I often find that business men love to talk pompous ideas and are dazzled by statistical numbers (i.e. the staggering double digit growth of China e-commerce). Sure, big ideas and numbers are important, but so what? I care about tiny things, to detect problems and values in the trivialities. Isn’t “Devil is in the details?” Therefore I wished to share my little e-commerce story here, more or less triggered by “three broken eggs”. I shall cut the story into few episodes and highlight my comments.
Okay, let me start with
Few weeks ago, when I was browsing my Sina Weibo, a tweet suddenly caught my eyes. It was from one of the e-commerce pundits in China whom I follow on Sina Weibo. He said “My buddy Mr. Yao has finally launched his online egg business, real, fresh and organic eggs straight from the farm (with photos); you can check out his C2C store on Taobao; buy two boxes get one box for free, only at RMB 120”. Looking at these photos, I saw chickens roaming in the green wildness, drinking clean water from the mountain spring…Gosh these hens definitely have a more idyllic life than I do…next thing you know I already clicked the “buying” button.
- When China’s whole food chain has been severely polluted and toxic, consumers still hope to quest for the ultimately safe and savory agricultural products at reasonable prices. I believe whoever taps into this field of business, with a bit sincere and persistent attitudes, is digging into a gold mine.
- E-commerce actually makes this dream of “from farm directly to home” never so real before, even though Mr. Yao’s farm is located in a tranquil village in Anhui province, eastern part of China across the basins of the Yangtze River. Isn’t nice to cut off all the middle man? Though there are already plenty of big B2C platforms selling organic & farm eggs, most of the time I feel they taste noting like that and often question the sources of those eggs.
- Taobao’s C2C is still a viable solution for humble e-commerce startups like Mr. Yao, because Taobao B2C’s setup fees are often costly. I was told Mr. Yao already set up a company for his organic farm products, with registered capital RMB 1 million. See C2C is an ideal incubator of growing your e-business and developing unknown brand.
- Now everyone knows the importance of weibo social marketing, but one important trick is you need a powerful social influencer to give you exposure. In this story here, my adored e-commerce pundit is a trust worthy recommender of Mr.Yao’s eggs.
Yao’s eggs had arrived and tasted delicious. As a satisfied customer, I became a repeated buyer. So came Yao’s eggs second time, however unlike the very first time that every egg had been intact, this time I found 3 broken eggs out of total 60 eggs, which means 5% breakage rate. No big deal, but again I received 3 broken eggs!
Anyhow I honestly wrote down this incident in the product review of Taobao system, and gave Yao’s eggs an “average” score this time. Several days later, my mobile phone suddenly received a SMS from Mr. Yao, a genuine apology basically, while requested me to modify my rating for his eggs from “average” to “good”.
Every product review on Taobao is a lifeline to determine e-store’s ranking, and a helpful reference for new customers. My “average” review must step on Yao’s toes. This also partly explains certain notorious scandals on Taobao: i.e few merchants sometimes hire paid posters/fake buyers to inflate up their rating or simply bribe Taobao’s internal employees.
I replied to Yao’s message: “I was just telling the truth and perhaps a little strict”
Yao: “Yes, I know, but we just started our business, and every customer rating is crucial. How about I send you another pack of eggs as my compensation?”
Me: “No, I do not want another pack of eggs.”
Yao: “Then what do you want then? Please have a bit mercy on us!”
Me: “Can you promise zero breakage for every customer in future?”
A bit silence followed, then
Yao wrote “I already carefully packed all the eggs…fragile products cannot avoid such accidents!”
Me: “I know you wrapped your eggs like Egyptian mummies, and you even mark the warning message “please be gentle, eggs inside” outside every box; but don’t see it is the problem of delivery? Who is your service provider?
Yao: “Um…QuanFeng Express; I know its boss very well”
Me: “You chose it because of your connection or its cheapness? Why not select more famous delivery companies, i.e Sf-Express or YTO-Express?”
Yao: “Trust me, they offer no better delivery service, I tried actually…and charge much more expensive than QuanFeng…Oh, by the way, QuanFeng is not that cheap, I swore ”
Me: “You should talk to your delivery company again…”
I am uncertian how much I should trust Yao’s feedbacks. But admittedly, logistic is the Achilles’ heel of China e-commerce. Most of the local delivery companies still have weak business structure and are often lack of well trained staff. Though foreign delivery companies, i.e UPS, DHL might offer more upgraded services, their higher pricing would definitely push SMEs away, like Yao’s tiny online eggs business…what an impasse!
Every man deserves a second chance; hence eventually I changed my score from “average” to “good” for him, asked nothing in return, and even added my praise of his after-sale service. He seemed to be greatly touched and wished to connect with me on Sina Weibo. I agreed. My farewell message to him is “Keep up your performance, love your customers, zero breakage, please. Put your heart into the business, and hope you will succeed in the end”
Maybe I am this mean woman, paranoid of three broken eggs, or simply an idealist, but shouldn’t every e-commerce merchant hold a perfectionist attitude? Zero breakage, is it that hard for small online business to achieve in China?
Suddenly I felt I am writing a very boring e-commerce story here, a story which every online shopper in China might encounter before. However compared with those big ideas and numbers, it is more real to me. I saw an ordinary man, his budding online business, struggling for the perfect customer service, painful marketing efforts, and aspiring ambition of creating his e-commerce empire of organic agriculture. Finally my tough love for his online business, guess I really enjoy his tasty eggs!