**Warning: what follows is ranting, but with substance.**
I’ve just spent the last hour and then some shopping online for quilt supplies; specifically, a marker from Clover Notions called White Marking Pen (Fine), pictured at right. Why should something as simple as this take an hour to find? Actually the first question might be: why should I have to look online at all, since the local quilt shop should carry it, right? Well, no, the local quilt shop didn’t have it, despite the fact that I asked them to order it months ago when I saw that they were out of it. Obviously, it didn’t happen at the quilt shop, so I came home and searched online.
What’s the big deal?
Most of the quilt supply sites I usually shop didn’t have this notion at all, which surprised me. This pen is the greatest thing since sliced bread when used properly. I say “when used properly” because I can well imagine that there has been some negative feedback from quilters who had trouble removing the markings from fabric due to not following the instructions, just like happens with the washout blue markers that people are scared of. Anyway, none of that says anything about why this sucker is so hard to find, unless quilt shops don’t want to carry it because people complained about it. *shrug* This white marker has always worked for me, so I want to order more.
How to lose business online
If an ecommerce site has no page that says where they are located, with a phone number where I can reach the company, I don’t place an order. (This personal policy of mine holds for everything but Amazon.com. Amazon doesn’t have a phone number—that I know of—but it gets my money anyway because it’s a giant in the ecommerce business, and it’s never let me down shipping wise) Why would I give my credit card out to a company I can’t reach by phone? Ecommerce sites that don’t have a page to tell me about shipping methods and how to reach customer service or track an order don’t get my business either.
I’ve been to sites in the past where I’ve placed an order and haven’t heard a thing from the company: no order confirm, no email, no shipping confirm, nothing. When I call the company, I get a message that says they’re on vacation and no orders will go out until they get back, which causes me to cancel my order.
Details, give me details
Of the few quilt supply sites that I found via Google that had this item on their site, the overwhelming majority were sites I wouldn’t send my money to. I found exactly one site that plainly said on the shipping page that they would ship packages to an APO military address. Even then, this particular place didn’t say HOW they would ship the package. Would it be shipped US Postal Service Priority Mail, or Parcel Post? There’s a huge difference in delivery times for those two services (Priority Mail to an APO is 10 to 14 days transit, Parcel Post is 4 to 8 weeks), so I need to know that in advance.
When I called to clarify, the customer service rep didn’t have a clue what I was asking (this is normal, unfortunately), had to go ask someone else, and eventually reported back that the package would be shipped “regular mail.” “Regular mail???” What the devil does that mean? I asked if that meant Priority Mail, and she said no, that means it won’t go Priority Mail, but regular mail. Well, that definitely cleared things up.
Are you really in business?
All of this difficulty with this one small item has lead to frustration on a couple of different levels. With the relative ease of setting up a website on today’s Internet and the popularity of online shopping, anybody can set up a virtual store and run it out of the backyard. I wonder how many of these online businesses are really “businesses” as opposed to hobbies. Frankly, if you expect to take a two week vacation in the summer and three weeks off at Christmas and not send any orders out while you’re gone, you’re not in business, you have a hobby.
How can you expect to keep customers if you run your “business” this way? That’s the beauty of online shopping: I can shop in my PJs, 24/7/365, and know that my order will go out in two business days. Sure, you can fill my order in YOUR PJs, but if you go on vacation, better have someone fill my order while you’re gone.
Get a good web professional
If you have a mind to set up shop online, shopping for a good web professional should be first on the list of things to do. Yeah, this is probably a major pet peeve of mine because I’m a web professional, BUT even if I weren’t, I spend enough time shopping online that I know what’s usable and what’s not, and most of what I looked at today was NOT.
If your web designer isn’t telling you that you need a contact page, a shipping options page, a page to check the status of your order, a search function, a super easy navigation system, a consistent layout, and short, quick to load pages, you need a new web professional. Making your ecommerce website fully functional as well as user friendly is their JOB. If they’re not doing their JOB, you’re losing business.
The root of the problem
I realize that this problem, or set of problems, is not exclusive to the quilting industry. I’ve seen plenty of ecommerce sites out there with all of the same types of problems in other industries. It think it comes down to this: it’s too easy to open up an online business. If these people were to open up a traditional brick and mortar store, they might try to get a small business loan, and if they didn’t have the knowledge or experience to run a business, maybe they wouldn’t get the loan at all. No loan = no business, possibly.
With an online business, you can start small, add inventory as you can afford it, and away you go. Except that some of these online start ups have people running them who have no business, management, advertising or ecommerce experience whatsoever, and can’t always afford to hire someone who does (like a web professional), and then they wonder why things don’t work out.
After all this, I’m not sure exactly what point I’m trying to make, except that as a consumer it’s frustrating. On the one hand, online shopping is great and wonderful, then you have times like this where it’s just a pain because businesses aren’t set up to do business in a user friendly, logical, “come shop with us” way. Though I suppose if I ever get around to setting up shop online myself, I’ll know exactly what NOT to do, right?