another Apple product, because when he made the decision to buy an iPhone and went to an Apple Store to get one, they were out of stock. That’s it. They didn’t have what he wanted when he wanted it, so therefore the whole company was blacklisted for him.

I’m really a bit perturbed that some customer expectations have risen to such a level that complete immediacy is the minimum expectation. Technology has gotten to the point where we are exposed to the benefits of seeing news the minute it happens, to having access to almost the entire catalog of human knowledge with the click of a mouse, and the ability to buy almost anything we want from just about anywhere in the world.

But somehow certain people’s expectations have managed to exceed the ability of current technologies to provide instant gratification across the board. The amount of investment and time involved for every online company to satisfy every desire instantly is enormous, and is constantly evolving. It worries me a little that some expectations are leaping ahead of the ability of a lot of companies to keep up and stay competitive.

In the case of PowerMax, we are constantly analyzing these circumstances, with an attempt to achieve a balance between technological data and human interaction. It is our feeling that, for instance, just providing availability data on its own can never provide the complete picture. Items are in stock 98% of the time. But what’s the story on that other 2%? Is the fact that it’s not in stock mean that it’s a hot seller, or about to be discontinued? Or is it only a day away from hitting the dock? Or are there other alternatives that perhaps should be considered? Is it really the best thing for your needs? Or perhaps those last two just got snagged by someone else seconds before.

The demand for automated immediacy has a natural side effect of seeing investment weighted in that direction, and there are always trade offs. The trade off for the background processes of immediate, robot-like processing of online orders is the lack of human interaction. When it’s the right product, and it works well, and there is really no other alternatives… super. But when there’s a problem, how well do the robots respond?

We’ve positioned ourselves as a company that offers prompt shipping on tens of thousands of products, but refuse to go robotic up and down the line. We believe in personal interaction. We believe that personally responding in a short time to a request for a product is something that most people will increasingly appreciate as other companies continue to strive for increased technological efficiency at the expense of human interaction.

A great example is voice mail trees… who doesn’t hate those, and yet most companies use them because automation is cheaper and faster than human beings. But you won’t find them at PowerMax.

While the commercial internet evolves and advances at a dizzying pace in this tumultuous time of change, we understand that we won’t be all things to all people. But the more often people find themselves frustrated by robotic processes especially when things go wrong or there are problems with the product, we believe the more often they’ll appreciate the PowerMax Approach. Which may be one reason why one individual gave us two stars because the robots didn’t pick up his order and ship it the same day, but almost everyone else gave us five stars mostly because of our human interactions.

Technology is a great thing… but none of us should want technological solutions to every problem we have. Sometimes, good old-fashioned talking is the best way to accomplish things.

In the end, our goal is to be the best we can be for a reasonably-sized group of customers who really appreciate what we’re doing. We don’t need everyone in the United States to buy from us to be successful. But at the same time, we cherish your feedback. If there’s something we’re not doing you wish we did, or things you’d like to see different, just drop us a line at I guarantee you a real human being will read it.

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