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Amazon is NOT Perfect

April 1st, 2016

And so here I am, documenting the recent refund case with one of our customers on Amazon.ca (that’s Amazon Canada). I hope that this will help any sellers who might face the same issue as we did.

Before I go further, a little background of our operation. We’ve been selling on most online marketplaces (platforms) locally and international and we are quite familiar with how ‘buyer protection’ works for these marketplaces. We are aware how marketplaces impose stringent terms and conditions so that buyers are protected from unscrupulous merchants. The more established the marketplace, the more rules and regulations and inflexible they are when they deal with merchants.

Before signing up, these marketplaces will treat you so nice they make you feel like you’ll be the only one selling on their platforms. Once your first sale rolled off their marketplace, they will start treating you like you’ve got the 6th strain of Ebola. And usually, that’s when your love-hate relationships with them begins.

I am actually fine with protecting buyers, especially first time buyers that had no experience with online purchasing. Yet, marketplaces that allows third party merchants like us to sell on their platform leverages on our resources to provide ‘great customer service’. You’d think that their high commission rates is the only cost of doing business with them. And there are certain thresholds you don’t cross even when you think you are the biggest online marketplace in the world. And yes, I am referring to Amazon. And we all know what happened to the almighty eBay when they leverage on their merchants too much.

Of course, this is not a rant about why I think Amazon is a lousy platform for aspiring merchants. Far from that, I think Amazon is a great and promising platform for merchants who wants to reach a global audience, and specifically those where Amazon has presence in (10 countries at the time I am writing this post):

Amazon.com – Worldwise, specifically the United States
Amazon.ca – Canada
Amazon.co.uk – United Kingdom
Amazon.de – Germany
Amazon.fr – France
Amazon.it – Italy
Amazon.es – Spain
Amazon.co.jp – Japan
Amazon.cn – China
Amazon.in – India

And so, back to the refund case which I would like to share with you.

1. On 26 February 2016, a customer placed an order on Amazon.ca for a Mechanical Keyboard. The value of the order was CDN$264.59 and there’s no shipping charges as the order qualifies for Free Shipping.

2. Item was shipped out the very next day- 27 February.

3. On 2nd Mar 2016, I got this from the customer via Amazon.ca:

I just got the DHL shipping carrier coming to my house demanding I pay a 30$ charge. I paid you shipping already to cover this. I will not be paying extra at my house after I’ve sent almost $300.

You can contact DHL and tell them to send me my product or I will be going to amazon and getting a complete refund, I’m not getting scammed because you forgot to pay for shipping when I clearly did.

Remember, this order did not require the Buyer to pay any shipping fees. The CDN$30 is Import Duty for the purchase that DHL is collecting on behalf of the Canadian Custom Department.

This is one of the area where Amazon could have done better. Their website at www.amazon.ca did not actually inform the buyer that item is actually fulfilled from outside of Canada, and is likely to incur import duty imposed by the Canadian Custom Department. I was checking out a few items I was selling on Amazon.ca, logged on with a mock Canadian customer profile (with a Canadian shipping address) and realized that there’s no indication of where the merchant (in this case it’s me, a merchant from Malaysia) is fulfilling the item from. And I really cannot blame the customer for being angry with the extra fees he had to pay for import duties, but calling me a scammer is a little too much.

I responded to the customer complaint within the same day.

4. On 1 March 2016, based on DHL’s record, the customer somehow came to an agreement to pay for the import duty and proceed with the delivery. And eventually, the item was finally delivered to the customer and was signed off on 11 March 2016.

And you would’ve thought that’s the end of it.

5. Only it wasn’t so. On 11 March 2016, the customer sent another message via Amazon.ca asking, “Where’s my stuff / Où est ma commande ?”

What!? It seems like the customer knew how to play the game, or it could have been purely coincidence. The same day the keyboard was delivered, he sent out the above “Where’s my stuff” message to Amazon.

Of course, being a responsible seller, I informed him that he’d already receive the keyboard and it has been signed off.

6. Still not satisfied with my response, he proceed to file a refund. Amazon said, “Customer never received his package and is wanting a full refund back. Cx has contacted seller and is not having issue resolved the way they would like.”

What? Hello? Amazon, did you check the conversation log that I had with this customer?

No, apparently Amazon don’t give a flying fuck. And hence, I’ve learn that in an Amazon transaction, customers can play us merchants however they like. It doesn’t matter what information or customer service you’ve provided to the customer, as long as the customer is not happy for whatever reason that may be, you are still liable to please them. And please them you must.

7. And on 14 March 2016, a Refund was requested by the customer. Say what? Why is Amazon allowing a customer to seek for a refund when the item is already delivered on terms agreed by the customer and was already signed off by the customer himself?

What choice do I have? I’ll just have to play along, as Amazon sent me the following:

Here are instructions for issuing a refund or representing your case.

* Go to your Seller Account by typing the following web address into your browser’s address bar: www.amazon.ca/sc-claims. Sign in when prompted.

* Click on “A-to-z Guarantee Claims ” for action required claims.

* Click on “Refund the order” or “Represent your case” and follow the instructions.

For refunds, when the reimbursement is complete, we will debit your account for the refund amount, and credit you back all relevant fees.

You may wish to review our A-to-z Guarantee at: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/switch-language/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=10195011&language=en%5FCA And section 5-n of our Participation Agreement at: http://www.amazon.ca/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=10195031&language=en%5FCA

And this is where it gets downhill all the way. The link above: www.amazon.ca/sc-claims did not sent me to any claim resolution page. I only remembered that I was sent to the page that requires me to respond to the customer’s message.

8. And on 22 March 2016, unaware that I was supposed to ‘Represent my case’ within 7 days simply because I was not directed to the correct page, Amazon refunded the customer who already received the order:

The buyer’s claim was granted. Our investigations team concluded that you are responsible for this claim and your account was debited to reimburse the buyer.

Hooray, justice has been served. Investigations team, what were you guys smoking?

9. Anyway, my repeated email to Amazon to explain the situation fell on deaf ears. Their reasoning is very simple: If you don’t respond to the A-to-Z Guarantee Claims withint 7-days, you can have all the eye-witnesses and alibis in the world, it wouldn’t make any difference. It’s final. Period.

And that’s that. The entire episode of dealing with an angry customer who paid for custom duty which Amazon did not inform him and where the customer eventually figured out an excellent game plan to victimize the seller because he somehow knew Amazon will always side the customers.

Money lost, and one keyboard less in my inventory. I’ve closed down my Amazon.ca store to avoid such cases again. It’s just not worth it. I will continue to sell on Amazon.com, as I have no such problem at all.

And the Buyer had the cheek to still rate me 1 our of 5 stars in Amazon.ca, claiming “Seller will not stop contacting me after filing an A-Z claim.”

I will knock on your door and get my keyboard back when I visit Niagra Falls.

Here are some of the lessons learnt:
1) Amazon is not perfect, but they’d like to think they are. So, in any case, as a merchant, we should remain vigilant at all times.

2) When faced with a refund claim, utilize all your resources to click on all the links in your seller dashboard. That’s how I found out after the fact that claims resolution are managed under the menu Performance> A-to-z Guarantee Claims.

Like I said earlier, Amazon is a promising platform, and you should use it to optimize sales. If you have been following my previous posts, you will know that I always advocate that you spend 50% (if not more) of your resources to build your own website for the long term. Amazon is known for their long term plans, but it’s unlikely your business’s interest is part of that.

I hope my experience has been beneficial to you. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.

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Charting the Future

January 21st, 2016

Though not much of a business plan writer, I recently realized the importance of having a plan for what you want to achieve in your entrepreneurship journey. While it’s true that we cannot predict what will happen tomorrow, that doesn’t mean we can use it as an excuse not to chart the path of where the enterprise will be 10 years down the road.

And while I was fantasizing about where to bring the company, I begin to think along the line of life goals and business goals. I believe we should always put the life goals before the business goals. Not that business goals are less important, but if your business goals are not supporting what you want to with your life, what’s the point then?

To create a valuable business, at least in monetary terms, it could easily take anywhere between 5 to 10 years. And if I am to live to 60 years old, that would be about 8% of my life allocated into this pursuit. My grandpa lived to a ripe age of 98 years old though. So, it becomes pretty obvious that there should be some correlation between what you want to with your life as well as your business.

If one of my goals is to travel the world, it would make sense that my business would allow me to do that at least once every year. It could be a business trip or just a simple getaway, but if my business cannot allow me to even take a few days off, perhaps I am building a business that my life will hate.

I am going to put off my business goals for now while I work on the check list for my life.

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Malaysia Online Marketplaces

October 11th, 2015

It seems everyone wants to play the markeplace game. Who doesn’t?

A marketplace is extremely scalable. You don’t own inventories, you don’t need to spend money on warehouses and security. You don’t need to hire people to pick and pack. A wonderful business model. But like any businesses, if what you offer is pretty much the same thing your competitors offer, it won’t be long you start playing the price war game to get market shar. That’s when you start racing your way to the bottom of the food chain.

If you have been selling on Etsy, you would realize these people are not just out to make money on your transactions or to use your sales data against you (marketplaces are known to source products that are hot-selling and compete against their own sellers). Etsy is serious about helping sellers make a living.

Etsy made a compelling product for the supply side of the marketplace, the supply then unlocked the demand through white hat social media. Etsy’s incredible organic channel is the entrepreneurial drive of its sellers.

The underlying strength of this organic channel is evidenced by Etsy’s repeat purchase rate. That is, the majority of Etsy’s GMS is generated from repeat purchases. Incredibly, in 2014, 78% of purchases were from repeat customers.

Higher revenues for sellers => Higher seller retention => Higher seller personal promotion through social media => Higher visibility for Etsy’s products => Higher GMS => IPO

Nicolò Ungari, What Etsy’s S1 Filing Taught Me About Marketplaces

I totally agree with >Nicolò. And from my experience, eBay is exactly the opposite of Etsy and that’s why eBay is becoming irrelevant in today’s e-commerce marketplace.

On another note, Etsy has seldom, if ever asked their sellers to offer their products at deep discount to attract customers. They understood the economics of things. You cannot keep giving discounts and expect to run a healthy long term business. Let’s face it, all business needs profit to survive and thrive. But marketplaces in Malaysia doesn’t seem to think so- they are always offering vouchers, deep discounts and pricing gimmicks just to get the transaction, often at the expenses of their merchants.

If you are doing your business so you can win the title for ‘The Most Popular Merchant on ABC Marketplace’, by all means keep offering discounts and reduce your margins. If you are like most of the other normal business, then I strongly suggest that you be very careful with the marketing campaigns these marketplaces are requesting you to participate.

You should continue to sell on online marketplaces as long as it justifies the resources you invest in them.

I have been selling on major marketplaces, and the good ones will make sure sellers can thrive using their platform. Because in the grand scheme of things, as an online marketpalce, your merchants are also your customers.

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Training vs Education

October 8th, 2015

It’s easy and actually quite common to interpret that both training and education means the same thing. But as we shall read it from Thomas E. Ricks, the author of The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, training and education is 2 very different things:

Training tends to prepare one for known problems, while education better prepares one for the unknown, the unpredictable, and the unexpected.

Training is very much like a step-by-step exercise repeated continuously to achieve an expected result. Think of it like a simulation with predefined objectives, with the set of challenges known and familiar to the participant. Usually, it’s also expected for the participant to engage training exercises within confined rules and regulations. The desired outcome is when the participant becomes very competent tactically in the given challenges.

Consider another scenario where a Susan, a six year old child, is enrolled in a coloring exercise. In an effort to train her to become very good at coloring, she was told not to color outside the lines. Next, she was told that she must color based on the example given (the objective). The grass must be light green in color. The sky must be blue. The trunk of the tree must be brown. Any variations from the example, the exercise is considered a failure.

Everyday as part of her training regime, Susan is given new coloring exercises and taught many different coloring techniques to achieve the desired outcome. And these exercises are often repeated until she masters the technique, which is evaluated by how close her results are to the examples given. Eventually, she becomes very skillful in most of the coloring techniques and she can reliably reproduce the outcomes that is expected of her. Susan is now a very well-trained colorist.

Next, we look into the realms of education, which may sound very similar to training but is essentially a very different form of cognitive exercise. In education, you are given a lot of contextual information. In our coloring example, the child is taught about primary, secondary and tertiary colors. She also learn about warm and cool colors complementary colors. She is also taught that black and white are not really colors (this is a highly debatable topic, depending on which color theory you are coming from). She also learns how colors affect our moods and give meanings to our every lives.

In short, education seems like learning a whole bunch of theories, so much so that the student sometimes would start to doubt if it’s really necessary to be so educated in the practical world we live in. However, it is only with a good understanding of theories, an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter and a habit of constantly questioning the status quo that we can hope to confront the unpredictable and randomness of real-world challenges.

Training puts you in a box and asks you to give your very best within the boundaries. Education informs you that though the problem is about the box, the solution is likely outside the box.

If your sixteen year-old daughter told you that she was going to take a sex education course at high school, you might be pleased. What if she announced she was going to take part in some sex training at school?

Jay Cross, credited with inventing the term e-learning

So, are you well-trained or well-educated? Maybe you have the best of both worlds :-)

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OpenCart Extension: Total Import Pro & Special Characters

September 17th, 2015

OpenCart

If you are using OpenCart and you have like 1000+ inventories, you will do yourself a great favor by using this tool called “Total Import Pro” written by these great people @ HostJars.com. You can thank me later.

As with all great piece of software, you also get your share of annoying little bugs that somehow got shipped along with the good stuff. And today, I just wrote to them about the possibility that their importer could be causing special HTML characters not parsed correctly in OpenCart.

Hi Guys/Gals,

I’ve been using Total Import Pro for the past 3 years, and I must say you guys have saved hours of my life. For that, I would like to thank you for such a great piece of software.

However, I recently noticed a Total Import bug that would eat up at least 50 hours of my life if I am to fix them manually. So, I really want to reach out to you and hope you can once again save my life (50 hours of it).

Here’s what happened:

1) I have a product with the title “K&N Performance Air Filter 33-2922”. Notice the special character & in there.

2) When I import using Total Import Pro, what happen next is, I am not able to find the product after I type the character “K”. So, imagine the number of products I have with the starting letter K…

3) However, I could fix the problem if I manually save the product again using OpenCart. Somehow when I save using OpenCart, the ampersand is properly parsed in the database as a valid character. In other words, when I import using Total Import Pro, the symbol ampersand is not treated as such.

4) This also leads to the problem of generating a valid sitemap for Google, because each time I tried to load my sitemap, Chrome will tell me the “Sitemap is not well-formed”. Well-formed or not, I am not looking for a kick-ass, bootylicious XML, but at least one that will not return any errors when parsing special characters in the product title.

As such, I would really appreciate it if you could tell me how I can import my products with the special characters registered normally in OpenCart.

Name a price for 50 hours of my life.

I will post it up here once I get a response from them.

*****

And on Sep 22, I got a reply from Matt of Hostjars.com

Thanks for getting in touch! It looks like you have discovered a bug, as we offer bug fixes for free this will not cost you anything to have fixed! In fact, our developers have just released a patch for this issue this morning. It is still undergoing our internal review process, but to save you any further delay while this happens I am going to send you a copy of the latest version of Total Import PRO which contains this fix.

Follow the installation instructions and overwrite your existing files to update your installation.

Once you have updated please try your import again and let me know if you have any further problems.

Warm regards,

Matt
HostJars

Can’t wait to install the new patch on my OpenCart.

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Amazon’s Customer Metrics

September 15th, 2015

If you are selling on Amazon, you would be familiar with the following metrics Amazon uses to benchmark your customer service.

Customer Metrics
Customer satisfaction is one of the most important performance measures we use to determine how well you are doing as a seller on Amazon. The Customer Metrics page provides reports that give you greater insight into how you are doing with respect to customer satisfaction.

The following performance metrics are included in the report:

Perfect Order Percentage (POP): The percentage of orders that are perfectly accepted, processed, and fulfilled.

Order defect rate (ODR): The percentage of orders that have received a negative feedback, an A-to-z Guarantee claim or a service credit card chargeback. It allows us to measure overall performance with a single metric.

Pre-fulfillment cancellation rate: This measures your in-stock rate for items sold with Amazon.com.

Late ship rate: On-time shipment is a promise we make to our mutual customers. Orders confirmed after the expected ship date are considered to be late.

Percentage of orders refunded: High refund rates may be an indicator of item stock-outs.

And if you use these metrics on all your other online sales channels, it should give your sales a very good boost in the long scheme of things.

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