This versus That

Ever since we started setting up e-commerce stores 6 years ago, we’ve been using OpenCart – one of the most popular open-source shopping cart systems. And the more we use OpenCart, the better we get at maximizing the features it has to offer. We also realized some of the stuff that OpenCart doesn’t do very well.

And then it comes to a point where you start evangelizing the product you use. Because you now understand the products much better, you become more attached to it. Which is a good thing, in my opinion.

However, it only becomes not-so-good when you start to spend time trying to convince someone who’s using Shopify or Magento (both of these are also shopping cart systems) on why OpenCart is superior than theirs. It’s like the whole Android vs Apple thing. Pointless. A solid profitable e-commerce business depends not just on the shopping cart system, but a lot of other factors as well. You need a good selection of products, photography skills, copy writing skills,  inventory system etc.

Just a few minutes ago, out of curiosity, I attempted to setup my first WordPress-based Woo Commerce store. I am actually quite impressed with the whole setup process. There’s a lot of things I think Woo Commerce has got it right. Of course the Woo Commerce team knows what they are doing- they got bought over by WordPress and I don’t remember any other theme or plugin developer who got to that status.

So, instead of cheer leading for just one particular product, your perspective will be expanded much more when you attempt to solve a problem with a variety of other solutions. Sometimes, this also forces you to look at the problem from a different angle, which you’ve never thought possible. Let the fanboys fight among themselves.

It’s what you ultimately produce that really matters.

By | November 26th, 2016|E-Commerce, Entrepreneurship, OpenCart|0 Comments

Not Good Enough

We can never be good enough. The bar gets higher all the time.

The moment I published a post or submitted the final draft for a product description, I always get that annoying feeling that there are better ways to write it. Each time we sent the product catalog to print, I always felt that I could have spend a few more minutes fine tuning it (there’s surely a better font for the title!).

They say you are your own harshest critics. Of course, you should always set high standards for your work. The quality and outcome of your work speaks a lot about you and your values.

But don’t let that paralyze and hinder you from starting a new project.

The key is to make sure the next version is always better than the last one.

By | November 25th, 2016|Entrepreneurship|0 Comments

Experts are Dangerous

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Experts connotes superiority and credibility. When the source of information comes from expert, we are very inclined to believe them, even more so when the expert’s last name is followed by a long list of credentials

And we would be foolish to question the experts. They’ve gone through so much trouble to produce the facts that you are reading now- extensive research, long period of observation and funded heavily by well-established corporations

Only problem is we don’t often get to evaluate or read about these experiments, or at least it’s not explained in a way that it’s easy for the average Joe to understand.

When in doubt, we always take the expert’s word for it. Even Mum could sometimes be wrong.

By | November 24th, 2016|Daily Observations|0 Comments

Reboot

It’s been quite a while since I wrote anything on this space.

There’s always an excuse for not doing something, but let’s just say writing on Meshio.com has become a low priority. And why am I getting back here now? Maybe I find Facebook too much of a distraction. And Twitter is too restrictive. But I find that I do need to get back to writing, as part of a mental exercise.

Let’s see how this goes.

By | November 22nd, 2016|Daily Observations|0 Comments

Amazon is NOT Perfect

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.

By | April 1st, 2016|E-Commerce|0 Comments

Charting the Future

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.

By | January 21st, 2016|Entrepreneurship|0 Comments
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