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29 April 2024
Szklany sufit? We własnej firmie nie ma takiego pojęcia. Jak znaleźć odwagę i zmienić życie zawodowe z pracy w korporacji na pracę na swoim.

Why are we afraid to write about customers?

A few years ago I read a book called Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell. I haven't refreshed my reading of it now, but what stuck in my mind was that the author had the courage to write about his customers in an anti-quilt shop, and despite some of the story putting customers in an unfavourable light, he didn't lose them. I think many entrepreneurs who deal with consumers, the ultimate customers, could write such a book. But we don't do it because we are afraid of losing them. So the situation is that the customer can ‘slander’ us wherever he wants and rubbish us all he wants, and we don't really have the opportunity or the courage to defend ourselves and write what we think about it. I am writing this article from the position of someone who closed 2 online shops and one stationary shop a month ago. So today I can write freely without fear of losing a customer.

Today, I also read an article on OneT about Mr and Mrs Ewa and Robert Żechowski, who closed the iconic Karczma Chata Wędrowca in the Bieszczady Mountains. The article is long and exhaustive, where, among other things, the owners write about the fact that customers measured the diameter of the pancakes they ordered. This doesn't surprise me, does it surprise you?

Let me say at the outset that I do not want this statement to sound as if all customers are problematic. On the contrary! Most of the people I have met are very nice people and, as customers, they are either totally unproblematic or even grateful that we gave them the attention and time and that, thanks to us, they got the product they were looking for. Here, as in everything, statistics work too. If you send 10 parcels a day, a problematic customer will happen once a month, but if you send 300 parcels a day, you already have a difficult customer once a day. Then you send 900 parcels and your staff have their hands full responding to customer queries. 

Let me cite some typical situations. Let me assure you that these are not made-up stories, but real situations that have happened in my company. I know that no entrepreneur who handles e-commerce will be surprised.

I buy, I use, I return.

Would you believe it if we happened to receive as returns of online purchases, a colouring book filled with crayons by some child? Personally, it wouldn't have occurred to me to see a colouring book inside that came as a return. Fortunately, my staff were more inquisitive and checked such details.

Among the real curiosities were 3 returns, each from a different person, of washed, still wet, reusable nappies. The material, once washed, is quite easy to tell apart, and on top of that, if it wasn't completely dried, it would arrive damp when put in a plastic bag for transport. Great was the surprise of customers when we informed them that we were not going to accept such a return.

As a norm, if a customer bought a product with a freebie, say a baby carrier, and we added a small toy to it as a freebie, if we received a return, the freebie did not come back to us.

Nothing in the company's history beats returned baby swimming trunks with poo marks!

I order a few pieces, look at them and return what doesn't suit me.

Apart from extreme cases, such as the above-mentioned poo in bathing trunks, it has become the norm to order, for example, two children's sleep bags in two colours to look at at home and return one. The consumer, of course, is not obliged to think about how things look from the retailer's side. He does not care about the fact that the business owner, who buys 2 sleeping bags from the supplier and receives one as a return, can no longer return the sleeping bag. The sleeping bag stays and can only be counted on to sell itself within a few years. Unless, of course, it falls out of fashion in the meantime or similar sleeping bags appear at a lower price. The profitability of such a transaction is nonexistent. I.e. yes exactly, you have to add to it. One, that the seller pays a commission on the payment transaction, two, that the value of the returned goods, which then lie on the shelf, several times exceeds the profit we had on the goods that the customer did not return. Unless, of course, he returned both sleeping bags. since the sleeping bags are already our sample return. Then the seller's loss is even greater.

In small businesses, returns are opened, reviewed and checked. And do you know what happens with returns in big companies like Amazon, for example? The cost of handling returns is so high that most often all returns are simply accepted, (poo panties most likely too) because nobody even opens them. The returns are then either disposed of straight away, or go into bulk sales in the form of pallet mixes. This is a kind of ‘surprise egg’ for wholesalers, who buy pallets of products of unknown quality and composition for a pittance, assuming that something sensible can be found in such a mix of goods on which to make money. This topic is rather at odds with ecology...

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is another place where clothes from returns end up. There, I quote from an article in Onet: ‘Ecologists estimate that up to 60,000 tonnes of old clothes, which can take up to 200 years to decompose, end up there every year.’

I'll order on delivery, I'll pick up what arrives faster, or I won't pick it up at all.

2019: The start of the coronavirus pandemic. Four female employees who had young children stayed at home for childcare, three gentlemen and myself stayed at work. Someone will say why do I differentiate between workers based on gender. It doesn't matter to me, but in this case, the part of the team that was left totally didn't differentiate between the Ekomaluch products, because they were dealing with the wholesale part, which means toys. So we were left from one day to the next in the warehouse and the office a bit, as they colloquially say, ‘like children in a fog’. There were twice as many orders and twice as few people to work with. This was a good impetus for quick and radical decisions.

Cash on delivery orders went first!

I had already made the move many times before to do away with cash on delivery. Customers order and then don't pick up their packages. For the customer, this is no cost at all. After all, he was supposed to pay on delivery. Meanwhile, by the time the package arrives, the customer has changed his mind, his buying emotions have subsided, he either comes to the conclusion that he doesn't need the item in question or finds a cheaper one in the meantime. He refuses to collect it from the courier or simply does not collect it from the parcel machine. The result? The parcel comes back to us, we pay twice for the parcel and the customer doesn't care. What's more, for the company it's not just the cost of two shipments, but also the cost of picking the order, packaging, adhesive tape and, most expensive of all, employee time. Then also the cost of handling the return, which I have already written about above. Sometimes when I tell closer or further friends about these costs, they don't believe it. But what do you mean, you incur the cost of two shipments? What do you think? Who bears it? Not the courier company, after all! 

In one move, I abolished cash on delivery in all three online shops, on Allegro and in Empikmarketplace. Customers called, they negotiated, we were adamant. Sometimes extraordinary situations, such as the onset of a pandemic, give us extra courage to make unpopular decisions. Later, I spoke to friends in the industry many times and was surprised when they complained about the problem of unclaimed cash on delivery. In my company, the total level of returns, combining with prepaid but unclaimed parcels ranged between 1.5 and a maximum of 3%. This is a very good result for e-commerce.

Are you shutting up? Oh... where am I going to shop now?

This was a typical question from people who saw a notice on the shop door that the shop was closing. I found the customers' worries interesting, as they usually never bought anything from us.... or they had bought one thing once, five years ago. It begs the question: how is a shop supposed to survive if you have never bought anything here?

I try it on in the shop, I buy it online.

A few years ago, the most popular products in Ekomaluch were ergonomic baby carriers and baby slings. We sold 10-20 of these carriers a day. We sold online, but also in a stationary shop. Sometimes there were three families in our small shop at once interested in trying on a baby carrier. Two parents would come in with a small child. Serving a customer interested in a carrier would sometimes take up to an hour. We showed the different types of carriers, instructed how to put them on, how to place the child in the carrier, and then, assisted by us, each parent measured the carrier with their child. Initially, most of the advice ended with a purchase. Then, especially with the increasing popularity of second-hand portals, customers said they would think twice about making a purchase. Then, more and more often, we could see customers who had already checked the prices of products elsewhere in our shop, and then it was on the agenda to say outright that they thanked us for the opportunity to try it on and would buy the product elsewhere. From the customer's perspective, you could say, what's wrong with that. From a retailer's perspective, I would say this: let's not be surprised that stationary shops are closing down. 

I will give you a negative review or take you to court.

If you do not accept the return, I will give you a ‘negative’. The threat of negative reviews on the Internet or, better still, a court case is another element in the passionate customer-seller game :-). The threat of a negative is most often aimed at forcing a refund. Interestingly, people who really want to give something back in an honest way because it has broken do not have to threaten with negative feedback, are patient and behave culturally. Among other things, you can tell whether a complaint is a genuine complaint or an attempt to extort a refund. By far the most interesting cases, however, are those of threatening a court of law. In the 17 years I have been working with clients, there have been plenty of such ‘intimidations’, some even claiming to be lawyers. Such situations often caused a lot of stress among employees, and the whole company lived with the e-mails threatening legal action. The best tactic, which I developed after a while, was to give customers the contact details of UOKiK or consumer organisations. More often than not, such a polite reply ended the subject.

A real human being is replaced by a bot and artificial intelligence.

There is no end to this type of story. The longer I write, the more stories of this type come to mind. 

To sum up this topic: the world would be a wonderful place if sometimes a customer put themselves in the shoes of a salesperson and felt what it was like to be in their shoes. A change in attitude towards the salesperson guaranteed! :-)

If you are a business owner and are afraid to write an article like this, feel free to share mine. Your story is certainly similar! But nothing like that! Smile and remember that the customer's behaviour is most likely their frustration stemming from something else, and they are taking it out on you :-) And anyway... there's no need to worry, it's already mostly bots serving customers on call centres, and emails are answered by artificial intelligence, so the customer can shout and threaten and the computers won't be moved :-)

In closing, I would like to say hello to all my current and former customers, with whom I have had great relationships and even social acquaintances over the years. For you, the online shops and the stationary shop were worth it! Thank you, because I have learned a lot from you and experienced many good things. This article was not about you! :-)

29 April 2024
A few years ago I read a book called Diary of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell. I haven't refreshed my reading of it now, but what stuck in my mind
22 April 2024
Have you ever wondered who decides to open a children's shop, be it online or in a traditional shop? Well, it turns out that the situation is quite typical all
02 April 2024
I have always dreamt of running my own business. Back in high school, in the 1990s, I helped my Dad do the bookkeeping for his company. Back then, the bookkeeping


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