Archive for the ‘Selling Online’ Category

Choice in eCommerce

July 23, 2013

Last week saw the end of an era with me and one of my suppliers. It’s been a hard slog doing business with them. On the one hand they have one of the most fabulous ranges of giftware on the market, on the other, they are the most difficult, unreasonable and non-customer focused company I’ve ever come across, retail or otherwise.

I have only ordered from them 4 times over the years, as with each order, comes another set of unworkable conditions. The orders arrive late, sometimes 5 months late, their finance dept send out invoices for orders which have been returned, then threatening letters, they seemingly have no paper trail, no stock control in the warehouse, their account managers seem to have no grasp of your history with them, so do not anticipate the hesitation around ordering. Every experience has been a bad one, yet their goods, once you finally get hold of them, have won countless awards, are design  led , well made and exactly the kind of product we want to sell.

Last week I received a circular letter from their MD stating that from September onwards they will not be supplying retailers who put their work on eBay, Amazon Marketplace or similar platforms. Amongst other problems, there’s an issue of copyright causing them concern, they don’t want any images they supplied used in future and if sellers continue to put their ranges on those platforms then they will close the account.

We’ve had an eBay shop for a while now, where newroomsoutlet sells end of line at a reduced price, but also current lines at the RRP. We’ve never sold under the RRP for the company in question on their latest lines, used only their approved imagery and given credit where credit’s due….but that’s because we ourselves do not perceive eBay to be the online car boot sale, which is clearly how some suppliers are viewing it.

Indeed we only started an eBay shop in the first place to remain competitive.

I was asked a while back to take down one of their ranges from eBay as the brand lending their name to the range apparently saw it as discrediting the brand. …….ironically the same brand which sells end of line fashion in TK Maxx.

Initially we did as asked. But then others remained selling it and so we put it back up there. When we were sold the goods originally, there was no question of eBay being a problem so it felt more than a bit rich to be asking what we see as a change in terms and conditions of sale. So we politely suggested that they buy the goods back off us, thus avoiding their sale on eBay and, to be fair, a deal another supplier was only too happy to offer.

The reply was that they didn’t offer a sale or return basis for business….which is not what this situation is. Surely if you change the terms of sale once the items have been sold, then you leave the buyer no alternative but to return the goods.

They’re having their cake and eating it so we are happy to keep the goods on eBay and for them to close our account. We both lose, sadly.

What does make me smile, however, is that in an era where like it or not, we are still in recession, giftware is not a life essential, so sales are not easily won. A company who can afford to put such limits on its product must be doing well, which is good news, but I wonder how long before there is a U-turn in its decision. How long before manufacturers or rather their sales teams acknowledge that eBay and Amazon are search engines?

People no longer Google something they wish to buy but go straight to eBay and Amazon. Only once they can’t find what they want there, do they then Google the product. #fact

Today we have received the following circular from eBay……….a counter attack, we wonder?

Today, we would like to ask you, as one of our professional sellers doing business on the eBay marketplace, for your help in supporting a very important initiative. It is aimed at making sure we keep ecommerce as an engine of growth in Europe.

What is going on?
Some brands and manufacturers are attempting to limit the sale and resale of their products online. Increasingly, these brands and manufacturers prevent their authorised sellers from selling their products on online marketplaces such as eBay. These unilateral bans harm you as a seller, your customers, eBay and commerce as a whole. 

What can you do?
Some sellers have founded ‘Choice in eCommerce’, an initiative which fights sales bans on online platforms. This initiative is inviting all business sellers to sign a petition. This petition will raise awareness of the problem amongst manufacturers, brand owners, online marketplaces, national and European policy-makers, as well as public authorities.

Sign the petition!
The petition can be found on the Choice in eCommerce’s website at: www.choice-in-ecommerce.org 

We encourage you and all our sellers to support this initiative and sign this petition in order to promote fair and open online-trade.

We thank you for your interest and engagement!

Best regards,
The eBay Team

—————————–

I suspect brand owners and their manufacturers take a long hard look at e-commerce. There seems to be a throwaway assumption that all those selling on eBay are unprofessional, use bad imagery and do cheapen their brands, There are, however, sellers on there who don’t operate in such a way, who are simply keeping abreast of the trends and have to be in it to stay afloat.

Stop being so lazy and do some policing. Every time you sell to an online outlet, do a mystery shop, then send the goods back. See how you like/don’t like the experience and on that basis then start closing accounts but not as the first and only course of action.

I am tired of ill informed, dated sales folk who have no idea about online selling, what is and isn’t achievable. I would love them to work within the parameters they lay down and see how unworkable it can be.

For now, we will continue to sell from both our sites and trust that some suppliers out there wake up to reality.

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HSBC Global Iris – the online death knell for Merchant Services?

February 12, 2013

About four or five months ago I had a call from HSBC Merchant Services with whom I have the payment gateway for newroomsonline.

I love HSBC and have seldom had cause to complain about them or their service.

They were calling to ask if I had managed to read through the new Global Iris merchant information that would be replacing my existing service.

As it happened I hadn’t given it a second thought pushing aside until it was absolutely necessary….that day had arrived.

The smashingly helpful Brian said he would walk me through the process.

We set about the task only to find that HSBC’s new software wasn’t a default gateway on the Shopcreator system to which I subscribe, so the process ground to a halt until I could have a chat with them.

“It’s ironic, “I said to Brian,”when so few customers elect to pay using the bank backed gateway anyway, I battle inwardly with whether it’s even worth my having it any more. Probably 99% choose PayPal to the degree that I know it no longer pays for itself. It’s just a tool that adds credibility!”

Brian kept a professional silence!

Evidently all that needed to be done was to point my checkout to a different address. Shopcreator made no bones about saying how banks were very quick to tell customers it was a five minute job when, in fact, it cost them a substantial amount of money to effect the changes. Bottom line, they would do it, but it would cost me £500.

So I refused.

I got back to HSBC and said that in all fairness why should I, or Shopcreator, for that matter, have to foot a bill for a change which was none of my doing?

And since then nothing has happened until this week.

Shopcreator and HSBC have arrived at an agreement where I have not had to pay but they have carried out the software migration nonetheless.

So this morning I had my mini tutorial on the new software which seems far more straight forward and intuitive than the last but is not without its anomalies.

They advise we use Internet Explorer as it just seems to do better on IE……but I use Chrome for everything! It will work on other browsers apparently but functions best of all on IE.

Which begs the question for me – why?

Why launch a software that doesn’t work equally across all browsers? (or is that my naivety?) When I am constantly being told that Chrome is a safer place to do business why would a bank elect to use any other out of preference?

Secondly, and perhaps more irritating is the fraudshield aspect.

The old software was linked to the ordering system, flagging up automatically any transaction that it queried as potentially fraudulent. This is commonly where a customer might have completed the invoicing address incorrectly, a mistyped postcode or, more often than not, where a house has a name and a number and the customer has not put them on the order form in the precise way the bank sees the address on their system. On the other hand it identifies fraudsters.

So when an order was marked FRAUDSHIELD REVIEW, I was instantly aware that the transaction had not been processed and had to log on to the merchant’s system to either OK or refuse the transaction based on the reason for its being flagged up.

The new software, however, does not do this. Consequently all transactions have to be gone through manually each evening to ensure that nothing has been flagged up as dodgy.

This might be OK if you’re a huge business and can dedicate a member of staff to the task, or if you are so small and have so few transactions that it’s not an all consuming task.

All I could think, however, was, thank God everyone IS choosing PayPal or this would sound the death knell for me and the HSBC gateway.

But it begs the question, if something were to go wrong with PayPal and I had to rely on HSBC I’d have to change all my terms and conditions regarding shipping times because I can easily see that I could not promise shipping within 2-3 days……as I’d have  my nose stuck to a spreadsheet all day. It’s not a good day for the SME working in online retail I have concluded.

I am fascinated to hear of any teething issues which have arisen for other vendors who might have been using Global Iris since its inception. Anyone?

 

PayPal vs Bank Online Payment Gateway

August 31, 2012

As the Christmas selling season approaches I face the decision with which I’ve been battling for a long while now.

Two years ago newroomsonline was fortunate enough to be asked to be a case study for a Masters project being carried out by Manchester Metrolpolitan University’s Business School. Students from all over the country, and largely from highly respected retail chains, were asked to study and assess our website with a view to providing 5 calls to action.

It was beyond enlightening. In some respects it was terrifying to see how humungous businesses conduct their business, with teams of people to facilitate each step of the process, versus just me….and John the Warehouse.

Many of the calls to action initially required a substantial cash injection to be carried out…….until I mooted that this was not an option…..when they did an amazing about-face and provided me with 5 calls to action which required no cash injection whatsoever. After half a day my brain was fried!

The one major action that I implemented immediately was to take PayPal. Up to that point we had never offered PayPal as a payment option, using only our HSBC payment gateway.

The result is a resounding swing towards PayPal payments. So much so that I’ve just been looking through all purchases made in the last month to find that 99% of our customers opted for PayPal at the checkout.

So it puts me in the position of questioning why we should have the HSBC gateway at all.

Reading up online there are many who are highly critical of PayPal, citing their ability to let you take money but not withdraw it as readily as a real bone of contention. Fortunately we don’t have that problem and have had nothing but good experiences from the process…..fingers crossed.

There’s also the credibility issue. While I use PayPal both personally and professionally, I know of many who are still very suspicious. There again we have the odd call every now and then asking how a customer should pay if they have neither a PayPal nor an HSBC account, unaware that it’s irrelevant as both accept cards from nigh on every major card provider out there.

When the profits from your total monthly sales using one payment gateway fail to even pay for that service, you have to ask the point in offering that service any more.

As a consequence my only real reason for our keeping the gateway is to lend credibility and reassurance. I actually don’t see that we’re getting anything else out of it.

I can see the point if you have a physical shop, are out and about doing fairs and shows and need a PDQ machine but for me as an online only retailer with very little external selling, I’m rapidly viewing my bank statements and seeing nothing but a financial drain.

 

The cost of business

March 28, 2012

I woke yesterday to the bleak news that we are to suffer another rise in the cost of post.

As an online retailer we only use the Royal Mail  service. We are a small, family run business, too small to enjoy the economies of scale offered by couriers, whose prices are competitive.

At the same time we are continually bombarded with the argument that Amazon, among others provides free postage – so how does one compete?

Do we sit back and justify to our customers why our minimum charge for post is £4.45, or do we encourage them to spend more so that they, themselves, can benefit from the financial common sense that multiple purchases do genuinely bring the overall cost of the postage down?

Many times I have pondered explaining our postage charges on this blog but do fear coming across as some whining child who any minute will crumble into a “yeah, but, no, but, yeah, cos like Amazon, like, are just, like ……… well cheap” or would it make people realise that the charge is not a rip off – it’s that bigger businesses can afford to swallow that cost elsewhere?

Everything we send out is trackable so you can’t order from us on a non-recorded basis, otherwise where is our proof that a parcel has ever reached a client? It potentially compromises both parties and is a route I don’t wish to pursue.

So I find myself in the uncomfortable position of saying, go on then, see for yourself.

Let’s say we send you a mug.

The actual postage charge is £2.93 currently. The box to post it in is £0.61p. That’s £3.54, to which we add a percentage for bubble wrap, parcel tape, a returns label, the delivery note, the time spent wrapping the order, the time spent taking it to the Post Office and the fuel used to get to the Post Office.

Our two main competitors will charge you a minimum P&P of £4.95 for the same mug. Others even more.

I was slightly angered over the weekend when someone tweeted to @Maryportas and @LibertyLondon that they liked her kinky knickers but that £5.95 for postage was ridiculous. It really isn’t. It’s realistic.

The Channel Island tax loophole, recently closed by George Osborne, might have a knock-on effect to some major online retailing giants. I suspect that they have been able to offer free post because they have been able to take advantage of the loophole to date and to offer free post as a result.

So who knows, we might see them now start charging us for post – and I would welcome it, not because I’m a sourpuss, but because not charging creates a false sense of reality. Fair enough hoik your product prices and then offer free post – that I can see, but low product prices coupled with free post creates a future date with bankruptcy, for sure.

 

 

 

Backpacks, rucksacks, haversacks – function vs fashion vs terminology!

August 3, 2011

I started tweeting our selection of backpacks this morning and at the same time wondering if I shouldn’t be saying rucksacks. It’s the perpetual daily torture over which words google best…but then equally, do they both necessarily mean the same thing in the buyer’s eye?

In my mind there’s an element of outdoorsy snobbery about certain terms. I recall once saying to my good friend Robin, probably 20 years ago now, that I liked his new anorak. He was mortified….”It’s a SKIING JACKET, and thanks!” came the response. It was all a bit akin to that fabulous Alan Partridge and Peter Kay Comic Relief sketch where someone comes over and asks who owns the brown Toyota blocking the door, to which he responds, “It’s a coffee coloured Lexus!”

I digress.

It’s all about second guessing what people look for, moreover what words they use to describe an item…and sometimes it feels like it’s anyone’s guess…you say potato….I say potahto!

In my mind the backpack was always the less technical term and more of an implication of a fashion accessory as opposed to something you would take fell walking…like these beauties…

Agatha Ruiz de la Prada Pink Spots Backpack

Kukuxumusu knitted jacquard Dragonfly Backpack - Jaione

Joshua Davies Isobars Laptop Backpack

Jordi Labanda Blue Backpack

Chupa Chups Lollypop Backpack

VW Transporter Haynes Manual Backpack

Whereas the rucksack is something I’ve regarded as far more technical, walking accessories that don’t so much come in a choice of fabric design as a full technical specification, usually denoted by litre-age, waterproofing, breathability and weight!

For years I’ve walked in Cumbria but was a very late starter so my rucksack of choice before being tutored into the more technical stuff was a Quiksilver one. It’s a surfer’s one if the truth be told but it’s really light, really hardwearing, suitably showerproof and at the time of purchase, I felt, uber stylish, in its cream and gold colourway!

These days I still carry it on shorter walks but am more inclined to use something a bit more technical on occasion, as my old bones prefer the lightweight, very waterproof and geared up for sitting correctly on your back type of accessory – so I have a very cheap Rhino 22 litre Wynnster…I am certainly no Alan Hinkes!!

The choice is vast from Berghaus, which I always think look the best being taller and slimmer, to Lowe Alpine and The North Face…and that’s just the tip of a very large ice berg.

And then we come to the haversack!

My mother has never called a rucksack a rucksack or backpack…but a haversack. So it was weird when looking into this to find that haversack certainly nowadays seems to be what I would call a courier bag, messenger bag or satchel!

I’ve never heard a single other person say the word than my mother so that alone would deter me from ever describing anything on newroomsonline as such…..but given the fact that I am plagued almost hourly by SEO cold callers who tell me we come up for zero…what do I know?

 

Customer Service and Stanley House’s Grill on the Hill

May 12, 2011

I am sure there are in-depth studies which prove the point I want to make, but unless you’re in academia and actually have the time to devote to reading up theory then what happens in practice is all you’ve got.

Newroomsonline, like any other online retailer, I imagine, receives very little feedback. When you receive that email which gushes about every bit of your service that you’d hoped would be received, your heart soars and you, megolomaniacally, think, this is it, I AM the next big thing. I was in raptures last night to receive an email from a customer who first contacted us back in February to see if she could negotiate a payment plan for an order of a whole VW Camper Van dinner service. She was so elated to have been given the opportunity to save up that she was ‘bouncing round the living room, really happy’ knowing that it will be delivered next week.

Of course we’re not the next big thing but we aim for the dizzy heights of success every day….but it’s hard when you’re a very small business and you do everything yourself. Equally, when you’re small you want to provide the most perfect customer experience you can because you live in fear of turning future business away, so you want to go that extra mile to ensure the all important returning customer. I am appalled on a near daily basis by the throw away attitude of big business whose attitude would seem to be F*** you, we’ve got your money now sod off and be quiet about it.

Which is why I like to always give credit, where credit’s due, and why I have to say, despite some of the negative things I can find to say about eBay, undoubtedly the bigger end of big  business, I do love it.

We recently started selling the odd thing, on the instructions of our accountants, on eBay as newroomsoutlet. What I love is the feedback service. The fact that everyone who has purchased from us has something positive to say is so uplifting and I wish it could be something I could put on the main website.

Good feedback genuinely inspires me to provide a better and better service. The thought of bad feedback makes me feel sick. While I pray for the stars, I just hope that come the day, I would never treat my customers with the same vulgar disdain that the big businesses  BT, Vodafone and Next have dished out to me in the recent past.

I have had some utterly wonderful customer service of late myself from small business (no surprise there) so will share:

The Grill on the Hill, Stanley House, Mellor, Blackburn.

Prior to their latest new grill, Stanley House offered two dining experiences, Cassis and Mr Fred’s. Either way the food is always fabulous, served by the most lovely and informed staff, an absolute delight and in the case of Mr Fred’s, very reasonably priced.

Having dined at Cassis a couple of times, and then had my wedding breakfast taster session there, I would be a little reluctant to describe Cassis as an effortlessly comfortable evening out. The restaurant had a less than convivial atmosphere, at times so quiet  as to be intrusive. That sounds weird but its cavernous space made you feel extremely self conscious if you were one of the 3 tables in use that particular evening…but you went because the food was indescribably superb.

The Grill on the Hill seems to have sorted that problem out for me. The new decor is bright and airy, stylish yet not on the interior design fascist end of the scale! Music plays at an audible level creating a less formal air….nice. Was that Richard Cheese at one point? In fact was that the wedding CD we left behind of cheesy covers of jazz standards?

The menu is great, a wide choice of what I’d call normal classics….not a poncey edge in sight…I had Pato Negra ham (is that poncey, have I just contradicted myself instantly? Damn.) followed by tournedos rossini and then a lemon tart.

The pato negra was just dreamy, excellent flavour. The tournedos rossini was equally scrummy, with a slice of grilled fois gras as opposed to a blob of pate on top of a tower of wilted spinach, fillet steak and a fresh crouton. My only observation would be that the barbecued steak tasted like it had probably been marinated in something or grilled over hickory to give a taste which is not what I’d bring to mind when usually thinking of tournedos, but that didn’t make it unpalatable…just lovely. The lemon tart was tart, creamy and had a beautiful creme brulee-esque slightly toasted crust – dessert perfection.

Throughout we talked at length to their restaurant manager, the waiter and sommelier – all very approachable, good humoured company, on hand but again not cloyingly so, to see to your every needs.

I loved it. I even managed a mouthful of red wine…trust me, not a common sight these days. David asked me for marks out of ten – I said 8, he was surprised. OK then, to coin the favoured phrase of my dad, aka John the Warehouse, for those who follow @newrooms on twitter – if you’re looking for something to complain about….

1. The flowers were dead in the ladies. It’s a minor point but in event management I check the loos before I do anything else on show day.

2. The balsamic dressing on the pato negra was too much. At times it dwarfed the flavour of the perfect ham, I should have asked, When Harry Met Sally stylee, for it to have been on side.

3. The BBQ flavour of the steak for my tournedos was a contrast with the jus that I’m not sure worked despite it being fabulous.

4. I missed the canapes which Cassis always served, and feel they would be a good link from the old eatery to the new.

5. I had a pre dinner G&T. The manager said Tanqueray was their gin, was that OK. This implied to me that they didn’t have any other gins….I love Tanqueray so not a personal issue but begs the question, what is a place of this calibre doing offering one gin? No Hendrick’s, Miller’s, Gordon’s or Bombay? Very odd indeed.

6. At £2.00 for 4 truffles I had expected four chocolate truffles….just chocolate and ganache. They were hand made, fresh and utterly fabulous BUT, there was an orange one (I really did not want that in my mouth) and a coconut covered one containing a cherry (ditto) – In future I will say yes to the truffles but insist on no flavoured ones. Chocolate should not ever be bastardised by these interloping flavours!!! I WANT A REFUND!

7. The music. Please can we sack off Michael Buble? And Nora Jones? If we’re going for easy listening jazz style then what about Diana Krall, Stacey Kent, even some straight jazz – Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker? If your food isn’t predictable then why is your background music?

The menu and my empty Tanqueray and tonic.

The new decor

Well it's not 103 but the XO will do.

Truffles!

No, in all seriousness, it was a superb evening, the food was simply spectacular, it always is…and that’s my only fear for the Grill on the Hill. You can dine thirty feet away in Mr Fred’s and the food is markedly cheaper and equally fabulous. The menu might not be as laden with tournedos rossini, rabbit, sea bass and oysters but it’s bloody good!

The 29th marks our 2nd wedding anniversary. Last year we returned to Stanley House, to the same bedroom, I lay in the bath drinking champagne and loved that there was a card in the room with the complimentary Champers saying welcome back Mr and Mrs Edmundson-Bird. We vowed to go back every year on our wedding anniversary but I suspect our evening at the Grill on the Hill may have swallowed the coffers for this year’s return.

Suppliers and customer service – calling @queenofshops!

February 15, 2011

I’m being particularly provocative, aggressive and dramatic with that headline and for good reason. As the retailer of the supplier’s goods, the egoist within is wont to make me say – without me you wouldn’t be earning a living, without me you’d have no business, without my marketing of your product you’d not have a pot to piss in.

Of course the reverse is true – without their product I would equally have none of the above. And, of course, when I refer to me I do mean any fellow retailer trying to earn a crust, I mean me and my ilk.

But I’ve had a gutful. I’m pissed off, there’s no way I can mix my words on this matter. Last week I’d been at my second trade fair for this year and wasn’t exactly in the mood – for the ongoing reason that there still exists a huge amount of ignorance surrounding online retail from the suppliers’ side.

So to get home to the office at 7pm and find a very brusque email from one of my suppliers asking me to call them to discuss what I’m going to do about payment of my outstanding invoice was really the cherry on my off-bepissed cake.

Here’s the tale:

Last year in January I placed an order for a new range of mugs due out around Easter and for delivery to newroomsonline in May.

(Presumably my preferred delivery date was noted?)

In June they still had not arrived. So, again, at a trade fair I dropped in at their stand and asked if there was a problem. A short apology re the delay explained that there had been a few hiccups in the manufacture but they were on their way.

(Presumably my concern was noted at the time?)

By September I was at another fair and called on their stand to say they had still not arrived…oh yes there had been a few problems with that line. I made the point of asking if by this stage they would ever think of still delivering them so late in the day, as this would now seriously stuff up my cashflow given the additional Xmas stock now starting to land in. I didn’t want the order any more.

No, they would NEVER do that. Any order which had been so delayed would always demand a call to the retailer first to see if the goods were still required. I was not to worry because they would always call first.

(Presumably this conversation would have been noted?)

The first week in October arrived and I’d been out of my office all day. A card on the mat told me Interlink had tried to deliver. The following morning I called them and drove 10 miles there and 10 miles back to their depot in Leyland to collect a box. The box was the order I’d no longer wanted.

I called the supplier, explained the situation and was told that I could have simply left the box in Leyland (yeah cos that’s what I really needed to hear at that point). I said I would be quite happy to keep the goods but that they were five months late, so if I did keep them it was on the understanding that they wouldn’t be paid for, for another five months, because my predicted cashflow had not accounted for this event.

She responded as I knew she would, that they did not accept that kind of a suggestion and that if the result was that I no longer wanted the goods they would arrange for the courier to collect.

The courier collected.

This was all done and dusted by 12.10.10.

At some point before Christmas I received a call saying my invoice was overdue. I told them that the order in question had been collected by them as it was too late to be of any use to my Christmas trade and the caller politely apologised and put the phone down.

Two weeks ago I received a call saying there was an outstanding amount on my account. I asked what this was for and was told an order from September. But I’ve not had an order from you since February 2010. What was on the order….and of course it was, once again, the returned order.

I said that the order had been returned to them. She asked if I had any paperwork to support this. I said I’d look into what I had and she said she’d look into what she had.

The brusque email I received was worded short (and sweet?) as follows:

Afternoon

We have an outstanding invoice on your account for £166.94  from 28/09/11 which I understand you state was returned to us.

My colleague has looked in to this and a collection as arranged but states that there was nothing to collect, see below screen print. Can you contact me to discuss further or forward payment of this outstanding invoice as soon as possible.

Regards

There was no Dear Sally….that was the first thing to really rile me. The second thing is that screen print to which she refers just has a date, a consignment number and the fact that it was a delivery followed by a collection from the Preston & Blackpool branch…there’s no evidence that anything was for me. It didn’t say newroomsonline anywhere, there was no delivery address shown, no postcode, quite frankly it could have been for Debenhams in the city centre – how it was of any use to me I don’t know. There wasn’t even a record of my having signed for the original box – and yet I am to assume this is meant as proof that I am what? Lying? Stealing? Because that is how I felt.  I STATED …..bit like saying I claimed……bit like inferring that I was lying or am I just too sensitive?

I was definitely being accused of something.

So let’s see.

1. They make no note of any of the conversations which have taken place at the trade fairs.

2. They make no note of any customer phone calls relating to orders.

3. They make no valid note of any courier services.

4. They make no note of any follow up calls relating to statement letters.

5. They have seemingly no handle of the amount of stock going out or coming back into their warehouse.

HELLO – WOULD SOMEONE LIKE TO SELL THEM A CRM OR STOCK CONTROL SYSTEM?????????

So the onus was upon me to prove my innocence as opposed to their being able to prove my ‘guilt’.

I immediately called my good friend @designconscious whose sound business advice and level headedness is second to none. My position was rather bleak as every exchange I’d had had been by phone or face to face. I had no written evidence at all. It was looking like I couldn’t prove my position other than to say I’ve never had those items on my website – why would I order a stock and then not even try to sell it?

As we spoke and she managed to stop my pottymouthed tirade, the gods shone down on me and I found the consignment note I’d signed upon their collection.

So I called them. To be fair the credit controller had read my email asking her to call Interlink again, and did start the conversation by apologising for the situation….even though at that point she had no idea I’d found the document. I let her talk and then said well actually she had no need to call Interlink because I’d found the consignment note. She was grateful. She put the phone down saying she would call Interlink and then call me back. She did and the matter was now closed.

She has forwarded a notice to me in black and white that the matter is resolved, that I am absolved, that I am not the petty criminal I was made to feel, that the current climate is hard for everyone, that she sympathises that I must lose weight and commerical anxieties understandably make us want to reach for the Hendrick’s…..sorry no, she didn’t say that at all…well apart from the first bit.I have an email confirming I owe them nothing and a screen grab of Interlink’s consignment note also confirming my side of the facts.

But when this all took place on Friday it wrecked the whole day. It pre-occupied me and as a result I got nothing done.

I strive to give my customers a great experience, and if something goes wrong I ALWAYS assume that it’s my mistake first and foremost. I appreciate their not buying from Amazon, a huge chain or my competition. They enjoy sufficiently massive trade as to be able to take advantage of the economies of scale that afford their customer base free delivery – I’m simply too small a company as yet to offer that. So I don’t take it lightly when people shop with me – I’d like to think that come the day I will never take it lightly.

In turn I naively assume that my suppliers also don’t take it lightly when I choose to spend my money with them and not someone else.

Evidently not.

Trade fairs – the not so fair trade afterall

January 26, 2011

I was at Top Drawer in London last week meeting up with a couple of my favourite suppliers. I have my visit to that particular fair down to a fine art these days and can arrive at Euston at 12.30, get to Earls Court, do the rounds and be on the 16.30 train back home.

I’ve disliked Top Drawer intensely for about 20 years but they seem to finally have got it right and either realised a few things themselves or had so many complaints that they can now organise a drinkies session at a distillery! It was a joy to attend, and I mean it.

For years it seemed everything was laid out on a first come first served basis – card suppliers next to smelly candle producers, next to babygrow knitters, scattered among jewellery makers. So if you sell one or other of those products but not all you literally had to walk every single isle picking your way between things of no consequence or interest. Your day was an unnecessary right-off.

Added to this, of course, is my own phobia of jewellery! So I’d be walking past some people looking like a rabbit in headlights about to pass out when someone offered me the chance to alight their stand and feel the quality! I think not, my sweaty palms would have slid off anything.

These days it’s so much more of a breeze, I can walk past all the irrelelvant stuff to find what does interest me.

As a matter of course I dropped on to one of the stands whose products I absolutely adore and would fill the website with tomorrow barring one obstacle – they refuse to supply online only stores. If you have a physical shop they will happily supply you, their argument being that shops have a greater financial outlay? It’s a bizarre argument. To be brutal, what do they care what the overheads of a particular shop are? To be fair in business is a lovely and perfect sentiment, and one to which I try to adhere but this one is wrought with anomalies in my opinion.

This piece relates in part to a similar blog that I wrote back in March.

The brand in question, who I will not name and shame because I desperately want their gear, are high value, high quality, superb design and manufacture, yet as far as I am concerned not being entirely honest with their explanation. I would imagine it to be far more a case of protecting their brand and not having the confidence to supply a website without fear of it turning up on some online car boot sale.

Their line was that the overheads are so vast with a physical shop that their allegiance has to be those customers first and foremost. They went so far as to say that they have one online only prospect who is now opening a physical shop on the back of wanting their product – don’t do it – well, don’t do it for the sake of one line!

A few years ago another would-be supplier refused to give me a wholesale price for their stock as they had not yet worked out the prices for online only suppliers? WTF? When I questioned why dual pricing I received the reply because the footfall online is greater yet the overheads of a physical shop so much more that it is unfair to offer the same wholesale price. Interestingly they have now completely sacked that idea off and are biting my hand off to take their wares – I don’t think so.

I remain appalled by the apparent ignorance and naivety displayed on the part of some suppliers. Part of the myth surrounding online retail as I see it is that unless you are a large chain, you’re an unknown commodity. So get to know us, engage with us, try to understand where we’re coming from rather than thinking we’re all on-the-make Delboys! Look at our sites, see how we sell, what we do, who we stock and who our customers are.

When I popped my head onto the stand and said I’d made the enquiry a few years ago and asked if the situation was still the same, I was told yes. And then I heard my voice say “But it’s the 21st Century, how can you still be refusing to deal with online only customers?” And all the same reasons were re-cited……higher overheads for shop owners, they have more at stake, they might also have a website which is OK so the only answer is to open a shop if you want our product.

I responded but I have overheads – not least a warehouse! To wit, many of our shops have warehouses as well as a shop. Then there’s the footfall argument. I think they mean potential footfall. But to get anything like the footfall they imagine takes hours and hours of hard work. So I guess it’s an hourly rate argument. They don’t get that your overhead is your desktime charges. Desktop research, endless reiteration and repetition through the social networking channels, digital marketing as opposed to a printed catalogue or flyer.

Many suppliers selling a design-led item are very precious of their brand, their invention, their commodity and I get that and I respect it. You’re pitching your stuff at a certain level and when you can see a shop you have a much better idea of what you’re policing. You are in control. It seems harder online to maintain that control, but it really isn’t. You only need log on to a website once to know if you want to see your work up there.

What shocks me as well is that while a physical shop might be the bees knees on the High Street, their website is merely a political presence which does them and their produce few, if any, favours.

Take Stringers in Lytham. It’s a local store, a dying breed as a department store not a chain. The produce is fabulous, shopping there is a real joy, I’m a true devotee. But their website serves as an online presence and nothing more. It’s clean, it’s pretty, it’s got pictures which change but beyond that it’s boring and offers you nothing of any real value. One month on and their Christmas shopping times are still front page news. But the shop – I couldn’t be a bigger fan. I buy most of my shoes there, I love their separate homestore. As a supplier you’d look at their site and wonder where you came into the frame.

Take another independently owned Fylde department store – JR Taylors. It sells some of the most cherished brands available, the biggest names in ladies handbags, aspirational lines that sell for a hefty price – it is the definition of luxury round these parts……yet no website of their own that I can find at all just a shocking mention on a local site filled with out of focus photos which does it no service whatsoever.

In some respects you would be forgiven for thinking well who is she to talk? I know, my website is on an old platform, but we go live with the new one within the next month, but it takes time (and money) to trawl through 560 products, remove the links, change the photo sizes, make sure everything is still there…..in the meantime, suppliers – have a rethink maybe. We’re not all schysters trying to cheapen your brand to the lowest level, we’re also trying to build a brand name for ourselves as reputable e-tailers providing some welcome competition to the chain stores.

Know your suppliers!

May 13, 2010

Once upon a time in retail, suppliers were very touchy about what you sold, how their product would sit within your shop,  how you would market it and the geographical proximity of competitors.

The internet’s changed all that – to a degree. There are suppliers who simply still refuse to acknowledge the internet as a marketplace with which they want to be associated, are protective of their brand and feel that it is impossible to police the net in the same manner as the physical shop.

I understand the dilemma of wanting to protect your brand but the messages from wholesalers can be so inconsistent.

One potential supplier in particular sells products over which I simply salivate whenever I see them, so much so that I’ve thought to myself, “Is it worth getting a high street shop again?” NO NO NO…….but I do miss not being able to sell it and I can’t name names because I’d love to think that one day they’d actually let me aboard!!!

Their argument is that they can control and dictate the outlets who vend their wares, they can see that the product has been displayed to best effect and sits with the flavour of said physical shop perfectly, but that they can’t do this online.

Why not?

I will never understand why they are so reticent and so naive about what is and what is not possible. What frustrates me even more is that if you do have a physical shop and you also have a website for that shop then they will allow you to sell online.

If you are an online entity only, however, they will not even entertain a conversation.

I had an interesting chat a few years back with a supplier who was launching a  brand new line on a certain day, ironically I think it was April 1st, at midday. By 1pm this brand new gift line was on Ebay with a Buy It Now price equal to the wholesale price. I know we all like a bargain but what were the suppliers thinking? Who makes the money there? Those of us who abided by the recommended retail price (RRP) set by the wholesaler looked instantly like we were ripping off the customer selling at twice the Ebay rate.

In this situation what then transpires is that the product in mind is instantly devalued and nobody can sell it let alone the wholesaler, so it bombs! When I drew this item to their attention and asked how in hell the rest of us were supposed to be making a living they’d had no idea how it had happened???!!

When I looked into buying a certain range of cufflinks I asked the manufacturers who else they supplied online. Oh they only had 6 or 7 people selling online, there wouldn’t be an issue of competition. I placed a pro-forma order and said I’d take a look once I was back at the office. At 35 different online vendors I gave up. They had no idea who was selling their product or how many sites.

Suppliers who sell their own lines online are usually very good and know the score. They either sell under a different name or sell at an RRP.

There are others who grate. Sadly they are usually the smaller makers and my heart does go out to them, but…

They sell their wares at the wholesale price direct to the public then chase you to buy from them too at the same price. Where’s the incentive? They put their own web address on every item so even if you do sell their lines once, you never restock because the customer then knows where to buy directly from the maker.

Where’s the long term thinking, the sustainability? Phrases like cake and eating it spring to mind….or burning bridges…or biting the hand that feeds you. Make your mind up – do you want to wholesale or not?

Another supplier hounded me month in month out to buy their product. It was a new product, they were being exclusive about who represented them. They were opting for boutiques in terms of physical shops, and, online, were being uber selective about who sold their lines. They liked newroomsonline, felt their product sat perfectly with what I sell and were desperate to get in with me. A few months later their products were on one of those carboot sale style websites. One particular bag they’d wanted to sell to me at a wholesale of £9 was selling at £9.99.  They went into administration in March!

Desperate times call for desperate measures and I don’t blame anyone for wanting and needing to make a living but be clear about who you want to make your living from and don’t hassle me if your modus operandi mimics one of the above practices and I refuse politely.

I could say things like joined-up thinking, working together, singing off the same hymn sheet, collaborative working, synergy or even coalition…..but then I’d instantly lose any credibility…I do have some, right?