December 10th, 2011 | 3 MIN READ

Are You Giving Customers First World Problems?

Written by author_profile_images Linda Bustos

Linda is an ecommerce industry analyst and consultant specializing in conversion optimization and digital transformation.

A dear friend of mine left the comforts of Canada a few years ago to take up life on African soil, and I enjoy following her adventures and experiences through her blog. One of her posts titled Finally Some Good Customer Service? got me thinking about how the Western customer-is-always-right business culture is not practiced everywhere.

"In Canada (and other developed countries), the salesperson or business owner depends on the customer to bring in their income. Therefore, their greatest interest is to serve the customer in a way so that they will keep coming back and buying their products. They value the customer because they realize that, without the customer, there would be no business.

Kenya is the complete opposite.

The business owner in Kenya often has the mentality that they are providing a service to their customers since, without them, their customers won't have what they need to survive...

...(for example) I go up to the desk to pay for my item. I hand the cashier (often the person who owns the business) a large bill. He doesn't have any change (which is always the case in Kenya). He then looks at me as if it is MY problem that HE doesn't have change for me. He expects me to start rummaging through my purse to see if I can muster up enough coins while he sits there and stares at me impatiently. I usually drop what I wanted to purchase and leave the store to find someone else who has change."

She also clarifies this is not everyone in Kenya, (she is in love with the country and its people). But this would never happen in the West (think of the Yelp reviews!) But this did get me thinking of all the ways Western online shops expect customers to remedy problems that occur in the buying process:

  • Zero results found in site search without showing refinement options or near-matches
  • Dead 404 pages without links back into the site or a way to contact customer service
  • Checkout errors without clear, proximal callouts on how to fix
  • Carts that clear contents after closing the browser (no use of persistent cookies)
  • Slow email customer service response time, sometimes exceeding 48 hours

How does your customer service measure up? If you missed our post last November, we have a downloadable customer service scorecard you can use to identify the gaps on your site.

And while we're at it, let's not sweat our first world problems. (Can't see video? View this post on

Looking for help with your ecommerce strategy and site optimization? The Elastic Path research and consulting division is available to enterprises selling digital goods and services. For more information, visit us at or contact us at

Share on


Thanks for signing up!

You'll receive a welcome email shortly.

By submitting this you agree with our privacy policy.