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‘Tis The Season (An Open Letter To Online Shoppers Of Indie & Small Shops)

December 7, 2013

I have a little Etsy shop. (No; due to the nature of what I rant about here and post at Tumblr, I won’t be sharing a link with you.) And the holiday season means more sales — yay! But what’s not cool is that the general increase in shopping means an increase in everything that goes with it — as in more people contacting to ask for your “very best price” and “lower shipping costs”.

Yes, we all want deals; but it’s time to be real.

My father always says that selling online is just like retail; customers, online or off, are crazy-weird, and that’s just that. For the most part I agree. However, after decades of working retail, I’ve yet to meet a customer at the wrap desk who asked me to lower the price on merchandise or reduce shipping charges “just because”.

Here’s what I want to write back to the bargain-seeking potential customers, but won’t — because sometimes educating the customer is not good customer service. (It should be; but customers often don’t like to be informed about how inappropriate they are being.)

Dear Shopper Of My Online Store,

First, I want to thank you for shopping in my little store. It means the world to me!

Before I respond to your specific concerns, I’d like to say that I am most appreciative of you taking the time to contact me rather than just clicking away. And I hope that you will do the same again and read my reply in full, in the spirit it is written — to help you understand my position as an online seller or merchant.

In response to your request for my very best price, I must tell you I feel offended. The very question itself states that I do not have fair prices, and implies even less flattering things… I work very hard to provide my unique items and to price them in such a way that both meets the needs of a competitive marketplace and generates a little profit. And I do mean a little profit. I’m a little seller — and, despite this blunt note, generally a quite personable seller too. But I’m so little I don’t even qualify as a “small business”. Furthermore, I don’t have any illusions about my little business becoming an actual small business, nor fantasies about joining the ranks of the big brands and retail outlets that really compete for shopping dollar any time of year. But I still do want to make a profit off of what I sell.

However, sellers like myself understand that there are times at which you may wonder if a bit of a discount isn’t possible… Perhaps you’ve made multiple and/or frequent purchases from the shop, or noticed that there was a sale before or some-such. Maybe it’s as simple as your budget just not being able to stretch that extra dollar or so… We kind of understand; we’re shoppers too, after all. So, even when we do not encourage such things with “make me an offer” invitations (or operate at websites which have “best offer” options), most of us will politely engage in such negotiations.

[On the other hand, I am not sure why we accept this sort of bargain-dealing; this behavior certainly isn't an option at most retail stores or shopping outlets. ...Maybe it happens to us because our shops are so personal. We make, "pick" or otherwise select the offering in our shops personally; and we personally interact with you, the buyers. So you think we're buddies and you can ask us. But because the online shops of little sellers such as myself are so personal, this "gimme" behavior is far more insulting.]

Whether or not an online seller politely invites you to make offers or not, we expect you to be polite about it if/when you do it. In fact, before you even consider tendering an offer, think about how you would react if someone was coming to your place of work and asking you to work for less. Is what you are asking for really acceptable? If so, proceed politely. That means more than saying, “Please,” or telling us why you want a deal. (We all want deals.)

* Make a realistic, non-insulting, monetary offer. (As a general rule, asking for anything more than a 25% discount, even when buying multiple items, is insulting.)

* Understand that we not only have pride in what we do, in what we sell, but we have actual money invested in it too. (Sometimes there is simply no room for any discount of any sort to anyone under any conditions.)

* Don’t be rude or otherwise try to bully us; that never works. (This includes statements such as, “I can get it cheaper at XYZ”; if it really is the same thing, just go buy it there.)

Since you made no offer, and since my price really is my best, I will simply state that the price the item listed for is the best I can do.

In response to your request for lower shipping costs, I regret to inform you that I don’t set the shipping prices. Shipping costs what it costs. If you don’t like how much it costs to ship something, contact the shipping companies (who, in turn, will likely direct you to gas companies, etc.). As for boxes and packaging, I usually only figure a dollar for that. Yup, one whole US dollar for a box, bubble wrap, printing the invoice, packing tape and whatever else is needed to make sure an order is sent safely. As it is, even with the recycling I do of packing materials, I am more likely lose money on the shipping cost in my efforts to keep the cost low and consistent than have any “profit” in it. (According to my data, I break even 78% of the time. On the rare, less than 1%, of the times I’ve “made money on shipping”, I’ve made an average of 2 cents per transaction. The remaining time, which rounds to 22% of sales transactions, I lose an average of 50 cents on the shipping of each of those sales. So, no; I cannot lower the shipping costs. And, no, I won’t “save you” the 90 cents it costs for using tracking; that’s the only way my ass is covered in a dispute in which a buyer claims I never sent the item. The bottom line is that my shipping charges are at or below the bottom line of what it costs.

I hope this explains things satisfactorily. And that you will go ahead and purchase the item you asked about. If not now, perhaps later.

Again, I thank you for your interest in my store and items.

Then again, perhaps short and sweet says it best:

I have a little charming business because it charms me; and when it charms you, I am delighted. But I am not so charmed or delighted that I will send you things for free or otherwise sell things for below what they cost me. I am allowed to make a small profit; if you don’t agree, then don’t spend your money with me.

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