Once upon a time I was in a serious quandary. I wanted some cheap, plastic, materialistic consumer shit made in China and I wanted it now. What to do, what to do?
As I saw it, there were two choices.
I could haul my fat ass up and out of my chair, somehow make it to the car, drive to a big-box store, somehow make it inside and navigate the maze to (hopefully) the right section where the object of my desire might be found. All the while being blasted by a tasty mix of songs scientifically designed to make me spend more money. (The mix is a rotation of two songs. Happy, by Pharrell Williams and anything by Mumford & Sons.)
I say “might” because I’ve tried this in the past and it didn’t quite work out. Ever go to the store to buy one specific thing? After expending incredible effort (see previous paragraph) you learn it isn’t even there. Out of stock. I do not believe there is a worse feeling in the entire universe.
And that other choice I mentioned earlier? Amazon. Duh.
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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.
Negativity Theory states, as we all know, that historical figures aren’t as good as they appear. I know this topic will be remedial for some advanced students, but I think it is still fun to explore from time to time.
As we know, most people are surrounded by friends and loved ones. Among their many functions they effectively become “Keepers of the Lore.” It is their job to conceal and/or minimize the unsavory stuff while injecting exaggeration and hyperbole into anything that might be good, not necessarily limiting themselves to things that actually happened.
The theory states that the ability to discover unflattering information about a person is directly proportional to the amount of time that has passed. It also states that just about everyone has some kind of freakish penchant or skeleton in their closet. In many cases, information about these quirks never sees the light of day.
Let’s take someone like George Washington. He famously chopped down a cherry tree and, when confronted about it, said, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa.” Or did he? The story came from a book written about George Washington after his death, which was written by a guy who plagiarized other stories for the man’s life from published fiction of the time. No credible source for the story was ever found, so the cherry tree incident is considered apocryphal and its credibility is questioned.
There is also the matter of Washington crossing the Delaware as portrayed in the famous painting. In the picture Washington maintains a heroic stance at the bow of the boat. The painting has been analyzed, though, and many “historical inaccuracies” have been found. They include:
- It was raining during the crossing.
- Some reason that it would have been difficult for Washington to stand in choppy waters. Another theory states, however, that perhaps the occupants of the boat were standing to avoid icy water.
- The flag in the painting didn’t yet exist at the time of the crossing.
- The boat is the wrong model and appears too small to carry the occupants. The actual boats used had higher sides.
- The crossing took place at night, not in the day.
- The river shown is far narrower than where the crossing took place.
- Horses were not ferried across the river in boats.
- The painting shows Washington’s boat going geographically in the wrong direction.
I think this one example shows how history can tend to get a few facts wrong. So it is also easy to imagine the volume of information that may be omitted altogether.
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Sometimes a good idea can be taken too far.
Like shopping on the internet. Customers who made purchases from DecorMyEyes.com sometimes got a little something extra in addition to their order. The owner of that website recently plead guilty in a Federal court to two counts of sending threatening communications, one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud.
That sounds pretty typical for the internet, if you ask me. But wait. There’s a twist.
The threatening communications included threats to kill or sexual assault customers who complained about products purchased from the website. The owner maintained several aliases used to menace his customers by email.
In one case, the owner, Vitaly Borker, sent an image of customer’s home he had obtained from Google Maps, saying, “P.S. don’t forget that I know where you live.”
Man, that guy sure has made a spectacle of himself.
The judge told the man, “These threats are chilling, Mr. Borker.”
It turns out that I’m pretty good at customer service after all. At least by comparison.
I was considering my approach a skosh harsh – at least until I heard about Borker’s tactics. Now all of the sudden my plan sounds downright timid.
My plan was simple:
- No phone. Ever. Instead I’d offer a pledge to respond to most inquiries by email within one business day. You think Amazon.com whores over phone calls to get orders? No way. Once you accept calls your order accuracy goes in the toilet and you spend your day hoppin’ around like a chicken on a hot plate. An interruption-driven day increases your error rate in other areas, too, like shipping.
- The website would include profanity. Like our “no bullshit” policy. That policy would include things like our honesty guarantee. We don’t lie to take your money. Ever. And our non-edited testimonials page that lets it all hang out. Period. Someone has something shitty to say about us? We don’t edit it or take it down. We lump it.
- The FAQ would explain things in no sense. Why no phone? It costs money and ruins our day. Don’t like it? Go order someplace else. If you want a low error rate on orders and a fair price, buy the thing. Or not. Either way, we’re not going to whore all over you.
- No games pricing. You pay based on our wholesale price plus a modest percentage so we can enjoy the things that you do, like food, clothing and shelter. We won’t round up to 99 cents and we won’t change prices 15 times a day based on bullshit things like you zip code or how many items we’ve got in stock.
- The big piece would be our “in stock” guarantee. The website would report the quantities of products that we actually have on hand. That number would be accurate and updated in real-time. No “drop ship” bullshit and no placing your order just to find out we don’t have the damn item. The guarantee would be simple: If we say it’s in stock, it ships within one business day or you get the item FREE. Period. No fucking bullshit.
- Another policy: No returns. No exchanges. If you want the item, buy it. If not, go away. This keeps our prices low. Instead of spending our day dealing with your indecision, we can focus on running our business efficiently and keeping our prices low.
But, and this is just my hunch, I think some people would appreciate this approach. We’d ship quickly, have a competitive price, and guarantee what our website says. It would be just that simple.
Are you convinced? Do you hate bullshit and like making an honest living? Want to be your own boss and eliminate the idiots from your life? Open up your damn wallet and invest in my company. What are we going to sell? I have no friggin’ idea.
If all else fails, we can always switch tactics and hire Mr. Vitaly Borker to be our spokesperson. Don’t forget – he knows where you live!
If you are lucky enough to be reading this, prepare to enjoy yet another payoff.
I’m here to help you!!!
I’ve operated in the murky underworld of ecommerce business for almost 11 years now. Thanks to WordPress and the power of the blog, my misery and suffering can be milked to benefit others. Perhaps there was a reason for this after all. Perhaps my suffering wasn’t all in vain if someone can benefit from my hard-fought experience.
I’ve frequently told anyone willing to listen the myriad ways of evil wrought by ecommerce companies. The litany includes how they flat-out lie on web sites, fake “in stock” status, bogus customer reviews, and inventing how many customers they have right out of thin air.
It’s time to start putting that knowledge to use. And that brings us to today’s topic:
How to spot ecommerce companies you should avoid
Today I’ll discuss one simple yet powerful method that can effectively save you a lot of hassle. I won’t beat around the bush. Here is my technique:
Never place orders with any ecommerce company that is willing to accept orders by phone.
–Tom B. Taker
Short and sweet. Powerful, too, if you really think about it.
It works like this: Most small ecommerce companies have very limited staff. In some cases, it might even be a single guy in a nondescript strip-mall office generating $2 million yearly in revenue. I’ve personally seen this, and I’ve also seen the way that operation worked. (Not very well.) In other cases, like the last place I worked, there may be four employees and a couple of owners (husband and wife). At my current job there are two employees and two owners (again a married couple).
The specific numbers aren’t what’s important. The part that matters is that all of these employees have full time jobs that they are already overwhelmed with. Order fulfillment, shipping, inventory, maintaining the web site, pricing, purchase orders, production, retail floor and counter, etc. There is never staff dedicated to simply watching the phones. In fact, there is no employee given phones as a primary task. It’s lumped on as a bonus task for the rest of us. And, it goes without saying, that the phone is the ultimate thing all employees are forced to whore on no matter what.
My first ecommerce job was a small firm with four employees and one owner and five phone lines. That’s a one-to-one relationship of phones to employees. My last two jobs have had two phone lines each.
The main point is that when that phone rings, someone’s job just got put on hold. Period. Once a phone rings the only thing that matters in the entire universe is whoring that call and landing the fish. Period. End of story. Nothing matters except that next sale. And as soon as the phone hangs up, that order goes in the shitter when the phone rings again, because it’s no longer important. Only that next call matters.
This is fine and dandy when you are the customer and on the phone. For that brief moment in time you are the alpha and omega to us. You are a god. You have our full attention and commitment. You are the only thing that matters.
Phone calls are the Rubik’s Cubes of the ecommerce business. They require you to run around to all corners of the office, weighing things, opening boxes, looking up information in books, and solving riddles worthy of Sherlock Holmes. All for a theoretical chance at a sale.
There is no situation known to mankind where an ecommerce owner won’t hear a phone ring and say, “We’re too busy at the moment. Let it go to voice mail.” We’re talking about nothing less than the fate of the entire universe here. The Earth itself would crack in half and disintegrate into small pieces if a phone call went unanswered.
You can get where this is leading, right?
God help you if your order happens to fall into the category of “one we’ve already taken.” Once you’re off the phone with us your order becomes nothing more than a steaming pile of shit. It is essentially something we’ll try to squeeze in, if we can, between the phone calls that came after yours.
Elegant simplicity, eh?
Since we have no staff dedicated to answering phones, the only people who will be answering the phones are the ones who could actually be working on your order. Seriously, I can’t believe people get paid to invent business models like this.
Since every customer expects al a carte treatment, orders become a veritable cornucopia of sticky notes, handwritten scribbles and notes typed in a computer (that never get read by humans, of course). This guarantees that when your order actually gets processed by bitter, harried, multitasking drooling idiots who are dancing with the phones, the subtle little nuances of your order’s needs will be lost in the shuffle. It is inevitable. We are guaranteed to suck.
How come no one ever seems to remember the quintessential wisdom of the movie Lethal Weapon 2? You remember the part where Joe Pesci famously says, “They FUCK YOU at the drive-thru, okay? They FUCK YOU at the drive-thru! They know you’re gonna be miles away before you find out you got fucked! They know you’re not gonna turn around and go back, they don’t care. So who gets fucked? Ol’ Leo Getz! Okay, sure! I don’t give a fuck! I’m not eating this tuna, okay?”
That’s why I never, never, never ever order “off the menu.” Ever. I order the “number one” and in the standard configuration. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing special. Ever. I don’t care if it comes motherfucking loaded with peanuts and I have an allergy to peanuts that will kill me. Ordering off the menu simply isn’t worth it. You show me someone who says “no pickles” and I’ll show you someone with an order that is fucked up.
Placing an order with an ecommerce company that slaves over their phones is the exact same concept. If if explained myself properly above, hopefully you already know this now.
Real Life Example
Let me preface this story with this. I am not making ANY of this up.
Last Friday a guy called repeatedly trying to get a hold of the boss. Every single time the boss was already whoring on the phone so I was the lucky one who got to take the call. (Ah the beauty of the multi-line phone system.) I don’t know why, but he specifically asked for the boss.
Mondays and Fridays are pretty much pure cluster-fuck for us. They are our busiest days. People will do things like email inquiries, wait about 15 minutes before getting angry they haven’t had a reply yet, then pick up the phone and redial until they get an answer. We’ll answer those calls, thus preventing us from responding to emails, and thus guaranteeing that the cycle continues ad infinitum. The true beauty of this, of course, is that later, when we do get some time, some idiot spends time responding to emails where we’ve already talked to the customer! I call this phenomenon service clobbering.
So, each time this customer asked for the boss, I’d offer to help and/or take a message. He always said, “No, I’ll call back in a few minutes.” Fine. Whatever fuck face. Not once did he ever bother to mention what it was regarding or give me his phone number.
Finally he called again at 4:15pm and the boss was still on the phone. Our shipping deadline was 4:30pm and we weren’t going to make it. (No point in satisfying the orders we’ve already taken, right?) That’s because the boss was the only one there who could print shipping labels and he was on the phone. And I was the only one who could ship packages and I was on the phone. (See how this works yet?)
It was getting ridiculous with this guy calling umpteen times. I finally convinced him to give up his name and number. I took a message. I set it aside until shipping was completed. The FedEx guy only had to wait 20 minutes for us this time.
Once the FedEx guy was gone, I handed the sticky note to my boss. “This guy has been trying to call you all day. He didn’t say what it was about.”
Fast-forward to Tuesday. It’s the middle of the day and I happen to notice the sticky note on the his computer. The boss never called the dude back! Worse, the boss isn’t even aware of this because, like the rest of us, he is too damn busy and whoring the phones. Nothing is organized and nothing gets done. Everything is an ongoing game of stimulus and response. Only work on whatever beeps and jumps in your face.
Naturally the phone rings again and I’m the only one around to take the call. (The boss was four feet from my desk imitating a whoppie cushion on the toilet.) Naturally it was my old friend from Friday. Only this time he was mad as hell.
The customer had purchased an $800 item from us and wasn’t happy. He knew the boss had shipped him the wrong stuff on purpose. He knew that the boss had been deceptive with him. And now, he knew the boss was avoiding his calls. Oh lucky me, I’m the one that gets to take this call.
The customer told me he was livid. He told me he was calling our manufacturer to turn us in. He told me that he was going to be putting a chargeback on his credit card purchase. He told me a lot of things.
I told him that the boss was “out of the office” and would call him back. Gee, just like I had said on Friday.
Somehow, against all odds, I got the guy to hang up.
When the boss came back, I handed him the message and said, “This is the guy from Friday. He really wants to talk to you.”
The boss picked up the phone, called the guy, and said, “I’m sorry about the misunderstanding. I never got your message.”
WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT!
That’s what I like to call “team building” but that’s another story.
I hope the above anecdotes and information serves to make my point. Never place an order with an ecommerce company that accepts orders by phone. Ever.
I’ve given you a glimpse behind the curtain. Now you know how it works. The rest is up to you.
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?