Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Wed Apr 3 2013 21:45:47

One Way to Deal with Pesky Customers

By: Ina Steiner

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You might have seen a story making the rounds recently about an Australian store that was charging $5 to shoppers who left empty-handed in what was a protest against "showrooming." That's the practice of visiting brick-and-mortar retail stores to learn more about a product and then purchasing the item online instead of the store.

The story struck a chord with people because it seemed counter intuitive to ask shoppers to pay to shop at a brick-and-mortar retailer as a way to discourage them from shopping online.

But as the Brisbane Times discovered, the shop owner explained the fee was only for shoppers who asked "bucketloads of questions" and then purchased elsewhere. In the Brisbane Times video interview, Georgina of Celiac Supplies explained that she shares her specialized knowledge with people who visit her shop and felt it only fair they compensate her for it if they don't buy from her. She also suggested that manufacturers compensate shop owners for the legwork they do in promoting their products.

Lest you think drastic measures are only the domain of mom and pop retailers, department store Target has been aggressively battling showrooming since last year, according to a Citi report published Wednesday (Citi's Global E-Commerce Retail Outlook: Global Omnichannel Trends and Top Retail Picks for 2013).

"More recently, in January 2013, Target announced its most aggressive tactic yet to fight showrooming: year-round online price matching." Is a chainstore attempting to match Amazon pricing a viable strategy, or is it more like charging showroomers $5? Time will tell.

BigCommerce co-founder and CEO Eddie Machaalani wrote a blog post for Celiac Supplies and other retailers like it who face the problem of non-buying showroomers. Among his pointers, he suggested Georgina sell online and use her specialized knowledge to create content that would draw visitors to her website.

One would certainly want to know more about a retailer's business before dispensing specific advice, but the general outline Machaalani presented was sound. What do you think - does social networking net you traffic? Do you publish a blog or newsletter and conduct email marketing campaigns? Can a retailer create a community of shoppers, and how are you driving traffic to your product listings? (And how do you deal with pesky shoppers?)




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This user has validated their user name. by: Ed Gadfly

Thu Apr 4 01:25:34 2013

As soon as the Internet Tax Bill goes though the stores will ease up. Business is business. You are still driving on roads and expecting local police and fire to protect all your extra inventory.

Pay your fair share like everyone else.

I think the store should jam the Internet signals.  

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by: PowerSeller2007 This user has validated their user name.

Thu Apr 4 03:09:59 2013

Internet Tax would bring ebay stock below $10.  It is why ebay is lobbying so hard for its diamond sellers!  

How do they tax the guy selling from Asia?  The state don't have jurisdiction to collect tax from foreign sellers.  So would this be another AX for small American sellers?

Are these politicians nuts?  We developed electric cars to increase mpg.  Some state want to shift from gasoline tax to car mile travelled tax?

These politicians are stupid, has no creative thinking mind and gone mad.  They game everyone pocket for money like stupid ebay.


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This user has validated their user name. by: Al G

Thu Apr 4 09:12:06 2013

That last paragraph is interesting.

You have a brick an mortar store and spend 6 days a week and let's say 10 hours a day at it. NOW, you should have a web presence, start blogging, attend to social media??????

Unless you don't want a life while you are still living - "YER NUTZ". At some point, enough becomes enough and you have to live with what you have.

Times are changing - the general store model which worked in the rural areas of this country are gone. So is the Sears catalog model. So is the Woolworth's model. The K-mart/Sears/Target/Circus City are on the ropes. The franchise system is dormant. The growth retail industries now are opening banks and drug stores. Dunking Donuts is morphing into "Burger Belch lite".

Everything is changing. Some for better, some not. If you can't roll with the punches, you have to find another line of work.

My criticism is not that our sole proprietorships are under attack - they always are and always will be - but that the pundits say "all's you gotta do is". AT WHAT COST?

I have nothing better to do that to strap on a IpoDroid, walk around with ear-butts (er, ear buds) 3-D glasses & interact with cyberworld trying to build my business whilst ordering inventory, gathering knowledge, interacting with customers, maintaining the B&M digs. After that, maybe, just maybe, I'll have lunch/dinner, drive home, see the significant other & tykes, correct their homework, read the mail, mow the lawn - you know all the stuff that the pundits just wave at.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Al G

Thu Apr 4 09:17:23 2013

I meant this last paragraph above: "One would certainly want to know more about a retailer's business before dispensing specific advice, but the general outline Machaalani presented was sound. What do you think - does social networking net you traffic? Do you publish a blog or newsletter and conduct email marketing campaigns? Can a retailer create a community of shoppers, and how are you driving traffic to your product listings? (And how do you deal with pesky shoppers?)"

PS. I'm in favour of the sales tax on the internet, it's fair for the people living in the states affected.

Wow, you saved $0.75 cents on a set of Ginsu Knives by not paying tax. I think you can cough it up just in the amount of gasoline you saved in your Ford F-900 4 wheel drive diesel pickup.

It is just a reasonably small program for the venues to calculate, collect, and distribute the tax to the proper authorities without penalizing the merchants with "fees".

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by: JackieBlue This user has validated their user name.

Thu Apr 4 09:39:52 2013

I see a lot of comments about internet sales tax here.  As an online merchant I would have no problem collecting the tax on behalf of customers - this is how sales tax works, as a custodian of the state's funds.   However, where I do object is on the administration piece.  One state is relatively easy to maintain and file.  All states is impossible.  Some states require a different rate depending on where the customer lives, what kind of merchandise, and the time of year.  It is impossible for a small business to maintain it for 50 states.  In VA, where I operate, it is a flat 5% and it is a simple online form to file and pay.  Even if it were that easy everywhere doing that 50 times in two weeks (between end and middle of the month) would put a huge burden on the small businesses.  Even more so if we had to use a facility to arrange the payments - that wouldn't be done for free.  

For the businesses that are whining about internet retailers not having to pay sales tax, there is a very low barrier to entry for doing business on the net.  On the other hand, the barrier to entry for a physical retail location is large - buildings, physical inventory, checkout, security, etc.  I do both - and know the costs of both.  I'm shutting down the retail location in August because the cost of overhead is too.  

The real winners of a national requirement for sales tax on the internet are big box retailers - Best Buy, Target, and Wal-mart.  They already have an advantage of having the sales tax system in place and are required to collect it now because they have a physical nexus.  With the sales tax advantage gone, they can retain their higher margin (somewhat, they have huge overhead) that their volume buying power gets them.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ed Gadfly

Thu Apr 4 10:32:03 2013

@Al G:

You make a very valid point about spending extra time.

Can you expect a Return On Investment for time?

How much time is spent listing items, blocking sellers, writing, blogs, Facebooking items, tweeting... there are items you need to do to get the item on the site...

There must be an easier way to make a buck.

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by: Susan Averello This user has validated their user name.

Thu Apr 4 11:17:43 2013

Internet tax bill won't make a difference.
Amazon just moved into my state which adds a 7% sales tax to my bill but compared to the ease of purchase and the fact that I can't find many of the items offline - I'm still shopping there.

I'm a crafter, I can't find many of my materials in Michaels, I need to got to specialty stores - online, the closest is 5hrs away.

Internet shopping is not just about the prices, although often they are better but many items aren't available readily or just the pure convenience of it. Too often, I've churned through a store to find out  the item isn't available, we don't carry those any more...

Damn with amazon prime, if I can afford to wait a couple of days, I'll just buy it there rather than hunting 5 neighborhood stores and coming up empty handed

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Thu Apr 4 14:24:59 2013

In principle, I have no objection to internet sales tax as long as the requirements are the same as brick and mortar stores.

When I walk into a Best Buy store, the amount of sales tax I pay is based on where the store is physically located NOT where I live.

This method, however, is how several states currently require online sellers to use.

The entire idea of having to remit tax to thousands of individual taxing entities is absurd. Any individual brick and mortar store doesn't have to do it, and neither should we.

Further if I buy from a mail order catalog or even from an internet website that has no physical presence in my state, I don't have to pay sales taxes.

In my opinion, if Congress enacts some sort of universal tax, it should be based of where the seller is physically located and sales taxes should be remitted to that state just like it is with other types of retail sales.

Collection requirements should be the same for mail order, internet, and brick and mortar.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Thu Apr 4 14:25:38 2013

How I deal with "pesky" customers? I block them.

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by: mindelec This user has validated their user name.

Thu Apr 4 20:05:06 2013

my question to georgina would be...  how does she know that customer won't come back later?  giving advice and then charging for it is a sure way to make sure that they don't.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Thu Apr 4 23:07:35 2013

Sellers in certain categories routinely receive questions like, "My Aunt Agnes had one like/similar to the one you're selling. Would you be willing to give me an appraisal?"  

OR

"If I send you a photo of my (treasured item), can you tell me how much I should sell it for?"

OR

I have an old XYZ that people have told me is very valuable. Would you consider trading me your item on ebay for my XYZ?

Many ebay members will suck you dry for information and imparting information to them doesn't produce any marketable goodwill or sales.

So why shouldn't people who've spent their professional lives acquiring knowledge be expected to give it away free on ebafia?

Do most doctors treat patients for free?

Does The Ho lend his microscopic talents for free?

I don't mind an occasional information mining question, but too many ebay members take it too far because ebafia has created a very large pool of self centered, entitled buyers.

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by: mindelec This user has validated their user name.

Thu Apr 4 23:56:40 2013

@ming

the person in the article owns a B&M and was charging people who walked through the door and asked a "bucketload" of questions.

online it is easier, if i don't want to answer a question i'm either vague, or gently point them to where they can find an answer.

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by: tb This user has validated their user name.

Fri Apr 5 00:02:59 2013

Many may be aware of Fry's Electronics. Well they're hurting (judging from the empty stores) and about a year ago they all got giant banners on the outside of their buildings saying "We will match any online price". They even hand out flyers saying the same when you walk in.

I think it's a mistake, because the last time I went to Fry's I thought: "Oh yeah I can get cheaper online AND see if the thing has a good product rating and probably not pay tax.". So that was in effect a giant banner reminding me NOT to buy from them.

Another time I actually looked up a GPS holder they had for $27 when I saw it online for $19.95. I had to see 3 people to get the price matched. They looked it up and said "Yeah but ours is cheaper with the shipping added.". I said NO I was a Prime member with free shipping. She reluctantly matched it.

There will be a time when Best Buy and Fry's will be gone, and probably sooner than you think. This is progress I'm sorry to say. Jobs will go, and the ability to look at merchandise will be gone. Move with the times or go under.

I do think a national sales tax would help towards leveling the playing field though and I'm in favor of it replacing the individual complicated state sales tax system. Just tally up your sales per state and forward payment to ONE place and have them parse it out to the states. Would be easier than it is now with the hundreds of counties and municipalities. Every state gets x% period.

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by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Fri Apr 5 00:18:37 2013

I think the only competitive way for Brick stores to compete is not to compete. They should make deals with the manufacturers that the items or new models they buy and stock are not to be sold to online merchants for at least 2 years. If the items do appear online, then they can be pulled by the manufacturer or the department store as stolen or counterfeit  knock offs. Adidas, as I understand it, has taken this avenue of not selling to online sellers to protect their Brick customers. Huge department stores should have the clout it takes to protect their investments.  

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by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Fri Apr 5 00:30:35 2013

I live in New York--aka Taxopolis after CA--and we have multiple tier taxes depending on where in the state you live;  if the clothing purchase you make is over a certain amount;  and on certain days of the year all clothing and shoes are (I believe!) tax free.  Some foods are taxed including things made with--sugar.  Vs a bunch of other things.  Nearby Vermont does NOT tax clothing and used goods,  NY does.  Hmmmm---

So--who is going to keep TRACK of this?  And how far down the fiscal ladder is it going to GO?

I am a very small seller and I fear that if I had to keep track and pay out all of these different taxes I would not be able to keep myself in "business".  So far I have not seen concrete figures for WHO would be exempted--ie what $$$ amount of business (if any!) you would need to do to be forced to pay these taxes.  

So--NO I am not in favor.  And for a few other reasons too.  When I go to--lets say--Joes Hardware on my corner I am driving on roads maintained by people I know with "my" tax dollars.  I am walking on sidewalks shoveled by people I know.  And I know that Joes real estate taxes are going to the "common good".  Now--Joes is NOT charged a sales tax on the merch he buys to RESELL.  No matter where he gets his merch from!  Should we change THAT?  And see what would happen to prices?  

When I buy from some anonymous internet co I am not "directly" affected by the roads and sidewalks.  If that seller chose to set up THEIR business in that location--let HIS taxes support it not MINE.  And I surely do NOT want to be paying some ones Chinese taxes!

That said--I do try to buy "local".  This would however be very hard as I live an a rural area with no grocery;  no mall--our county is the ONLY one in NY without a major store of ANY kind!--no clothing is sold other than some Carhartt at the local feed store---you get the picture!  

We also live on the border of VT.  This means--if I WANT to buy groceries--and go to the CLOSEST store--I have to go across the "border".  Do I pay VT taxes when I shop there?  Yep.  Again--I am going to use their roads etc.  Do I feel the need to pay AGAIN to NY at the end of the year when they DEMAND that I pay for ANY purchases I made either on line OR out of state and "Imported" back into NY?  In our case this would mean I would pay an astonishing 12% tax---5% for the Vermont tax and 7% for where I live in NY!  

Has no one thought this thru?   IT seems so half arsed to me in the execution phase.  

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by: AngelaTC This user has validated their user name.

Fri Apr 5 01:21:01 2013

The national sales tax won't level any playing field.  Shipping costs already do that.

I also already pay my fair share - driving on the roads is paid by gas taxes. I pay property taxes for the police and fire, and our subdivision hires private security.

Taxing internet sales adds absolutely no value to the seller or the buyer.  It's just a cash grab by a government that can't stop spending other people's money.

It's just corporate America using the government to push smaller sellers out of business.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: thehosst

Fri Apr 5 02:05:35 2013

I block "pesky" customers, if we can call them customers of course. I go to competitors and scan for all unfair negative feedback, checking to see how many that buyer left, if I see trouble, I just block them.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Fri Apr 5 02:15:54 2013

@mindelac

I am aware that it was a brick and mortar store charging a fee to look and ask questions.

A goodly number of the questions I receive are on a par with the type of questions this store was charging for, but the bulk are unacceptable, insulting, lowball unsolicited and unwanted offers and questions whose answers are in product descriptions.

Would that I could charge the tire kickers, time wasters, lookie lous, and semi literates for wasting my time with so many questions that won't result in sales when (courteously) answered.

The reality is, however, that ebafia would prefer to charge sellers per question because that just the kind of jerks they are.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Tula

Fri Apr 5 15:50:50 2013

@Ed Gadfly: It's not businesses who are not paying their "fair share" of taxes, it's consumers who are not paying their sales and use taxes to their states of residence.

There are more than 8000 separate tax jurisdictions in the US, each with its own rates and rules. Small businesses simply don't have the resources to manage these rates and the reporting that goes along with them. Yes, there are 3rd parties who will do this process, but why should we have to have yet another 3rd party intruding upon our businesses and either taking another cut out of our profit or using our confidential business data to make money? If the government came up with a simplified and free centralized means of collecting these taxes, then fine. But as it is, it is not "fairness", it merely slants things in favor of the B&M companies and the large national big-box stores. Those who claim things are unfair don't seem to realize that bricks-and-mortar retailers don't have the same shipping and handling expenses that online businesses have. Yes, they have physical space rent and employees, but so do many online sellers who pay for warehouse space and have employees. Any supposed advantage is nullified by the costs of shipping and handling and web/payment costs. Card-not-present transactions also cost more, if I'm not mistaken, so that's another area where online businesses pay more. The playing field is plenty level already.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Don Wagner
Web Site

Fri Apr 5 20:34:59 2013

Well, my rule of thumb still rings true - the seller is virtually always his/her own worst enemy when it comes to driving customers away. Should experts give their knowledge away for free? - Yes, of course they should - search the Internet, and you will find find a vast multitude of truly knowledgeable experts who will readily share everything they know, even medicine and law. And why? Because they have a vision of the future that few people can grasp - free knowledge is as basic as the freedom to be free.  

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