Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Amazon vs Flipkart- My Experience

Amazon India is aiming to take on its archrival flipkart for supremacy in Indian ecommerce space. Both companies are pumping in hot dollars and hoping to outsmart each other. Just like many of you, I’ve been buying regularly from Flipkart since long time and have also made a few purchase from Amazon India. Comparing the services of both, I feel Amazon India is way behind flipkart in overall customer satisfaction.

Flipkart has invested heavily in their logistics and is capable of delivering orders almost next day. But Amazon seems to be way behind- way way behind. While flipkart can deliver an order in 2 days, Amazon takes 2 weeks and more. Flipkart provides much more meaningful status update on the order, but Amazon has no meaningful tracking/update.

Consider this: I ordered few books on flipkart recently (6th September). Flipkart offered standard delivery by Wednesday, 10th September and express delivery on Monday,  8th Sep if I pay Rs 90 more. I was fine with standard delivery and hence opted not to pay extra. However, the consignment was still delivered promptly on 8th Sep, in under 48 hours. Flipkart’s online tracking is also very effective- I can find out if it is shipped, reached destination city etc.

But on the contrary, all my Amazon orders take forever to reach me. (My GoPro order from US reached me faster than a GoPro accessory order on Amazon.in). I ordered a suction Mount for GoPro on 2nd September and 15 days later, still there’s no sign of it. Amazon claims it will be delivered between 15th to 24th September. (They need 9 days buffer- can’t even predict anything properly). I have a feeling that supplier doesn’t have real stock- once customers like me place an order, he will place an order with GoPro.com, get it shipped to him and then ship it to me. If this is the case, they should declare it upfront. I would have placed an order myself directly on GoPro.com, but GoPro website’s 85 $ shipping fee is little expensive for small items.

Also Amazon doesn’t seem to have any status other than Dispatched. Even for completed orders, status is still shown as Dispatched. I don’t know when it was dispatched, where it is now, how much more time it takes… The courier partner in case of my recent order, Bambino express is equally useless. Upto 10 days after the order is placed, tracking status is “Shipment info received, USA”. For past 1 week, the status has been  “MANIFESTED FOR DEPARTURE 12.09.2014 0635 U.S.A”. It took full one week just to get packed and shipped out of warehouse and four days since 12-09, there’s no update if it actually departed. 
Flipkart has a customer care number called out bold in the home page. On Amazon.in, it is a pain to locate a number to call. Even if I call their helpline (they call back on your number), they have no additional information other than the useless status mentioned on the website. Last week, when I called customer support told me order is still with the vendor, while status on website says “dispatched”. I called one more time and second time I was told “the order was shipped on 5th September and you should be getting it asap”. I am just being made to blindly hope. I was offered that an email will be sent to seller to expedite the process. (mail was spent promptly, but sellers reply was again generic and didn’t serve any purpose).

Today when I call again, I get an unofficial delivery date of 20th or earlier, but the same doesn’t get documented in an email I receive there-after.

I am fine with a delay, but all I want is correct and reliable update- not false promises. When I ask where exactly is the order – is it in US? Has it reached India? Has it arrived at Chennai hub etc, no one- Amazon, 3rd party seller (Retail Therapy India in this case) and the courier company have any clue as to what is happening.

I have a short trip planned for 20th and I am hoping I will get the suction mount before that, so that I can take some good videos. Going by the current rate of progress, I am not really optimistic. My backup plan was to rent a mount from Tapprs (At Rs 50/day), but again I am told they don’t rent the mount alone. I need to rent the camera+ Mount (spending Rs 400 per day) and since they don’t operate 24x7, will have to pay couple of days extra, making the proposition non viable.

Earlier I used to compare prices on Amazon and flipkart to decide from where to buy. These days I have stopped looking at Amazon and go there only when flipkart doesn’t have the product I am looking for. Going further, I will first consider all other alternatives before placing an order on Amazon.

One of the customer care guys told me that since Amazon.in is less than an year old, they need more time to update the website for effective tracking etc. But I feel these are fundamentals which they should have established even before launch. Also tracking part could have been adopted from their parent website and customized faster.

May be the incident is specific to the product I ordered or the seller who has set shop on Amazon.in. Other orders might reach faster. But lack of clear information/real time update and redundant tracking were common to all orders. Also people come to Amazon/Flipkart because of brand name. So these marketplaces should have specific standards/process/checks in place for all sellers on the platform. Those sellers who can’t conform to certain standards should not be allowed on the platform.

Probably Amazon.in is leaning too much on parent company’s brand name, without making serious efforts to understand how things work in India.

Was your experience any better? 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

MGR Memorial Chennai wide angle photos

MGR memorial is a monument in Chennai, next to Marina beach, built in memory of former Chief Minister, MG Ramachandran.

I had been to this memorial multiple times, but couldn't capture the memorial fully from bottom, due to limitations of the camera.

Went there again today with GoPro and below are the results. I couldn't capture the monument fully, but the coverage is satisfactory.


Pajero Sports Anniversary Edition Drive

Having spent 4 consecutive weekends at home, this morning we went out to Marina beach in Chennai. I spotted a Pajero sport on display, with a sticker "Ask for a test drive." I did and rest is history!

When I approached the person in charge for test drive, I wasn't very sure. Some of these premium car salesmen over time have developed a knack to weed out those who can't afford to buy a 30 lakh car. By looking at you they figure out if they should spend time explaining the car to you or you're not worth it. But this Pajero sport salesman readily agreed when I asked for a test drive. Without any formalities, I was behind the wheels and we set off.

We went for a short ride and during which we were driving next to the ocean for a while- I asked the salesman if I can drive on the sand. Without slightest hesitation he agreed. I changed to 4x4 and drove on the sand. It was a supershort drive, but it was fun. Back on the main road, we came back to where we started, but on the way policemen stopped us, saying it is one way and we should take a detour.

I happily reversed and we hit the main road again. But now, half of the road from Gandhi statue till Anna memorial was blocked for traffic, because of a marathon. We couldn't go to the beach side, so had to take a really long detour-to Broadway, Central, Secretariat, Anna Salai, Express Avenue, Cathedral road, R K Salai and eventually back to Gandhi statue at Marina, all in all logging over 30-35kms.

Though that is very short drive to pass judgment on the car, it helped me understand Pajero sport much better. I haven't driven the Fortuner 4x4 (have only driven 4x2), hence am unable to pass a verdict which one is better. But during my drive I couldn't really find anything to complain about. Pajero pulls ahead very easily, responded to steering brilliantly and was always game for some action.

The anniversary edition that I drove is actually 1 year old.This new Pajero was launched in 2012 and sometime in June 2013, Anniversary edition was launched with some extra goodies. Unfortunately Mitsubishi's pool sales and service network hasn't helped this good product win customer confidence.

Pajero has following advantages over Fortuner 4x4:
1. Higher power, despite having smallest engine in its peer group
2. Cheaper by a lakh
3. Reportedly better off road capabilities
4. Rear disc brakes
5. Shorter turning radius (5.6 vs fortuner's 5.9)

But Fortuner has following plus points:
1. Higher ground clearance- 230mm (Pajero is 215mm)
2. Pajero has only tilt adjustment, not telescopic
3. Better after sales support
4. Auto transmission and 4x2 variant options
5. Bigger than Pajero by a few mms.

I also learnt from the sales guy about "Heart in Mouth" events- which is similar to Mahindra Great Escape- an offroad event for the owners of Pajeros.

Also Mitsubishi has stopped all other cars in India- Lancer, Evo, Montero, Outlander etc and is currently selling only Pajero. Next few years they plan to come up with a small car (probably Mirage?), sedan and other models.

End of the drive, I wasn't asked the usual "Sir, when are you planning to buy?" question. I guess he made out that I can't afford this kind of car.

I made a short video of the Pajero drive. Watch it below.
Pajero Sports On road price in Chennai:
Pajero sports retails at 28.4 lakhs in Chennai. Fortuner, Ford Endeavor, Isuzu MU-7, Rexton-7 etc compete with Pajero in the premium SUV market.

Similr: Fortuner photoshoot * Is Fortuner worth 10 lakh premium over XUV500 W6? * 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Crystal Grill at Baiyoke Skyhotel- Dining at Bangkok's highest tower!

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On our last night in Bangkok, we had dinner at Baiyoke Sky Hotel, Bangkok's highest tower.

Baiyoke Sky Hotel has both accommodation rooms and few restaurants. There're multiple restaurants and bars in the hotel. We went to the restaurant named Crystal Grill on its 82nd floor. Dinner buffet costs about 700 baht per person- exact cost is not available on official website, derived from internet readings. (If all you want is a view, it might even be worth staying here for 2000 baht instead of buying dinner/lunch).

I was thinking we might go directly to 82nd floor in an express elevator. But reaching 82nd floor was a 3 step process. First we went to 19th floor, then another lift to 75th floor and finally 3rd lift to reach 82nd floor. 75th floor had some exhibits.

As usual, while you wait for your chance to get into the lift, you can get your photo clicked with an artificial photo of the tower in background and purchase it later. (they assume your consent, tell them and skip the queue if you don't want this).

Once there, the buffet dinner was nice. There were adequate veg options and more importantly, they did supply cool tender coconuts. Managed to have one before they ran out of stock. Softy ice cream was also on the offer.

Crystal Grill doesn't have a balcony kind of seating. Few floors below, another restaurant has few seats in the terrace, fully open.

Post dinner we went another 2 floors up, using stairs, to a revolving observation deck. A soldier with a gun was guarding the entrance that connected the revolving observation deck and the stairs. View of Bangkok city from the top was eye-catching. This place offers perfect opportunity to try time lapse, hyperlapse and other photo stunts...

This joker was entertaining the customers with his fancy lights and stuff...

Accommodation options cost about THB 2000 onwards (Top spec presidential suit costs THB 10000 approx), which is not bad if you fancy staying on top of the world.

I was little tired and lazy to record lots of videos. Hence I don't have proper footage of Baiyoke Sky Hotel and couldn't make a meaningful video. Still made an one minute video using some still photos and few videos I'd shot from the observation deck. Watch it below.

Similar: Bangkok Dinner Cruise * Thailand Happiness Street Festival

Friday, September 12, 2014

Felix River Kwai Resort, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Felix River Kwai is a luxury resort on the banks of historic river Kwai. It has over 255 rooms spread over 20 hectares (50 acres) of vast area. When we first went there, our bus too some circuitous path around Kanchanaburi and I couldn’t get its bearing- but later in the evening when we walked to River Kwai bridge, it was crystal cle Kwai Felix Resort is located behind the Chinese themed Buddhist temple that is located on the other side of River Kwai, near the famous bridge. 

We spent only one night at Felix River kwai resort, so we could explore only a little of its huge campus. Rooms were fine. Not too large but just the right size. Our rooms opened on the other side to River Kwai (Not right into it, separated by a walkway and small barrier. There are few other resorts around River Kwai which have their Balcony extending right into the river, such as floathouse where we were originally supposed to be staying, costs two times Felix or more)
Rooms at Felix River Kwai resort are classified generally as River Facing rooms and Garden facing rooms, which are priced at about 2600 THB and 2100 THB respectively (Indicative price, may vary by season and other factors) per night for 2 people. River facing rooms are charged a premium purely because of proximity to the historic river. Unless you’re very particular about relaxing by the riverside, even garden facing rooms should be just fine. The rates are pretty decent in my opinion.

Felix River Kwai has all the usual suspect facilities- pool, spa, gym. They do have lots of goods for team building activities and other corporate events
Adjacent to the resort is the Palin convention centre, in a separate building. Just like Dusit Thani Hua Hin, Felix also is an ideal location for weddings. In fact they hosted a dinner for us with wedding theme when we were there.

Sadly the River Kwai bridge is not visible from the Resort. Also be sure to keep the door closed, else insects from the river might enter your room.

December 2013, we’d stayed at River Kwai Resort in Kanchanaburi, which is a smaller campus and smaller rooms compared to Felix. But that was closer to the town.

Overall we didn't have opportunity for any complaints during our short stay. It seemed to be an affordable and luxurious stay in Kanchanaburi area. This year's River Kwai Sound and light festival is scheduled to happen between Nov 28 and Dec 4. Plan your visit to Kanchanaburi around this time.