So you want to be in the mail order business. Whether traditional “brick and mortar” or hanging out your shingle online, you have decided to ask the same question: How easy is it to rip me off?
Mail order is a retail system where fulfillment takes place at a remote location outside of your field of view and control. Think of it as the fog of war. By definition you are operating with less than full information. By design. Remember, this was your choice.
You might as well go in a dark alley and roll some dice. You might get better odds.
Here’s a typical scenario:
- Customer/criminal visits your website and loads up on plastic crap made in China. (Let’s be honest, that’s all you sell.)
- Payment is made with a credit card.
- You rub your hands together in glee, shout “Squee!” and box and ship the crap.
- Customer/criminal fiend receives the crap.
- Customer/criminal fiend then claims crap was never received and “disputes” the charges with the credit card company.
- The credit card company (aka The Vig) is, in this situation, the sole arbiter of truth, justice and the American way. You agreed to this policy.
- You submit all of your detailed records regarding the transaction including: customer order, shipping receipt, emails, phone records, retina scans, DNA samples and a electronic facsimile of thumbprint.
- The credit card company says, “Well, there just ain’t no way to know!” and decides in the
customer’scriminal’s favor. There’s a giant sucking sound as the money is extracted from your account.
Let’s review. What just happened? The customer isn’t out one single penny and the customer has your stuff. Bazinga! And there’s no magical fairy in the universe that’ll ever do one thing about it. Welcome to your new reality.
Those of you who watch Orange Is The New Black may recognize this tactic as employed by the criminal mastermind Lorna Morello during her pre-prison flashbacks. People really get caught for this? No. Remember, OITNB is fiction.
The bottom line is that shipping product mail order to a customer is a supreme act of faith. You’re basically hoping it’ll all work out. And when it doesn’t, there’s isn’t too much you can do about it.
The point is that when this happens the boss is furious and that, of course, is hilarious.
You shall not email
One of the primary functions of an ecommerce company is to take orders over the phone. These orders are placed by people who are too chickenshit and/or stupid and/or obstinate to do it themselves over the internet.
A common theme among these people is that they don’t like to tell you their email address. As if that could somehow be used against them in some terrible way or as if just a single extra piece of spam would be the tipping point to ruining their lives.
So these folks call up on the telephone to place their orders. And thus begins what I like to call a dance that leads to the creation of order records that are rife with errors. Did you say F or S? M or N? Another commonality these people have is that they like to speak quickly and don’t like repeating themselves. One thing is certain: By the time we’re done transcribing what was said there are errors.
Then we ask, “Can I have your email address? That is where we’ll send the order confirmation and the tracking number so you can track your own shipment.”
“What do you want that for?” the customer will ask warily.
Sigh. We’ve been down this road a million times. “I just explained all that.”
“Will you spam me? Will you sell it?”
“No,” I say for the 27th million time in my life. “We only send you emails pertaining to your order. We never sell, give away or lease email addresses to anyone. Ever.” The truth is we’re too horribly inept, unorganized and understaffed to do anything proactive like work our email lists. So by default your email is very safe with us whether you trust that or not.
“Well, you can’t have it! Won’t tells you, we will. Never!”
Fine. Whatever. Shut the hell up, okay?
The email enables, among other things, the order confirmation. This is a little bit of info, sent to the email address, that confirms things like what’s in the order, the amount charged, and where the order will be shipped.
Not once in my illustrious 10-year ecommerce career has a customer ever received this order confirmation, carefully checked it, then called in to report an error. At least not before the order has shipped. They’re real good about doing so the next day once it’s too late. “Wowie! You guys sure ship purdy fast.”
The order confirmation email is a vital part of the process to find, intercept and fix costly errors before an order has shipped. Before we ship fixes are free. After we ship fixes are expensive.
Then, these same people who claimed not to have an email address will call us every day for an update on their stuff. “Where’s my order now?” they’ll demand to know.
“If you provide your email address I could send the tracking information along and you could track it real-time all by yourself…” I helpfully suggest.
“No. We do not wants that! Just tell us where our precious is located now. Track it for us, you will. Yesssssssss!”
Nothing says job satisfaction like extra phone calls from idiots made possible through customer paranoia. All over their oh-so-sacred email address, of all things!
What gets me is that when you ask for the credit card information, they have absolutely no problem with that. They’ll hand it over like it’s a red-hot potato. They’ve been well trained to be efficient customers in the consumption machine. They know we need the number itself, the name on the card, the expiration date, the billing address, and the “security code” on the back. Har.
And they’ll willingly line up to hand over this information to a complete stranger on the phone. Yeah, like that’s any safer than transmitting the information across the internet.
A lot of customers call in out of fear of putting their credit card information into the computer and/or the internet. So they give it to us over the phone. We then promptly do two things that would probably fry their bacon. First, we write it down on a piece of paper. (Everything required to complete a credit card transaction on one handy document. Isn’t that nice? Which would never have happened if they just ordered themselves.) And the second thing: We then punch all of that credit card information right into that same damn computer and/or internet.
Ha ha! And they thought they were being safe. Not only did we just do the one thing they had hoped to avoid, but it passed through an extra human along the way. Talk about safety!
So here’s to you paranoid customers! Keep being magnificent.
Now that is customer service
I’m going to admit to belief in an amazing premise. This might be the only time I ever say something remotely like this so pay attention! 🙂
The premise is this: I assume that even those of us who hate our jobs with every fiber of our being and think customers are obliviots still make the effort (in vain) to actually help and provide service to our customers.
It still surprises me so much every time I realized that in spite of everything I actually cared! I must try harder.
Even so, some amazing situations can still develop. This is a story about one of them.
Our store’s web site has a feature that will send an automated email message to customers when we are running behind on their order. It’s a cheesy system but at least it pings the customer and lets them know something is still going on.
Sometimes, though, that system bites us in the ass and makes us look like fools. And, as far as I’m concerned, I can always use a good belly laugh like that! I’m not personally invested. The system sure as hell wasn’t my idea!
In regards to the particular order in question a customer had ordered four widgets. Three had already shipped. A fourth widget, however, was backordered and the fulfillment date was the ever-popular “unknown.” The customer chose to call in and exercise his right to cancel the widget and have his money returned rather than wait for some nebulous date. For some odd reason customers don’t seem to think “it’s on a big boat somewhere in the middle of the ocean” is specific enough information.
Now here’s the fun part. Because our accounting department takes so damn long to process refunds, our system has been emailing the customer the automated “sorry your widget is late – we’re working really hard on it” bullshit email every few days for a product that has already been canceled!!!
Why the hell should it take over seven days to refund a customer money? Search me! That’s just the way we roll here in the shithole. “Quick to charge but slow to refund” is our motto!
Every cloud has a silver lining (or so I’ve heard) and this one is that our own incompetence and lack of caring makes us look especially idiotic. I just love happy endings!
Well we’re living here in A;;entown
Customers. Is there anyone dumber on the planet? Dunno. Doubtful. Maybe WWF and/or MMA. That actually turns out to be a damn close call.
Anyway, an eCommerce web site allows customers to create their own orders. Some of them don’t seem to realize that the information they enter might be just a wee bit critical to satisfactory order fulfillment.
Take “Mivjael Smoyj” in “A;;entown,” for example.
Oops. I mean “Michael Smith” in “Allentown,” of course. (Not the customer’s real name.) Poor, poor Michael. He doesn’t seem to be able to grok that the location of his fingers on his keyboard actually make a difference to what shows up on his computer screen. Of course, if he happened to look up once in a while…
Apparently he couldn’t be bothered to verify what his fingers typed. Nor could Mivjael be bothered to review his order before clicking the “SUBMIT” button. Nor could he be bother to read, bookmark and/or print the order confirmation page after he submitted his order. Nor could he be bothered to read the order confirmation email we sent. Of course, that email bounced because he had a typo in his email address!
Poor, poor Michael. Somehow he ended up confused. He didn’t even know if our system had accepted his order or charged his credit card. (FYI, biatch. It did both.)
So a few days later he called one of our customer service representatives to double check about his order. She diligently looked for “Michael Smith” but due to his typos, she mistakenly assumed he hadn’t ordered or his order hadn’t gone through. That lined up nicely with his paranoid delusions so together they happily created yet another order for exactly the same shit and charged his credit card again.
Our production department didn’t notice anything wrong and made two sets of the same shit.
Our shipping department didn’t notice anything wrong and shipped two separate boxes of the same shit.
Fast-forward a few days…
Poor, poor Michael. He received his first box and was happy as a clam. Then, a few days later, something rather untoward and not completely pleasant happened. He received a second box from us. This confused his already overloaded brain. What could this possibly mean? I wonder if placing one order on the web site and another by phone might possibly have anything to do with it? What are the odds?
This is where yours truly enters the story…
I received a call from Mivjael today as I was being pimped out as a 50 cent phone whore by my boss. Mivjael was extremely worried that he might have been charged twice. Extremely worried indeed. I checked our credit card processing software and found out, yeah, as a matter of fact, he did get charged twice. I found that rather odd since he only had one order in our system.
Undaunted, I accepted the challenge of yet another Holmesian logic puzzle at work served up courtesy of our blubbering idiot customers. It didn’t take long to unravel the mystery once the game was afoot.
I’m considering a rather dramatic change for my long-planned book. I may have to dump the working title “Society of Assholes.” Now, instead, I’m thinking about going with “The Low-Functioning Society.” What do you think? Which do you think describes us better?
Be charitable but not a sucka
Americans are generous. We contribute about $300 billion to charitable causes every year. (About half of that is typically donated between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.)
We also give deep in the wake of disasters like the recent earthquake in Haiti.
We are generous but we don’t want to be stupid, either. We know that there are some bad people who seek to profit from human suffering. I have personally seen scammers spring out of the woodwork like cockroaches shortly after major events like earthquakes, rebate checks, H1N1 and even 9/11. These people strike under the guise of some cause at a time when people are feeling emotional and particularly giving. That can make them easier prey. The sad thing is that none of the money that is purloined by fraudsters goes to help anyone. It’s simply outright theft. For the evil among us there are no decency limits of any kind.
Haiti: Generosity reduced by three percent
On January 14th The Huffington Post reported that donations made by generous Americans using credit cards to charitable organizations assisting with relief efforts in Haiti were being “skimmed” by credit card companies by three percent.
The Huffington Post said that for every dollar donated about three percent was kept by banks and credit card companies in the form of transaction fees. It was additionally reported that these companies traditionally keep about $250 million from charitable donations annually.
Who knew that profiting from the generosity of others could be so bloody lucrative?
Then, on January 16th, I heard about the issue from MoveOn.org in an email:
But when Americans donate to charity with their credit cards, the credit card companies get rich. In some cases they keep 3% of the donation as a “transaction fee,” even though that’s far more than it costs them to process the donation.
Now the New York Times is reporting that “some” fees are being waived:
After being criticized for siphoning off up to 3 percent of charitable donations for transaction fees, the nation’s largest payment networks — Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover — announced that they would waive fees for some contributions aimed at aiding Haiti in the wake of a devastating earthquake.
The New York Times reported that these transaction fees typically range from 1 to 3 percent.
The Huffington Post also reported that only one time before did the credit card companies waive these transaction fees and that was for the tsunami disaster of 2004.
The rest of the time it is apparently business as usual which means profiting from charitable donations.
So the credit card companies said they’ll waive some fees. Who will do what? Let’s find out (per the New York Times):
- Visa – “would not apply interchange fees, through February, to donations made to a select group of major charities — the names of which were still being compiled — that are providing support to Haitian relief efforts. The company said it would also donate any revenue that was generated by charitable donations related to the Haiti crisis through next month.”
- Mastercard – “would wave interchange fees on relief donations made using United States-issued MasterCards to the American Red Cross, AmeriCares, Unicef, Save the Children and CARE U.S.A.” The article did not indicate a time frame for this.
- American Express – “through the end of February, it would rebate the transaction fees for charitable contributions made on its card directly to the nonprofit organizations listed on the Agency for International Development’s Web site in support of Haiti relief.”
- Discover – “said it was also waiving some fees but did not immediately offer details.”
Wow. What commitment. If that doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart I don’t know what will. Apparently if you contribute to charity outside the bounds of these very narrowly defined exceptions they will still happily gobble up those transaction fee profits. Additionally they appear to be building in time limits on how long they are willing to do this, like a whopping month or two. I guess they figure they’ll do what looks good now in the moment when the public’s eye is focused on them and then go back to normal once this all blows over. It’s true the memory of the American people can be short.
Meanwhile, I’ve lost all “interest” in credit card companies. I already boycott them for financial reasons. Now I have extra incentive. Thanks, evil scum.