09/30/2016 by Shaun Kauffman
Many times people believe that the more you get invested and the larger you get, the better off things are. And while that might be true for certain things, generally the grass isn't always greener on the other side.
Howdy ho, folks! Today’s installment of 1st Edition Investments isn’t going to be like a standard article. This is actually going to be a two-part article. While I was sitting and thinking about the topic I wanted to discuss this week, I was hitting a roadblock. It didn’t come because I had nothing to talk about, but more because I was incredibly frustrated with a situation that had just occurred with a sale. Generally when issues pop up they tend to plague my focus even long after I have resolved the issue and moved on. So while I had originally intended to do a set review for Evolutions that looks at the economic side of the set, the investments short and long term, etc., I decided we should instead closeout September with a different style of article. Ramblings if you will. (Don’t worry, the Evolutions review is still going to happen in mid-October). In place of the set review, I want to sit down, take a step back from the economic and investment analysis that we did last week and the week prior, and instead discuss the trials and tribulations that come with…
- Starting your own business in the hobby industry
- Doing buy, sell, and trade online via eBay, TCGPlayer, and Amazon
- Working with distributors
- General headaches that occur
I get asked a lot during the week about problems people run into with sales where they ask me what I’d do, or they tell me “I have this situation you’re never going to believe”, when, let me tell you, I’m sure I will. I’m sure I’ve seen it before. I swear, nothing anymore surprises me. I also get told a lot how lucky I am to get to work in this industry and to be my own boss. Those people are absolutely correct. I am incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities I’ve had, the money I’ve made, the people I’ve gotten to meet, and the places I’ve been able to travel. That being said however, it doesn’t mean that what I do isn’t like any other job. I’d argue many days it is harder than many other jobs. Not only will you have to be the salesman when you start your card empire, but you’re going to have to wear a ton of different hats and deal with a ton of different problems. Each job you carry within your company will have its own sets of issues that you’re going to have to deal with, many of which will get easier as you gain more experience. The old phrase-turned-meme, “Mo money, mo problems” holds up quite true in this sense. That being said with the right outlook and understanding of the issues and their consequences, you generally can skate past a lot of these issues with no long term damage. So hopefully we can sit down for the next few pages and analyze some of the roadblocks and potholes (not sure why I’m using so many road references today) that you’ll run into starting your card business and how you can look to handle those situations in a positive manner that will build your business for the long term. Keyword: long term.
When you start your business you’re going to be dealing with customers more than anyone else. Their money is your livelihood. Without it, you won’t make it. So in selling items and wooing customers, you are going to be presented with many difficult situations and circumstances that depending on how you handle them is going to dictate the future of your business. Let’s take a look at the three most common sticky situations customers can create.
The Customer Who Places You in a Catch-22:
When I decided to write this article I was sitting at my computer packing orders for the day stuck in a Catch-22. For those of you who don’t know, a Catch-22 is a situation that two (or sometimes more) options that regardless of which you take, will generally have a negative or undesirable outcome. What this means is that you generally are picking the lesser of two evils instead of a position situation. A great example of what most would consider a Catch-22 is this year’s Presidential Election. Most people feel like they are voting between two undesirable candidates, so instead they are voting for one on the belief that they’d rather the other not be in office. Surely all of those people would much rather just have a candidate to vote for that they felt strongly about, however that isn’t a choice. Queue the Catch-22.
So my situation involved an order on the selling platform Amazon. While I know that selling on Amazon is an absolute nightmare (more on this later), sometimes it presents you with situations where there are no wins. I had sold an item and the customer accidentally purchased the item twice in two separate orders. They had messaged me as an inquiry saying that they thought they purchased it twice and only wanted one. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, except the fact that the order had to go out today. I know what you’re thinking “This doesn’t seem like a big deal, just cancel the order”. Normally you’d be right, however on Amazon you have to have an order cancellation request, otherwise if you cancel an order it will hurt your metrics (aka: your lifeline). So I quickly messaged the customer, and eventually called, explaining that we needed them to cancel one of the two and we’d ship the other out, but that it needed to be done by the end of the work day otherwise we’d have to ship both out. 4:00 PM rolls around and no cancellation request has been made. Now I’m sitting in the position where I either, send the order and have the customer reject the package at which point I refund, or I cancel the order which would make the customer happy and take the hit on the metrics.
Why should I be punished because the customer made an error? Well, that’s just how this business works. It does not matter on which end, yours or the customer’s, the error occurs, it is YOUR error. Everytime. You have to eat it, even when it isn’t a Catch-22. While you’re just starting out and living on the Facebook only sales world you can put a customer to the wall (metaphorically speaking) and tell them like it is, the deeper you get into your adventure with this business the more you’ll come to find out that you are going to have to make concessions for customers that you don’t agree with, regardless of who originally created the error. In this instance I shipped out the second package and sent steps on rejecting it and getting a full refund.
Eventually the customer called me to discuss it and I explained the whole situation and why we had to send it. She was very understanding and all had went well. It could have been a very different situation however, had that customer not been understanding and left negative feedback. Then my metrics still would have been hit and I would have been in the same boat that I originally tried to prevent. So how did I make my decision? Ultimately it came down to what would cost me more. In both of these scenarios I was in a situation that likely could have caused a metrics hit (either the cancellation or the negative feedback). The cancellation however is one of the Big 3 on Amazon just like the negative feedback, meaning both hold the same weight in terms of damage. The difference was that I could fight a negative feedback and dispute it with Amazon. I cannot dispute a cancellation I made without a request. So I went with the one that served to do the least damage with the highest chance at a positive outcome. This time I was lucky. You’ll find yourself making many decisions every day that have these same circumstances. It is truly unfortunately and can be mind-raking, but sometimes you just have to go with the statistical advantage and hope for the best.
The Customer Who Can’t Read:
This isn’t actually about people who can’t read, but instead about those who choose not to. In today’s day and age it is incredibly easy for someone to go online, click two buttons, and boom! They just bought an item. It takes literally 30 seconds or less. At the same time however, that convenience has created a world where customers don’t generally read a full listing and check all the photos to understand what they are getting. You’ll find that sellers will want to return cards or merchandise because it wasn’t Near-mint, as-described, how it looked in the photo, etc. Even though you clearly outline it in the description of your listing. So now what do you do? Do you fight it and say “Well it was clearly listed so you are stuck with it” and risk some of the negative repercussions, such as negative feedback, a case being opened, or a potential hit on your reputation as a seller? It all depends to be honest, but a majority of the time it isn’t worth the effort or the money to combat a seller. Unless the item you’re dealing with is incredibly valuable, you’re generally better off apologizing, explaining where it was described in the listing (this politely outlines the error was on their end, without directly calling them out), and that you’d be happy to accept a return for a refund. While this may seem like you’re losing the battle (which you are), you’re keeping yourself in the long term war (the business you’re trying to create).
You see, let’s say you did combat it and accepted one of those negative consequences. How much will any one of those cost you in the long run? All of the major selling platforms have built in devices and algorithms that will stunt your listings in some way if you have too many cases, claims, negative feedback, etc. Amazon, you lose the buy box; eBay, your listings appear lower on the pages; TCGplayer, you lose your Gold Star and therefore your marketability. Are these losses generally worth an item that might only be worth a few bucks? Absolutely not, because now your one sale is potentially costing you many more in the future. This is one of those concepts that is really hard to swallow. Human beings are prideful. That’s what makes it so hard to accept the idea that losing now is an acceptable decision in order to win in the future. It goes back to the old adage, “Sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing to do”. I ran a calculation once back in 2015 after receiving a negative feedback. The calculation was whether or not the argument was worth the loss. The person purchased a lot of Pokémon cards that in the image had the cards spun in a circle and displayed so customers could see the cards. The customer sent me a message stating her item wasn’t as described and the cards didn’t come displayed in a circle. Not only was this claim asinine, but it now it was wasting my time having to deal with it. I explained that was just for display purposes, and the customer eventually opened a case against me. I won the case, however that case still stayed on my record. I eventually calculated that the case being opened cost me around $232.15. So would it have been easier to bite the bullet and refund them $13 and move on? Absolutely, but I was too prideful. Lesson learned, however. Now this isn’t me telling you to just lie down and let anyone run over (back to the road jokes) you who wants to cry wolf, but a lot of the times you can weigh out the pros and cons on how you handle any situation to deciding which battles are worth fighting. Remember this is a long term business, not one for the present. I saved $13 that day, but lost $219.15 long term
The Customer Who Doesn’t Even Know Where They Live:
This one doesn’t need much explaining, but is instead more of a rant. You are going to have an unreasonably large amount of orders that you ship out and the customer had their address wrong, or they ordered with the wrong address and wants you to change it (never change it). You’ll get your letters back in the mail with the stupid yellow sticker on them telling the postal people to return to sender, and you’ll have angry emails from customers that their package hasn’t arrived yet. The key to handling these situations as they occur so frequently is to hopefully address them before they become an issue. If you notice on an order report that an address seems wonky (maybe it is missing a street number or the zip code doesn’t match the trend for that city/state) then you should message the customer and ask them to confirm their address. If their address is wrong, have them cancel the order and reorder with the correct address (once again, do not just change the address - I’ll explain later). If you do get a package returned, first figure out why. If it was because their address was wrong, promptly message the customer explaining why it was returned and tell them you’d be happy to send it back out to them once they’ve confirmed the address. Not only does this alleviate you from the one who presented the error, but it also puts the ball in their court to see if they were the one that made the mistake. A lot of times if they notice an error with their address they will have to come back and say “Oh yes that address is wrong”, and 99% will accept that the delay in them receiving their order was due to their own mistake. This is key because it will generally prevent negative feedback because the customer knows you were in the right. As long as you’re courteous, you don’t blame the customer, and you work with them on the resolution they will be pretty generous with those 5 stars. Plus remember, it is key to keep them happy. While you may have to pay for postage a second time (I never charge the customer for postage on a second shipment), that is a small price to pay to avoid a negative feedback. While even though it wasn't your fault, sometimes customers simply use negative feedback to vent their frustrations with their own stupidity. Don't be their punching bag. Below is a great example of a template that I’ll sometime use for these situations…
I am writing to let you know that the order you placed on XXXX that was shipped on XXXX has been returned today due to an error with the address. It appears that the location listed on the order is undeliverable. We have included that address below. Can you please confirm for us this is the correct address so that we can get in touch with the post office and see what the issue is?
We know this is incredibly frustrating and inconvenient for you and we truly appreciate your patience and understanding in this matter. We look forward to being able to work with you to quickly resolving this issue so that we can get these cards in your hands for you to enjoy. We look forward to hearing back from you!”
Customers just want to know you care. In their eyes you’re just the corporate giant that wants to get rich quick and take advantage of them and their hard earned dollars (you know, because you don’t work hard for your dollars). Make sure to add in lines that show you care about their feelings and time, and customers are far more likely to be willing to work with you on a resolution for any issue.
The key to remember when dealing with customers is that while you might have not done anything wrong, that doesn’t mean they won’t force your hand using a case, claim, or negative feedback. 3rd Party Platforms and the “Customer is always right” mentality has created an ecosystem in which crying and throwing a fit over every issue is rewarded. That’s why it is generally the best route to remain positive, remove blame (while indirectly pointing it away from yourself), and to work with the customer on finding out what resolution would make them the happiest. In Part 2 we will begin to examine some of the different issues that arise outside of our customer interactions, and how you can hopefully protect yourself from those as well, or at least utilize the best course of action if/when they do occur.
Final Note: Above I stated you should never change the address, and instead should just request to cancel the order and have the customer reorder the item. This is because if you were to change the address the customer can claim that you sent it to the wrong location and that it was your fault it didn’t arrive (even if they did receive it). This way you protect yourself by sending only to the address that was vetted from the 3rd party selling platform.
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