While the statistics are compellingand while our authors and editors have certainly put together one of our strongest arguments to dateI feel compelled to provide a disclaimer. The articles within may show that globalization is a smart venture that will reap rewards to those who act early, but don't even think about global commerce if you're still struggling with local commerce.
My disclaimer refers not so much to the products being sold on a Web site, but to the actual means of selling. Until your company can provide your original, intended customer base with solid information, secure transactions, and swift customer service, you should delay your expansion into global marketsor any other market, for that matter.
As an example, look at a company that is expanding on a smaller scale. Kozmo.com, originally a New York-based operation, now promises to deliver videos, music, books, and food in less than an hour to homes in over 10 U.S. cities. The company plans to serve 15 to 20 new cities by the end of the year. Unfortunately, the aggressive expansion has taken its toll not only on the site's usability, but also on the company's delivery practices and customer service.
Self-selected reviewers at Epinions.com give Kozmo a four out of five rating, with 88 percent of writers recommending the service, which leads you to believe that the service is doing well. Yet, amidst reviews with headlines like "Quite Convenient," "Fast and Friendly," and "What a Great Idea," you'll find headlines that read "Love Turned to Hate," "The Honeymoon is Over," and "The Downward Spiral."
My experience confirms these reports. When I first ordered a sandwich from Kozmo, San Francisco was one of only five cities served by the company. Once I set up my account, I could order quickly and conveniently. The delivery was fast (within half an hour) and I was impressed enough to recommend it to friends and colleagues. Over the following months, I ordered frequently from Kozmo and was satisfiedmostly. For example, the video Leaving Las Vegas was reported to be "out" each of the three times I wanted to rent it. Last week, I ordered my usual sandwich and was dismayed over an hour and a half later when it had not been delivered. Suspiciously, the My Account section of Kozmo's site listed the item as having been "delivered" half an hour earlier. I called the customer support number and, after speaking briefly with the representative, learned that "delivered" status only means the item has left the warehouse. The actual delivery took place 20 minutes later.
This morning, I received an email from Kozmo's customer service department. The service representative apologized for the late delivery and said that my account had been credited with 200 "Kozmo points." I had no idea what Kozmo points were, and the My Account section didn't mention the 200 points anywhere. Only after feigning another purchase did I learn on the checkout page that 200 Kozmo points equal $2. While that's not a bad discount for a $4.99 sandwich, I was troubled by the representative's email, which directed me to firstname.lastname@example.org [sic] for any further questions. It's a disconcerting remark on the quality of a company's services when its own representatives give out incorrect email addresses. (Kosmo.com, with an "s," refers to Kosmo Systems, an unrelated consulting and development firm.)
Kozmo.com (with a "z") has undergone a number of updates since its inception, yet it's riddled with nuances that are more troublesome than clever. Today on the home page, there's a broken image where the Scream 3 video is advertised. Nearby, the blurb for the Marvel vs. Capcom 2 game is intriguing, but I couldn't buy it if I wanted to, because it's sold out. Within the Drinks section, the featured Frappuccino is also out. So much for fulfillment.
As I mentioned in my July 2000 editorial, Kozmo is on my list of most frequented sites. But at this rate, with the company focusing more on expansion than on its existing customers, it's hard to say whether anyone will be touting the conveniences of Internet commerce next year. If your company is in a similar situation, take note. It doesn't cost much to hire developers who know how to fix broken images and service reps who know how to spell your company's email address, especially when compared with the price of opening new sites and new shops in new locations. Once you're confident that your existing operations are stable, thenand only thenshould you begin to think about branching out to many distant cities.