The Problem With Bhinneka.com - A critical review

Written on January 10th, 2014. We've got comments, too!

Online shop Bhinneka.com has been the first stop for many internet-goers in Indonesia for years now; I’ve been a customer for over a year now (and I’ve touted them before). They proudly call themselves the “#1 webstore” — but frankly, that’s a pretty low bar in Indonesia. I’ve run into problems with them before, and I felt it’d be worth leaving a review; both for my friends, and for Bhinneka themselves.

Short version: better than every other similar service in Indonesia, but uncertain stock and long wait times are an issue.

Update: On the same day this went up, I heard back from a senior representative of Bhinneka. That’s excellent feedback response right there; great job! I will edit or add a follow-up post with more when things pop up. I must say that it’s an outstanding start.

I’m typing this on a chilly Friday afternoon in Jakarta. We’re a laid-back country, but in a city of massive traffic and commerce, I prefer getting stuff shipped to me. So last Tuesday, right before lunch, I went ahead and ordered three things off Bhinneka:

  • A UV lens filter (49mm) for my new E-mount 35mm f/1.8 prime (people are going to start hate-mailing me about using a UV filter for “protection”, but they save me lots of finger smudging). Great lens, by the way.
  • A Ducky Mechanical keyboard; brown switches, of course. I’d personally prefer a DAS, but they’re not listed, and shipping in would be too expensive.
  • As an afterthought, another 8GB piece of RAM for my iMac (it’s ageing, but I’m not getting a new mac till they release one with a retina display — or I can get a good IPS 4K display). I need more RAM for my Minecraft server.

So I set my order, selected free shipping, sent my money over a bank transfer, and 3 hours later someone verified my purchase. My account page now said “In Process”.

Here was my first hitch in the story: I called the next day, asking if I could pick a different delivery option. I wanted my stuff by the weekend, if possible, and I was willing to pay extra for overnight delivery if I could. I called in, and the CS dude outright said “no”. Most companies will have a canned response for this — “we’re considering this option in the future, subscribe to our newsletter for updates” — but Bhinneka just said “no”. I was given a 2-7 (workday) estimate, and there was nothing else I could do.

I later worked out that they have a special fleet of delivery motorbikes to send stuff faster — but I could only request that manually by ordering via phone, not for online purchases. I can’t really understate the hilarious backwardness of this part.

(Tip for startups: Please don’t do this. When a customer is willing to pay a premium for something in a hurry, at least demand a 250% markup and personally deliver it in a limousine, if nothing else is available.)

And now it’s friday — and I’m finally told that my keyboard isn’t available.


bhinneka-email


This isn’t the first time I had an order rejected; I’ve had previous purchases stuck in the pipes too. This first happened with a U2314 Dell Ultrasharp, which had a week of back-and-forth, then silence for about 2 weeks before cancelling (though they later restocked it and I did buy it off the bat). Another time, it was an EyeFi memory card to transfer photos from my camera to my laptop over WiFi. I really wanted this one, so I asked them to hold on to my cash until a unit was available; a few months later, they called me to inform me that the unit was still not available, and I just asked them to replace with a Logitech G600 gaming mouse (also great, by the way).

It’s worth noting that the rejected purchases were “esoteric” items; they’re all amongst the most expensive products in their categories, and they probably aren’t commonly stocked. But they’re also “enabling” products; like that guy screaming on Apple vs Android forums about why everyone else seems to care so much about feature X, they do something that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do (the same way) without.

The customer support officer wasn’t immediately able to find out if there were any variants of my keyboard available, and this all took place on a Friday evening (day #4), so I probably won’t hear from them again until Monday.

An email (perhaps automated, this time from an official address instead of a support staff email) came in a bit later to inform me that my product is “being processed” with good progress and is in “preparation”. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but it’s past office hours.

Hopefully I get everything by the end of this week. Or at least minus the keyboard, if they can’t get that.

The Small Print

Bhinekka’s website clearly warns about this, and it’s in their terms and conditions; I understand that, unlike Amazon, they don’t personally stock all their products in a big warehouse. Instead, they seem to rely on smaller distributors to manage their item availability.

It’s a great strategy, but the lack of inventory management simply isn’t reasonable. When a company advertises themselves as a tech-savvy shop, they should be able to find out item stocks with one keystroke (if not just outright say how many stocks are left on the site itself).

This is a huge deal because we customers shop online for convenience; namely, time convenience. The threshold for same-city shipping is about 5 days tops; any longer, and customers could just wait for a weekend and buy the stuff themselves. Granted, no two customers are alike, but a 2-7 day delivery promise — with a day #4 alert that my product isn’t available — is pretty slow for today’s standards. This is doubly crazy because there is no option for faster shipping.

So I understand why this is happening — I’m just criticising that it is happening.

They’re doing a good job. It could just be better.

Still the best around (for now)

I still firmly believe that Bhinneka remains the best of the few reliable online stores we have (in Indonesia). Its customer support isn’t great, but at least it exists and works most of the time. For my friends picking an online shop, I highly recommend them. The problem is that they lack a strong competitor, so they currently don’t really need to innovate.

I truly hope that will change — and it looks like it will.

Similar stores are springing up — I personally have great hope for Lazada, which has a more varied selection to shop from. But with Bhinneka’s current state of more “specialist” gear, this distinction may be fading.

IKEA is coming to Jakarta soon as well. They won’t really trample on Bhinneka’s business, but this is preceding a wave of international-class stores expanding into Indonesia.

The digital sea-change is ongoing here in the archipelago, and I truly hope Bhinneka will step up their game — they probably need it.

But for now, enjoy the weeklong waits and worried glancing at your inbox to hear if your gear isn’t in stock.