Friday, May 5, 2017

Corporate Ambivalence

I've just requested my third return of a Star Wars comic book in just as many years from the Books-A-Million (BAM) online site.  The first time I needed to return a comic was back in 2015; it had arrived in an over-sized box with no packing material whatsoever to secure it.  The comic spent its journey bouncing around inside the box on a trip from Alabama to Arizona.  Needless to say, all four corners of the book had issues.  The second time I returned a comic was in 2016, it wasn't because of an over-sized box, but an under-sized box.  The box length was shorter than the comic and whoever packed it pushed the comic into the box anyway.  And they used paper to protect the content from jostling inside the box despite the fact the comic was wedge into place.  This comic didn't even need the help of the postal service to arrive damaged, it was damaged by the BAM employee who packaged it.

Today's return was yet another twist on how to damage a comic book.  This time, the comic was put into a book mailer, the perfect packaging needed to secure a comic book.  These mailers are great, when used properly.  But rather than placing the comic inside the area designed for the book, it was placed between the top label flap and the inner flaps.  The end result, the comic was sticking out of the mailer on its journey from Alabama to Arizona.

The Star Wars comic is sticking out of the unopened mailer!
The comic is between the top label flap and the inner flaps.
The comic is sitting on the inner flaps instead of being secured in the area below the flaps.
As expected, the comic is damaged.
But at least half of the package invoice was protected!
What makes the whole thing frustrating to me is BAM keeps getting exclusives and I can only guess, based on my experience, 10 - 20% of the comics they ship out are damaged due to negligence.  Clearly, the corporation wants to sell these because their offerings have increased over the years.  And they must be aware of the damage issue, because they have upgraded to book mailers designed to protect the contents from damage.  What the organization doesn't know however is an employee can still use the mailer and damage the book.  I refuse to believe this was anything but spiteful, not aimed at me per se, but definitely a disgruntled worker who probably packed one too many single comics for shipment that day.  To be honest, I'm on the employee's side!  I'd rather not order retailer exclusives and have them mailed one or two books at a time.  It costs more because I have to pay for shipping and handling without the ability to combine the order and the odds of a mishap in shipment goes up with more packages.  But what choice does a collector have in today's market?  Marvel loves to put out new #1s frequently, so they can entice retailers to want to offer an exclusive.

I took the pictures above in the hopes of showing an employee at BAM the problem, but unfortunately their system rejected my email because of the attachments.  So the best I could do was try to explain the problem without the benefit of the images.  I am sure whoever is on the receiving end of these emails doesn't care; I'm just another picky comic book customer to them.  Hey, I got the comic, why am I complaining?  Never mind the fact that I paid twice the cost of the book if it wasn't for the exclusive cover.  And being a collector, condition does matter!

If it was just this one incident this week, I doubt I would be writing this editorial.  But earlier in the week, I also received my monthly shipment of comics from Discount Comic Book Service (DCBS.)  For the third time I received damaged comics.  I order comics from Books-A-Million about two or three times a year and I have order my comics from DCBS monthly for over eight years, so trust me when I tell you DCBS has a much better track record.  The DCBS shipment included 28 comics all packed into a brick.  On one side of the brick, the comics were badly bent from top to bottom, damaging the spine of three comics badly.  And the brick was dropped on a corner prior to shipment, damaging the corner of another four comics.  I emailed DCBS support and in two days they responded saying they will order replacements for all seven comics and I didn't need to ship back the damaged ones.  Now that is service!

Corporations like BAM are not purposely trying to make life hard for comic collectors; in fact, they apparently want us as customers, otherwise why offer the exclusives?  The ambivalence comes into play though with the systems they have in place for customers to provide feedback on problems.  BAM wants us as customers, but they don't really have a system to see if our needs are being met.  Obviously BAM feels it is better to just have the books returned without truly understanding why, whereas DCBS is more invested in making their customers happy.  BAM is huge and they make up for the few unhappy customers with volume, where DCBS is undoubtedly smaller and wants to work at keeping their customers happy.  In the end, both retail companies are necessary to comic collectors like me who want the exclusives along with the retailer editions, it's just that one does a better job of catering to the collector than the other.

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