Humbled by Miscommunication...
I'm up early on a Friday morning as it's pouring outside and I'm standing in my extremely crowded garage eyeing a mountain of boxes with the intensity of a five-time Tetris champ. The stack of needed, and admittedly, unneeded goods have given me the evil-eye every morning and every evening for the past four days. I try my best to ignore it, as I struggle to settle in to my new location, stay on track with the magazine, and get more than four hours of rest each night. As my café sua da is finally bringing me to my caffeine-enhanced senses, I reach for a massive box labeled "misc" and get things underway. Buried under a ton of DVDs, I find a few t-shirts that I haven't seen in quite some time. Somewhere around 2003, a good friend stepped into the clothing and print industry. With the resources at our fingertips, we came up with a plan to do a few Honda-related shirts on the side. We set out to design a t-shirt line that concentrated more on performance and clean aesthetics, rather than cartoon and child-like designs that had plagued our industry for a good portion of the late '90s and early 2000s. To say our operation was small would be putting it mildly. However, the feedback was incredible and our peers really seemed to like the look and feel of the designs. The shirts were selling well just from simple word-of-mouth advertising and a few threads on a major Honda forum at the time, so we really couldn't complain. Thinking back, I could distinctly recall a few other clothing lines popping up shortly after, and plenty of trash talking to steal as many customers as possible. Beyond that, there was a situation with a forum member threatening to sue us for not receiving his order. He made a thread about it, got his friends to back him up online, and proceeded to bash us without mercy. This was all before he had ever tried contacting us of course. The problem; it had been one week and he hadn't received his order, probably due to the fact that he failed to provide a shipping address or contact phone number. We did in fact email and message him on the forum, to which he later admitted to forgetting his email password, and his pop-up blocker had denied inbound messages. Eventually he apologized and we did get his shirts out after he sent us his address info, but I often wonder how much of an effect that whole ordeal had on our overall sales. Our word against his, and people were picking sides with just a smidgen of info.
Earning that gold star...
With the speed of the internet, and the lightning fast information that it carries, one black mark can destroy a small upstart. Customer service, quality, and speedy shipping have never been more important than they are right now. No one wants to get burned, and if there's a company out there that is faster than the next guy, or perhaps willing to go the extra mile in the case of damaged or lost goods, they're going to be recognized for it. On the flip side, there are online businesses floating throughout the internet that have developed a reputation for being difficult to work with. Regardless, because of their access to extremely hard to source products, they maintain a strong customer base. There's been more than one post about how Company X was contacted for a specific part but failed to produce said promised part once the buyer showed up at their shop. Then there's the company that advertises every unobtainable JDM doo-dad you could possibly imagine, yet will only sell to those who they feel "deserve" to own it. I'm not sure how that determination is made, but in my eyes, no part is worth that much hassle. Oh, and there's the company that provides a very niche service, yet is too busy to ship out every customers order, so some just have to suck it up and take the loss. Nevertheless, these companies, even with the horror stories surrounding them, continue to prosper with no signs of slowing down because of uninformed newcomers and their ability to generate a healthy following.
Consumers strike back
With the information on the web capable of reaching monitors almost as fast as its originator can type, bad things can occur for a business owner. One miscommunication, one lack of follow-up can put that business on the infamous black list at a moment's notice. Well-known and respected forum members posting about their negative experience can wreak havoc on a reputation. Others see the wrongdoing and that raw feeling of being taken advantage of helps to stoke the fire further. Clearing your name can be extremely taxing, and will usually involve bending over backward to get some type of resolution. With any luck, a company can get back into the good graces of the web, but like a digital paper trail, the internet never forgets.
Biting off more than you can chew...
Those who own a shop or do online sales should take note. There are very obvious parameters that should be adhered to, though some might experience a slight loss of vision once a little cash is flashed in front of them. If you're a small business or perhaps just an average Joe selling goods on your favorite forum, keep these things in mind:
• Supply and demand: If you offer a service that takes time, don't overbook yourself. Leave room for quality control and life's little "extras" that might steal some of your time. A slower service with outstanding quality will always trump fast, unreliable work.
• If you don't have it, don't sell it: There's no reason to offer a product that you don't physically have in front of you. Chances are, people will still want it by the time you actually get your hands on it.
• Be real: If you have a knock-off product, that's fine, but let the consumer know right from the beginning.
• Communication is key: Don't ignore PMs and emails as they might contain vital information from your customers, and could lead to the demise of your business.
• Don't take it personal: If you're getting bombarded by messages because of a nervous buyer, keep your composure. When you agreed to sell something to them, you took on the responsibility as a business man/woman, so be responsible.