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Amazon has a rival. Who saw this coming?

Nigel Morris-Co...

I've often been vocal in my criticism of Lazada.com's service. For years it's been terrible in every possible direction.

But not now. A remarkable turnaround in many aspects of the business has created a level of service that is, quite simply, the equal of the dominant force, Amazon.com.

First, let's say where Lazada is still failing, because it is.

- It remains a market place for obvious fakes. Images and descriptions obviously rip off trademarks and designs. This is not difficult to identify and block using simple image and text recognition but Lazada's efforts are woefully inadequate. What is even worse is that legitimate advertising is reproduced by those marketing counterfeits in support of their product.

- There remains a major problem of fake discounts. Advertisers post outrageous "pre-discount" prices, then false deep discounts to show reductions in the high-tens of percents.

- Product descriptions are often almost incomprehensible (but to be fair, they are immeasurably better than, say, Rakuten). While this is often funny, it's also a problem because if one can't understand the description, one can't know exactly what one is buying. However .. Lazada is not to blame and it's not alone: the descriptions are provided by independent sellers using the platform and many of them don't have English as a first language. Amazon.co.uk has recently become subject to the same problem as drop shippers and overseas exporters develop their business on that platform, too.

But it is in the area of service that Lazada has picked itself up from disaster to triumph.

For example, shortly after midnight this morning, an e-mail arrived saying "A package from Order #xxx is being shipped and will soon be out for delivery. Your Package Shipment will arrive by: 08 Nov - 25 Nov, 2019"

It arrived shortly after 10:30 this morning, 24th October, with Lazada's own delivery service and a driver that, these days, there's a chat and even asking if my renovations are finished. The order was placed less than 48 hours ago.

It used to be that Lazada's deliveries were untimed over a four or five day period and arranging redelivery was tortuous process. Now Lazada's whole shipping operation has been overhauled. From my end, as recipient, I have a big window but then I'm given progress reports and, because the drivers appear to follow a set route, I even know roughly what time of day they will be in my area. When I read that a package is out for delivery, I can be pretty sure it's going to be here before 11:30. Even better, different drivers have different types of package so those with bigger boxes which take longer do not delay the delivery of smaller and lighter packs. Bigger things tend to arrive before 14:00.

True, in the UK Amazon now has timed deliveries and it will also allow customers to bundle all their deliveries to arrive on the same day, a so-called "Amazon Day." But, within the past year, the advantage that Amazon had to deliver to me half-way across the world i.e. that the products were, in the absence of some intervening event, on my doorstep four days after ordering has been eroded. And Amazon remains the king of communication: a package ex UK for Taipei scheduled (way outside the usual four days and I don't know why) for 23rd was subject to a notification that it had been delayed in transit but that they would still try for that day, a Wednesday. In fact, it was delivered on Tuesday morning - a day early. So, top marks for telling me what was going on; brickbats for getting it woefully wrong. Luckily someone was there to take delivery.

But it's in the realm of cancellations that Lazada has made the greatest strides. I have previously documented in these pages the abysmal service by Shopee which insisted on retaining money from a cancelled order until I went through various hoops which I was not prepared to do. And on Lazada, in the past, I've had problems with wrong product, misdecribed goods, damaged or broken items and failure to deliver (including one fraudulent signature on a product that did not come out of Lazada's warehouse via its own shipping company).

In recent days, on Lazada, I inadvertently ordered a product that I was only looking at. Within minutes of seeing the order confirmation, I had cancelled it and been notified that a refund to my card was already being processed. The next day, when various products arrived, one of them was not satisfactory. Again, within minutes, I had arranged a return and refund. The next day, the local postman arrived at my door to collect the returned item. Half an hour after he picked it up, I had an e-mail saying that the refund to my card was being processed.

Compare that to Amazon in the UK where I had a long argument with a "customer service representative" who argued that Taiwan was in the EU for VAT purposes and that it was therefore right that Amazon had charged VAT on a shipment to Taiwan. I never got the refund. When a bathroom fan arrived without the blades (!), Amazon's process for returns from Malaysia required me to box it up and take it to the post office or arrange a courier pickup. Then Amazon would refund the charges and when the goods were returned arrange a refund. The refund for that, and another item that was damaged on delivery, was not for the correct amount. I can't be bothered to argue. That's what Lazada used to be like and it's why I started using Amazon.

True, there remain advantages in terms of available range in using Amazon. There are still far too many untrustworthy sellers on Lazada and other South East Asian platforms - but as those sellers add Amazon to their list of marketplaces, Amazon will start to run into similar problems.

But the most important thing is that on-line shopping, at least in Malaysia via Lazada, has overcome most of its teething problems and now delivers service to rival the best.

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