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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Sony Music - how to drive people away from buying

[Short link to this article if you need it - or retweet me]

[Note: there has been a successful outcome to this story - if you've heard the background before then check the first comment for how the issue was resolved. Ultimately the failure of communication was down to a new depot in the UK being used for shipping, and the customer service staff had apparently not been aware that this was what was used for my order. I am delighted by the response that Sont were ultimately able to give to me]

I pre-ordered an album from a Sony Music artist from the artist's official web site. What I didn't realise was that I couldn't expect it to arrive within 1½ weeks of the release date. The terms say that:

"Whenever feasible we aim to deliver your items on the day they are available in
stores, provided you ordered early enough to allow for processing and delivery."

Clearly this "whenever feasible" clause was added in order to allow them to just ignore that part of the web site. The CD was ordered a week before the release date, and early in the morning on that date I received notification that it had just been dispatched. On Wednesday it still hadn't been delivered, so I contacted them to query what might have happened. Now for many reasons I'll publish elsewhere at some point I've never been a great Sony fan, but how this conversation went defies belief in terms of trying to get customers to use legal services. Here's the transcript - enjoy :-)

[It's worth pointing out here that the site is hosted on And as stated on that site " is operated by MyPlay Direct, Inc., a division of Sony Music Entertainment"]

SXA> Hi,
SXA> I pre-ordered Sticks & Stones on the (reasonable) assertion that I'd get it somewhere vaguely
SXA> near the release date. I got a dispatch email on Monday morning, yet
SXA> there's still no sign of the delivery.
SXA> Can you let me know which shipping method you use, since frankly anything that takes more than 3
SXA> days is somewhat laughable and if the official store is the worst place to order a CD from then
SXA> something is very wrong, and you're pretty much encouraging, and driving people towards piracy, or
SXA> other methods of obtaining music and penalising genuine customers who want to do the right thing
SXA> and contribute to the artist and Sony's profits.
SXA> I am somewhat disappointed by the service I have received.

SONY> Hi Stewart Addison,
SONY> I'm happy to inform you that you order has been already shipped on Nov 07, 2011.
SONY> It may take 8-18 business to deliver the shipment to you.
SONY> Sincerely,
SONY> Sony Music Digital
SONY> Harry
As expected that ignored the point about encouraging piracy, but disappointingly also didn't answer the question about what the shipping method was. So I thought I'd continue:

SXA> Dear Harry,
SXA> Any other supplier I would have used would have had it in my hands
SXA> before Thursday on the week of release. I am absolutely horrified that
SXA> you consider 8-18 days even vaguely acceptable for a major company,
SXA> and on that basis I will be more sensitive to which labels I buy from
SXA> and be far less likely to purchase music on any Sony label in the
SXA> future.
SXA> There is NO WAY I would have ordered from your site if I knew it was
SXA> likely to take more than 2-3 days from the release date at the very
SXA> latest.
SXA> Given all the problems major labels are claiming with piracy this
SXA> seems like an excellent way to shoot yourselves in the foot.
SXA> Congratulations.

At this point I checked the terms on the website and added the comment about the vague expectation of pre-orders being shipped before the release date:

SXA> Dear Harry,
SXA> In addition to the previous email I think it's worth pointing out that
SXA> the order was placed on the 30th October and your terms say the
SXA> following:
SXA> "Whenever feasible we aim to deliver your items on the day they are
SXA> available in stores, provided you ordered early enough to allow for
SXA> processing and delivery. Please refer to the delivery date estimates
SXA> during the checkout process."
SXA> Clearly this is just incorrect, as there is no practical way an item
SXA> shipped on Monday could have arrived on Monday. I would love to hear
SXA> your explanation for these issues, since with a potential 8-18 day
SXA> lead time I'd expect it to have shipped immediately on order in my
SXA> case..

SONY> Hi Stewart,
SONY> I'm sorry for any inconvenience with the order. However, when you placed the order,
SONY> it was mentioned on our website, on the checkout page and on your order status page
SONY> that the order will be shipped "on or before" the release date and not "delivered on"
SONY> the release date of November 7. Your order was shipped on November 7, which means
SONY> that the order was shipped on the release date. If you do not receive the product
SONY> within the said period, please get back to us so that we can send you a replacement
SONY> or provide you a refund.
SONY> Sincerely,
SONY> Sony Music Digital
SONY> Cody

So thereby proving the "wherever feasible" was effectively meaningless and they didn't offer an explanation as to why it wasn't feasible in this case. At this point I wanted to ask what "8-18 business days" actually meant - surely it doesn't mean that it's acceptable for my pre-ordered CD to arrive 3½ weeks after release when ordered from the artist's own web site?

SXA> Given that it still hasn't arrived 5 days after release and it will
SXA> now be at least Monday (a week after release) before I get it, can you
SXA> explain what this phrase in your initial reply to me:
SXA> "may take 8-18 business"
SXA> (I assume "days" was missing) actually means since that wording is
SXA> incredibly vague. Does it mean it's sent out via a courier that takes
SXA> 8-18 days (if so please tell me who are they because they shouldn't be
SXA> in business) because the only other meaning is "up to 8-18 days" which
SXA> is meaningless gibberish. Surely "may take up to 18 business days"
SXA> (which I guess is 3.5 weeks?) would be the correct wording
SXA> If that really is the case I would be interested to hear from Sony's
SXA> head office as to whether they consider a pre-order to be delivered
SXA> 3.5 weeks to be an acceptable way to treat legitimate customers.
SXA> P.S. Of course if the item does not end up being delivered and I have
SXA> to cancel then I will have lost the alternative opportunity to
SXA> download the album at Amazon's one-week only price.

SONY> Hi Stewart,
SONY> I'm sorry for the delay in the delivery of the order. Your order was shipped on
SONY> November 7 via UPS Mail Innovations. Unfortunately tracking is not available
SONY> for this shipping method, but the estimated transit time is 8-18 business days
SONY> from the ship date. So you should receive your order between November 17 and
SONY> December 1.
SONY> If you your order doesn't arrive by December 1 you may want to check with your
SONY> local post office, your parcel may be held there if customs fees or taxes are due.
SONY> Please note that your local post office will deliver your parcel, not UPS.
SONY> That's because with UPS Mail Innovations, UPS processes and delivers your
SONY> parcel to your country's postal service who will deliver the parcel to you.
SONY> However, if your item hasn't arrived within December 1, please contact your
SONY> local post office to check if they have received the order or not.

This actually astounded me. So a UK artist's CD is being shipped from somewhere abroad using an incredibly slow service that takes at least 1½ weeks to deliver. Honestly, what is the point in pre-ordering, and why would anyone knowing this information choose to order from them? Other distributers manage to do this properly, I would expect the label to be able to provide the best service to their customers, especially given that they're saving costs by selling direct.

Do Sony's head offices realise this is happening? There seems to have been no answer to my question on why this is a reasonable way to treat your customers, so I think I'll have to give up with this email address and find someone responsible for allowing this. Which is what I've told them:
SXA> I guess I'll just have to accept that 1.5-3.5 weeks is your standard
SXA> delivery time.
SXA> I am disappointed that you haven't shown any interest in responding to
SXA> whether it's actually reasonable to do this in an era where major
SXA> labels are constantly mentioning concerns about piracy. I would expect
SXA> you to do everything to can to improves people's desire to do things
SXA> legally instead of leaving me 1-3 weeks behind everyone else in
SXA> listening to the album. You haven't seemed to provide any suggestion
SXA> as to why you choose to use such a slow delivery method when every
SXA> other supplier would have had it with me several days ago, and more
SXA> importantly there's no communication as to why it wasn't "feasible" to
SXA> ship it prior to the release date as your terms suggest you will try
SXA> to do. You have now confirmed that the earliest I can expect to
SXA> receive this CD is 10 elapsed days after the release date.
SXA> Since whoever is running this email address clearly is not someone who
SXA> either cares, or is capable of explaining these decisions I shall
SXA> endeavour to send a letter of complaint to someone higher up in Sony
SXA> that might give a damn about the service being provided to legitimate
SXA> paying customers, because the service being provided is inadequate for
SXA> the music industry in 2011.
Apparently nowadays buying music is as complex as mortgages and choosing a utility supplier. You have to pick between a multitude of special editions released to cash in and screw over people who bought first time round, pick a supplier while finding the details of how long it will take to deliver which is deep in the T&Cs somewhere when the utterly pointless and misleading headline of "dispatched in 1-2 days" is what's shown on the order form.

I've said this before in my blog on the DEBill, but you can't run a business where you have a legitimate opportunity to compete against illegal alternatives by providing a quality service for paying customers, and just choose to do ridiculous things like this. If you want people to want to use the legitimate services, then honestly - make it the best option. I don't know what the point is of the "wherever possible we aim to ship to arrive the day of release" clause since there's no indication that was attempted, despite being ordered well before the release date. I would love to talk to someone at Sony face to face about this issue since there must be someone at the company that would like to take action to correct the damage to their reputation that they've got in my eyes, and hopefully by publishing these transcripts everyone else will choose to avoid dealing with Sony Music in the future. I did get a further reply

SXA> Hi Stewart,
SXA> I am sorry for the inconvenience. Please see the list below for information on
SXA> how we ship:
SXA> - CDs sold for delivery in the U.S. are shipped via the U.S. Postal Service.
SXA> - Artist Box-Sets and other non-CD products (Blu-rays, DVDs, Prints, Clothing,
SXA> etc.) are shipped either by UPS Ground or UPS Mail Innovations.
SXA> Some artist sites offer an International shipment option. Orders shipped outside
SXA> of the U.S. are shipped either via UPS Worldwide Express Saver or UPS Mail
SXA> Innovations depending on the total weight of your purchase and delivery location.
SXA> Please see the "SHIPPING METHODS, AND TRANSIT TIMES" from the help page below:
SXA> Sincerely,
SXA> Sony Music Digital
SXA> Dennis

So I guess they're all shipped from the US, despite it being a UK release from a UK artist. Something that should be made vastly more clear on the site than a 'dispatched in 1-2 days' on the checkout page would lead people to believe. I strongly believe that a normal user purchasing that product would not even consider that it was being shipped from somewhere with such a long lead time.

As mentioned near the start, since SonyMusicDigital is a division of Sony Music entertainment, it's always possible they don't know they are treating their customers so badly... I emailed them, but it apparently went back to the subsidiary who again apologised, pointed me at the T&C for delivery times" and said:

SONY> Further, as per the recent update we've received, we are making all the
SONY> necessary arrangements to reduce the shipping duration. In future, you can
SONY> expect the items to be delivered more quickly. Also, it is appreciated you've taken
SONY> the time to share your comments with us. It is important to receive feedback so
SONY> that we can introduce more customer features as we roll out further.

SONY> Once again, we apologize for the delay and inconvenience.

While this is clearly a step in the right direction (if currently a vague wooly promise worth about as much as "we will try to ship before the release date" they still chose not to respond on the issue of customer satisfaction and the piracy concerns. It is therefore hard to take the labels seriously any more on those issues, and I would therefore recommend that everyone gets a Spotify/We7 subscription, because if this is the attitude of the labels towards real paying customers when there are complaints about payment amounts, they don't deserve to get the higher royalties from them.

>[Update 01-Dec-2011: This is the 18th working day since dispatch, and it still hasn't arrived...]

1 comment:

  1. To conclude this story. I'm delighted to say that after managing to get in touch with a Sony Music UK director who I have spoken to and who has given me a very genuine apology (the CD would actually have been shipped from the UK, contrary to what customer services were suggesting), a replacement (signed!) CD sent from him personally by Special Delivery.

    Like many such issues, the key to resolution is being able to find someone who is in a position where they can make a difference, and I'm very pleased that Sony were able to resolve these issues, and hopefully I've been able to highligt them in a way that will stop others from hitting them :-)