The Story of Adele

How I finally got my 25 and added 5 to Adele’s total sales numbers

I have finally got my copy of Adele’s record-selling 25 CD. Actually, I now have three copies. What is even more bizarre in the whole story is that I have raised the album’s sales numbers by 5 while sharing costs with Amazon in a roughly 1 to 10 ratio.

It all began in late November with the Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales on US Amazon. With such a weak rouble I can only spoil myself once a year and this “once” comes in late November. The prices are the lowest. I consider it my personal birthday and New Year’s gift to myself. This time the order included Adele’s newest album, 25. It cost me $9.97, or $17.96 with shipping charges (the charges would be even higher, but they were split between all items in the order). Hence, comes Adele No.1.

The package got temporarily halted in the shipping. I wrote to Amazon because that is what Amazon advised me to do. Amazon is always quick to please its customers. Without any urges to wait a bit they offered to send me the replacement for the whole order free of charge. Hence, comes Adele No. 2.

When Adele No. 2 was still in transit, Adele No. 1 with the rest of the items got resurfaced in the DPD’s logistics and arrived in a nice box. Or, should I say, not very nice since it was (typically for today’s Amazon) too big for the items inside. Everything was fine except Adele. The CD box was quite heavily damaged. I cannot accept this, especially when I think about how much it now costs me.

So I complained to Amazon. Amazon never stops to please its customers as quickly as possible. So they offered to send me a replacement free of charge. Hence, comes Adele No. 3. Meanwhile, I declined acceptance of the first replacement and it was sent back to Amazon. If it reaches the USA and happens to be crack-free then Amazon will be able to resell it for whatever price and make it Adele No. 4.

Adele No. 3 came rather quickly via DHL, which means that it cost Amazon much more than $17.96 to ship. Courier services cost $36.98 per item+shipment. But I got it for free (or still for my initial $17.96). When the courier left and I opened the neat box a gasp left my mouth at the sight of even bigger cracks, a plastic fragment, and cut plastic wrap. Someone at DHL or, more probably, Russian customs tried to open the box to check its contents. They should have just opened the box and resealed it. Instead, they obviously tried to open it where it was not supposed to be opened and damaged the CD box with their zeal. I could not accept this, especially when I thought how much it cost me, even at the thought of how much it had cost the Amazon.

So I complained to Amazon. Amazon never fails to please even when pleasing seems to come at a costly stretch. But this time it was definitely a stretch. So Amazon offered me a refund of $17.96 for the initial order and suggested I order the CD (should I still want to) again, while they would waive shipping charges.

I did as instructed. Now Adele’s 25 cost me $11.88 (plus $36.98 shipping charges that were waived by Amazon almost instantly). Meanwhile, I received my refund. And yes, having no limiting instructions and, on the contrary, being advised to choose the 1-day shipping method (not available to Russia of course) I opted for the costlier priority method even though I realized that it wouldn’t be possible for me to enjoy Adele’s new album on New Year’s Eve, that all happening less than a week before the event.

Anyway, here comes Adele No. 5. DHL was really quick in delivering it to Moscow and even clearing customs. But on December 31st the package got frozen somewhere in Moscow. Tracking promised delivery on January 4th which was way better than I expected (remember that Russia is in a state of official post-New Year’s coma until January 11th). However, on January 4th nothing happened. It turned out that the Samara branch of DHL worked only on the 5th and tracking still had my package frozen in Moscow on December 31st. On January 5th I went to the DHL office and was told that they didn’t have my Adele.

What followed was my complaint to DHL on Twitter. You get it by now – I love complaining. But get this too – my complaints make things move and happen. DHL’s US office reached me (apparently their European colleagues are also in some sort of post-holiday coma). Then they reached DHL’s Russian office (by the way, DHL’s Samara refused to take my complaint on the state of Adele No. 3). On January 6th they were ready to deliver but I wasn’t ready to instantly fly from the site of a dog race to my place to get it. So, we re-arranged the delivery for January 8th (their next working day).

This morning Adele No. 5 finally came to Andy Complaindy. Moreover, it came in a crack-free CD box that I can finally open and enjoy the great music.

When you count the total costs, it turns out that I spent only $11.88 (even less than for my initial order). Amazon, however, spent ten times more at least. If we count every delivery (but last) as costing $17.96 (though replacements cost much more due to priority method), plus add the refund of $17.96, plus factor in the waived charge of $36.98 then it turns out that the minimum cost for Amazon to make me happy with Adele was about $110. It was surely more, but hopefully, they can resell Adele No. 2.

This whole story once again raises a few questions about Amazon’s efficiency as a business.

Firstly, there is no denying the fact that Amazon is a customer-oriented company. It is quick to offer refunds, replacements, and what not. I remember from a few years ago that they only used to ask customers to wait longer if the order got stalled somewhere in the shipping and then if something was wrong with it, they refunded some portion of the broken item’s cost in most cases. Now they refund it all and do not insist on returning the damaged item (since it would cost me way more than I could afford).

Secondly, there is no denying that such friendliness drives customers towards the company but comes at a significant cost. Amazon is a business and any business is there to make a profit. I see no profit in the company spending ten times more than the customer spends.

This leads me to some bitter conclusions about Amazon’s shipment department efficiency that I have been raising for years. Amazon always says they would use the feedback but obviously, they don’t.

I am Amazon’s customer since 2003. For the first five to seven years every package came with all items unbroken even though it took up to a month and everything was sent via Russian Post. Then something happened and since about 2010 not a single order has come without at least one or two damaged CD boxes. There are cracks and sometimes even the inside plastic is broken (not the CDs though). Often this happens because Amazon tends to pack items in bigger boxes. And if earlier they wrapped everything in bubble plastic, then changed that to air-packets, then limited the amount of any protection. So, items are loose and you can imagine how many times and how violently they bump against each other in transit. Tighter boxes (or cardboard wrapping, mostly practised by UK Amazon) are not a 100% guarantee against cracks but have a better history.

Obviously, Amazon gives bigger priority to speed – the quicker they pack items the sooner customers get them. Having a number of items on the order makes the handlers take a bigger box initially and fill it with items while they collect them in the huge warehouses. In the end, even if the box is not full, nobody replaces it. Sealed, labeled, shipped. This is wrong. And the story of my five Adeles shows it. Actually, it shows that tight packaging (like with Adele No. 3) is no guarantee either. But that’s for Amazon to argue with DHL about how DHL cares about what it quite costly delivers.

The moral of the story is the following. I finally have Adele’s hit album having paid even less in the end than initially but at a cost of waiting for almost a month. Amazon can finally sigh with relief of no more refunds and replacements but at a cost of more than a hundred bucks. I will wait until the next Thanksgiving but only if rouble doesn’t fall into the abyss. Amazon most probably will continue to put small items into big boxes but… No buts, it just will. Will it fall into the abyss as a business for that? I don’t think so, as they have pleased so many customers that those customers will keep coming back. And yes, Adele should probably personally thank me for being one of the biggest single contributors to her sales numbers – I doubt that anyone else “bought” five CDs.