Posted by: loungekitten | June 19, 2009

LYS And Customer Service

I’ve been following a few threads on Ravelry’s forums regarding complaints about customer service proffered by a certain LYS with an online store front.  I am familiar with the store, since I’ve visited their online site before, but I’ve never been moved to order from this particular store.  As is the case with all controversial Ravelry threads, there have been attacks on the original poster (i.e., your inflammatory post is libelous!), counter attacks by those supporting the original poster (i.e., the OP was being factual and is just trying to offer a review), posts by supporters of the bricks-and-mortar LYS (i.e., I’ve been to that store and Susie is just a peach!), posters who want to defend Ravelry (i.e., Ravelry could be sued if negative comments are posted!), and many other types of posts.  The rough outline of the story is as follows:

Online customer orders yarn from a LYS with an online store front.  Customer was billed for her order, but after 6 weeks asked for a refund because she had not received her order from the yarn store.  The customer had communicated with the shop via e-mail and/or telephone once a week during this time regarding the status of her order.  The store told the customer that the order had been shipped, but could not give the customer a tracking number in order to track the package.  After six weeks of waiting for the package, the customer requested a refund from the store and the store agreed since the package had appeared to go missing in the mail.  The customer checked her statement a few days later and no credit appeared on her bill.  The LYS told the customer they would reissue the credit to her account, but (and here’s where I become a little unclear about the scenario) apparently the store did not, because the customer had to file a fraud claim.

The issues that this sitation and the posting of it to Ravelry have made me think some of the following:

1.  If Ravelry users are going to be allowed to post good reviews of LYSs to Ravelry, then they should be allowed to post the bad reviews, too. Like one of the other posters said in one of the threads, I wouldn’t necessarily trust one Raveler’s bad reviews since I wouldn’t know if the poster is omitting pertinent facts and skewing the story in his or her favor because they have an axe to grind.  I also wouldn’t trust one Raveler’s positive reviews either – maybe you’re Susie Q’s BFF and you want her shop to do well so you post a few glowing reviews to drum up some business.  How is one to know?  The problem is that you don’t know.  But a balanced set of reviews, along with the pertinent facts can give someone a picture of what’s happening.  I’ve been on other review sites (for other things, not LYSs) and generally if you are paying attention to the tone of a post you can tell whether the reviewer’s intent is – whether they’re bitter because they had a horrible experience or if they’re being objective about their experience.  You can also tell if a story sounds logical or if it’s got more holes than Swiss cheese.

In this particular instance, I think the customer could have provided a few more details about her story – I have no idea why she’d have to cancel her card and initiate a fraud claim unless canceling the card is a part of the process of  filing a fraud claim.  On the other hand, from other posts (including ones that give a positive review of the shop), significant delivery delays and poor communication seem to be par for the course for the online business of this LYS.

2.  Operating a bricks-and-mortar store and an online store are not the same, and everyone seems to have a clear standard of customer service for the bricks-and-mortar store, while customer service expectations of online stores are all over the map. On the very thread that I’ve been reading, different posters have posted about having nearly the same experience with their online orders, yet one poster had a considerably more positive view of the store than the other.  I find it interesting that the one who was positive does not have a LYS (or does not have one that meets his or her needs) so he or she seems content to wait quite a while for her order from this store.  If I did not have a good LYS close to me, it would change how I felt about waiting for an online order, too.  Six weeks of a wait would be better than no yarn at all.  However, I am lucky that I live in the metro Philly area, where there are an abundance of really great LYSs that carry sufficiently different stock to make trips to  each yarn store worthwhile – stock that includes yarn sold at this particular store.  I most certainly would not wait more than a few weeks for a yarn order, and it better have been acquired at a good enough deal, including shipping, to make my wait worthwhile.  The customer in the case above lives in an area similar to mine in terms of LYS availability, so I’m sure that this is part of his or her frustration.

A secondary problem to the shipping delays is that the online store in not updated when the LYS has run out of stock, resulting in backorders.  The backorder situation is one I’ve heard about from a few different posters, and once again, their willingness to wait seems to be the relative accessibility of the yarn from other suppliers.  To make a bad situation worse, the LYS does not seem to be proactive at informing their online customers about the backorder situation and the store’s intent to fill the order once they receive their shipment from the wholesaler (which can take weeks!).  The burden seems to be on the customer to call or e-mail the store to get the whole story from the store.  If a yarn is backordered, I’d like to know about it up front before I place my order, and I’d certainly cancel an order or part of an order for back-ordered goods, and it’s to be expected from a legal standpoint that money for goods that could not be shipped would be promptly refunded, not held for six weeks or more.

In the case of this yarn store, the lost-in-the-mail orders, the back orders, and trouble with refunds are all common from what I’ve read.  And there are too many similar stories to be discounted.  Back orders that are not posted as such online are problematic from my perspective.  If a store advertises that they have a certain item, then does not have that item in the store when you go in to pick it up people call that a bait-and-switch tactic.  Why should it be any different for online stores?  Also, from everything I’ve heard talking to my LYS owners, working with some of the yarn companies’ reps is a slow process and it’s potentially difficult to fill orders for a particular yarn, so trying to fill  a retail order with yarn that may or may not be shipped to your store seems kind of risky.  And there”s no excuse for not communicating the status of the customer’s order with him or her under these circumstances.

3. “The yarn store owner is such a sweetheart and I always get good service when I go to her (or his!) store. I think maybe they are just overwhelmed with all the orders. . .” Well, there are two things I am inferring by reading this statement. One, I start thinking you might be one of those LYS groupies – you know, a knitter who is not an employee of the store yet every time you go there you see this knitter in the shop, sitting with a mug of coffee and knitting, as if they are an employee of the store. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my own sit-and knits in shops before, just not on a consistent basis. But such a groupie cannot be an unbiased source of information, no? And sometimes, a yarn shop with groupies makes me think that Susie Q. Yarnshopowner may have decided to open her  yarn shop solely as an extension of her favorite hobby, not as a business, and it’s a nice hangout for her and her friends. It’s not always the case, just an observation.

Secondly, if the yarn store is overwhelmed by orders, then maybe they shouldn’t be in the online business. Sad but true. The online business needs to be accommodated in the same way that the bricks-and-mortar business is. The online site needs investment – in technology and dedicated staffing, whether a new person needs to be hired to deal with it or a portion of a current employee’s day needs to be allocated toward processing the orders that come from the website. It really is unacceptable to not communicate that there is a problem with a customer’s order, and it is even more unacceptable to tell a customer that you have no record of your order while your credit card has already been charged with your purchase (not a part of the story above, and I’ve only read one account of this happening – but once is enough!) Negligent record keeping is no excuse for poor customer service.

4. Ravelry could get sued if we criticize LYSs on their forums. Sure, they could get sued – but I think it would be mostly a nuisance, not that anyone might actually have a case. As long as people are posting objective and truthful criticism about the business, Ravelry should be in the clear. Is a lawsuit a nuisance that will cost Ravelry time and money? Sure – and out of respect for the Ravelry community and its creators hopefully its members can police themselves  and not use Ravelry to vent or as a threat to a yarn shop to get better customer service.

In the case above – I know what shop they’re talking about, it’s not a shop in my area, but I have been to its website before and I think it looks like a nice shop.  I think it would be a nice shop to have as a local yarn shop.  I think, with all I’ve read that I would not place an online order with them.  The store in question has rarely had sales from what I can tell, and their closeout section never seemed to have yarn in the quantities I would need for the projects I had in mind, anyway.  I can find what I need at one of the many, many, many, many, many yarn stores around here.  (Sorry if I missed anyone!)

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