Is Flipkart Deleting Negative Reviews, Pumping Fake Positive Reviews?

has been the poster boy of Indian ecommerce market. They sneeze and the media/blogosphere talks about them. They add a new category and blogosphere talks about them (while their competitors have to resort to traditional PR/marketing mechanics).

But lately, there have been reports of Flipkart’s customer service not up to the mark – the tweets/social media part of it aggravating the entire issue (even though, these issues probably are just 1% of the entire transaction).

And scaling up backend is always a huge challenge, so you have to give in to Flipkart’s audacious attempt to own the backend and ensure a smooth operation.

But there is a problem. And the problem is that Flipkart, it seems is deleting negative reviews of Flipkart on the site.

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From Woikr,

I recommended flipkart.com to a close friend of mine who was planning to purchase a LED TV. Flipkart.com recently launched their TV and video section and are offering heavy discounts. Based on my advice, he went ahead and bought a Samsung 46 Inches Full HD 3D LED for INR 1,07,420. Since flipkart.com is only delivering TVs in certain cities, he had the TV shipped to his relative’s place in Delhi and his dad would come and collect it from them. So far so good.

Here are the issues that he faced in the delivery process:

  1. The TV was not delivered on the promised date of delivery. His dad drove all the way from a different city to receive the TV only to find out that the it won’t be delivered that day and that flipkart “was going to” inform them at 6pm that day about it. For the record, the TV was delivered within the time mentioned on the product page, but flipkart.com failed to provide correct tracking.
  2. There was a free Shrek 3D Blu Ray scheme going on the TV (from Samsung). Flipkart.com did not deliver the Blu Ray discs with the TV. Instead, he got a call from flipkart.com asking him to specify his choice of Bu Ray discs to deliver. Here is a question – when the offer says “Free set of Shrek 3D Blu Ray titles”, why do you need the user to choose the titles? Just deliver the damn Shrek set!
  3. It has been a few weeks since he placed the order and despite complying with their request and specifying his choice of Blu Ray titles, he has not received the Blu Ray titles yet. What he has gone through though, is the harassment of talking to the flipkart.com’s customer service many times with no results whatsoever. In one of his conversations with them, the customer service person did tell him that he wasn’t supposed to specify his choice of Blu Ray titles. But still flipkart.com failed to deliver either the Shrek set or the ones he chose.
  4. He posted a review on the product page about his experience, which was later deleted by flipkart. They sent him this email:

Here are my thoughts on the whole episode:

  1. People do not go online just to get the stuff they are buying. They are paying the e-commerce site for the product plus the convenience of buying from their home coupled with a smooth delivery process. All of the above are products being sold at the e-commerce site. If retailers think that they are opening an e-shop just to offer another outlet for people to buy their stuff from, they are mistaken. And this is the reason why e-commerce is not picking up in India. And the same reason why amazon.com is hugely successful.
  2. In addition to lower prices, the online shops must offer an awesome customer service & effective delivery system. If I have to go through a series of harassing painful calls with the customer service who is not ready to listen to me, I will rather prefer to pay a few bucks extra to buy peace of mind along with the product that I am purchasing from a local retailer. In this case, flipkart.com won in the first, but failed in the second.
  3. From the whole episode, it looks like either flipkart.com ran out of Shrek 3D box sets, or Samsung had pulled the offer when my friend made the purchase. In either case, they should have called the customer and politely told him the truth offering replacement titles from their library or store credit. Nobody is going to return a 1 lakh rupees TV set because he got a refund instead of the free 3D Blu Ray box set.
  4. I read my friend’s review on the site for the brief amount of time it was there. He clearly mentioned that he loves the TV. He explained what he went through and at no point said anything bad about Samsung or the TV. Infact, he mentioned clearly in the first line that this review is for flipkart’s service. Flipkart.com has to understand that people reading the reviews are not idiots. They could have easily read through the review and decided whether they want to buy the TV or not. Also, when they deleted his review, they also lost any chances of getting a new customer who might have read the part about how awesome the TV is and would possibly have bought it.
  5. As mentioned in my first point, people buy both the product and the convenience from online retailers. And if someone has anything to say about either of them, product reviews section is the place to do so. But flipkart.com fails to understand this. If they feel that product reviews is not the correct section for this, they should build a separate section for flipkart.com’s service feedback. Something similar to a seller’s rating on ebay. And if they are really transparent & offer prompt and efficient customer service, they shouldn’t have any problem in doing so.
  6. Flipkart.com lost a free advertiser. My friend could have advertised flipkart.com to his friends and family had he received a proper customer service. Instead, he will now be telling this story to everyone over dinner. He purchased a TV worth more than a lakh online. How many people do you know would do that? He is from the very generation that is the target audience of e-commerce sites in the whole world, not just India. Losing him as a customer means loosing his friends as perspective customers.

The whole episode is like an air crash. It doesn’t mean that you should stop traveling by air. It just means that the airline messed up in this one off case. Flipkart.com messed up this case. I hope someone in their senior leadership is reading this and takes corrective actions so that this is not repeated in the future.

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Our take: Of course, Flipkart has the right to delete reviews which aren’t just about products alone. This case was a mixed one with the reviewer reviewing the product plus the buying experience.

But the bigger point is if Flipkart removes a review which has review of product + negative review of Flipkart, then why have such reviews (scroll to Revanth’s review) which also contain product reviews + good stuff about Flipkart’s delivery? After all, a rule is a rule and is a rule.

Why deviate when a review has negative reviews of Flipkart?

The BIG Question

The big question to the Flipkart team however is whether Flipkart is

1. Selling products.

OR

2. Selling an (online) buying experience?

When the company was started, it was all about the experience, but lately is it just about the product? If it is still about the buying experience, why not have a dedicated section for buyers to share their review of the entire buying experience (or have a more structured review section, collecting points regarding the experience)? The thing is Flipkart needs to go beyond the SEO-centric-model-of-product-reviews and focus on experience review.  As the company scales up, the issues (of delivery failure) will surely crop up, but having a dedicated channel for customers to share the experience will help Flipkart team wade through the scaling challenges.

It’s important to note that:

1. Flipkart is moving to Tier-2, Tier-3 cities.

2. The TV Commercials are all about building trust.

3. Ecommerce = Flipkart, that’s the messaging Flipkart is trying to get across.

All of this is great, but its important to note that these consumers may not be on Twitter/Facebook giving feedback to Flipkart. The product itself needs to mature up to an extent that it is open to reviews on the buying experience. Most importantly, the team needs to mature up to receive negative reviews (and not just feedback) from its customers and work on them.

Curbing negative reviews simply result in bad WoM (Word of Mouth) and to share an experience, a lady in my apartment is now ensuring that nobody buys anything from Flipkart (she bought couple of books on October 13th which hasn’t been delivered yet and Flipkart’s support simply failed to resolve her query). The FK team should focus on resolving her query, because WoM spreads much faster than what we can even imagine (isn’t WoM a huge factor in Flipkart’s success?).

Pumping Positive Reviews?

I believe this tweet by Faisal, founder of Mouthshut says it all:

flipkart_fake_reviews

There is no smoke without fire and its high time Flipkart redefines what it is – a company that is all about selling products or a company that is redefining ecommerce in India. Former is easier, but latter is difficult. Damn difficult.

Please note that this is no statement on Flipkart’s overall delivery service – but these are scaling challenges that the company is probably going through and having an open mind/engaging with customers will just help them while they fix the scaling issues.

Recommended Read: Flipkart Story (Told Unofficially!)

Also: Flipkart Raising $200Mn From Carlyle And General Atlantic?).

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