Get a Better Shopping Experience

Want a better shopping experience online? Become a better customer! The speed, accuracy, and security of ecommerce websites are improving with each passing year, but they’re not always perfect, and they’re never going to be. What you may not realize is that many of the most common online shopping complaints aren’t the retailer’s fault at all. Yes, sometimes the blame is yours. You can avoid these problems by following these five online shopping tips that will make your shopping experience better and ensure that you get the best customer service every time you click that “add to cart” button.

PS: Although these tips are intended for online shoppers, many of the same rules apply to good old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores as well. Keep them in mind the next time you head out to the mall!

Tip 1: Ask Yourself, “Is the Customer Always Right?”

We’ve been hearing it for over a century and seeing it in countless advertisements: “The customer is always right.” If you’ve ever owned a business or worked in retail, then you’ve likely heard this line more than a few times in your experience. Many of us have even dropped this one a few times ourselves when we’ve been frustrated over a misunderstanding or a bad purchase. It’s the mantra of disgruntled customers everywhere; the ultimate slogan designed to crush any disagreement and to get you what you want, on your terms.

But is it true? Is the customer always right? Deep down we all know the answer is absolutely not. Any transaction is a two-way street, and the customer is just as capable of being mistaken or wrong as the person on the other side of the counter (or the person at the other end of the website). While it is true that every customer should be treated with respect, sometimes what you want simply isn’t possible.

It is more effective to always keep an open mind than to always be right.

What does this have to do with improving your shopping experience? When you go into a transaction with the mindset that you are always right no matter what, you’re completely shutting yourself off to the other half of the conversation. Remember, a good retailer wants your business and is going to try to find a solution to your problem whether you demand to be right or not. Taking a combative stance the moment something goes wrong with your purchase or order increases the chance you’ll miss out on a perfectly good solution or compromise. Instead of coming to a fair agreement, you’re left with nothing — and chances are the person you talked to is now just as irritated as you.

But what if it turns out that you actually are right and the business you’re working with is at fault? You can still help fix the issue faster and easier by keeping an open mind and practicing common courtesy.

John Depane, a human resources and business consultant, describes this mindset simply, “Always be nice, until it’s time not to be. Instead of viewing the problem as a fight you must win, treat it as a challenge to be solved with a common goal: your satisfaction. A willingness to listen can take you a long way.”

A confrontational attitude can make it harder to get what you want.

In fact, not listening only makes it more difficult for the retailer to get you what you want. Cathy Ward, owner of ecommerce wedding accessories company, explains, “We’d be out of business if we didn’t strive to make our customers happy, but sometimes when a customer refuses to listen it can be hard to figure out what he or she really needs.” She adds, “Making everyone happy is easier when people take responsibility for their own behavior and actions, on both sides of the equation.”

Bob Bryant, a merchant services specialist, agrees. “Being cool and calm always gets you better treatment and better results than being aggressive or threatening if you’re dissatisfied.”

Tip 2: Don’t Take Your Bad Experiences with You Elsewhere

Even less helpful than assuming that as a customer you are always right is venting your frustration with one business on a completely different one. Yes, all of us have had the misfortune of the occasional bad shopping experience, and sometimes there’s nothing more aggravating than a rude employee or a confused customer service representative. Unlike the old saying, however, one bad apple does not spoil the bunch.

Focus on what the new business can do to help you, not what the last business didn’t do.

Treating a business like an enemy from the very start will not get you faster or better customer service; it will not get you a better price; it will not get you a better shopping experience. In fact, with this kind of attitude you’re very likely to create a problem before there even is one.

Even so, many retailers still frequently hear angry customer complaints like, “The last place I went to screwed up my order. I want things done right this time!”

The only thing you accomplish with this kind of statement is to set the other person on edge, which actually increases the likelihood they’ll make a mistake. Remember, the whole reason you’re visiting this different business is because you weren’t happy with how you were treated at the last one. If you really need to let someone know about your displeasure or feel you deserve some kind of special treatment for a bad experience, take it up with the company that is at fault, not someone else.

Instead of bringing your old problems with you, let yourself move on and give the staff of the new business a chance to outshine your bad experience. No matter how unpleasant things were at that other place, you will find a business that will make you happy, if you let them.

Tip 3: Don’t Abuse the Store’s Returns Policy

There’s a common perception that all retailers are huge mega-businesses with limitless resources, so you should be able to return anything for any reason. After all, it isn’t really hurting anyone and these big shot companies can afford it, right?

The vast majority of online businesses are not, in fact, big companies like Wal-Mart and Target. Very often they are small independent operations that are struggling to compete against bigger businesses while staying afloat in a tough economy. One of the great challenges these small businesses face is in the world of returns. Returns cost a tremendous amount of time and money — the merchant has to process the return with your order, inspect and restock the item if you sent it back, and pay credit card processing fees for the original purchase and the refund, if there is one.

There is no such thing as “friendly” or “harmless” fraud.

While you should never have to accept an item that’s faulty, broken, or not what you ordered, lately there’s been a tendency for some customers to exploit a business’s returns policy for maximum advantage. Abusing the returns policy and other forms of so-called “friendly fraud” can cripple that company’s ability to help other customers and ultimately you. So, before you decide to send it back, keep the following in mind:

Don’t return an item to one store that was purchased somewhere else.

It sounds like common sense, but this happens more often than you think. When you return something to a store other than where it was purchased, you are basically trying to force that company to buy stock that they may not necessarily need or want. Keep your receipts and remember where you made your purchases. If there’s a problem, don’t involve another store.

Don’t expect a retailer to pay return shipping because you don’t like what you bought.

Sometimes we all experience buyer’s remorse, but unless there’s something physically wrong with the item, it’s not the retailer’s fault. Once you buy something, it’s yours, and retailers who allow these kinds of returns are actually doing you a favor.

If you don’t want your purchase and the online retailer is allowing you to send it back, great, but don’t demand they pay charges for the return shipping. When you do, you are forcing a business to absorb a loss on something they made no income from for a bad decision you made.

Don’t buy an item, use it, and then return it because you don’t need it anymore.

Popular culture has almost turned this practice into an act of heroism — many of us have heard some inspiring story or another where some impoverished job-seeker wears a new suit to an interview, hides the tags, and then returns it to the store the next day. But, in most cases, the people who use this technique simply don’t want to pay for something they won’t need that often.

“More than once someone has ordered a cake topper and sent it back saying it wasn’t what they wanted or they didn’t get it in time for their wedding, but when we opened the box there was cake icing on it,” Ward says. “This isn’t harmless; these kinds of things put a big financial burden on small businesses.”

Retailers are not in business to loan you their inventory. If you buy something, use it without any problems, but then don’t want it anymore, find a different way to get rid of it. Donate it to a charity or set it out at your next yard sale, but don’t send it back to the merchant expecting a refund.

Tip 4: Don’t Be Stingy with Your Information

In today’s era of identity theft, junk mail, spam, and telemarketers, protecting your identity and your privacy has never been more important. It’s understandable that you want to make as little of your personal information available to the public as possible. But, when you withhold information like your email address or phone number from an online retailer, it makes it much more difficult for the merchant to follow-up on your order.

Providing contact information improves customer service and can speed up your order.

Remember, every purchase you make online involves a certain amount of trust. Kevin Begola, owner of an ecommerce jewelry website, explains, “Our products have a lot of customization options, and sometimes we need to follow-up with our customers to ensure everything is perfect. When a customer refuses to provide a phone number or email address, it makes it harder to get in touch with them if we need to. This is usually the number one factor for an order delay.”

Most online merchants will not start sending you spam or calling you twenty times a day the moment they have your phone number or email address, but they will be able to contact you quickly to resolve any issues that may arise.

If you’re concerned about what a business is going to do with your personal information, check the merchant’s privacy policy posted on their website, or ask how they will use or store anything you provide them. If you’re still not comfortable, you can shop somewhere else.

If you need to contact a merchant about a purchase, let them know who you are.

Also, if you are going to write a merchant with a question about your order, don’t make them guess your identity. Some merchants process dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of orders per day — a simple “where’s my order” email with no other information forces the retailer to play detective and will delay their response.

Anytime you contact a merchant about a purchase you made, be sure to provide your name, order number or confirmation number, and describe what you ordered and when. Also provide any contact information the merchant might need, such as a work number or cell phone number. This will guarantee a faster response to your questions.

Tip 5: Understand How Shipping Works

The number one complaint about online shopping has, and likely always will be, issues that arise from shipping. Shipping items today is faster and more reliable than ever, but it still takes time and mistakes can and do happen. Fortunately, if you understand a little about how shipping works and follow these additional online shopping tips, you can help ensure your purchases arrive on time, every time.

Check to see how your item is being shipped.

If the merchant uses a private company such as UPS, or if you request that an item be shipped that way, remember that these services cannot deliver packages to a PO Box. You will need to provide your actual home address.

Many online merchants, furthermore, will provide UPS or FedEx tracking information that will enable you to follow your package while it is in transit. Use this information to keep an eye on your package and to be appraised of when it’s going to arrive — doing this yourself is far easier and faster than writing the merchant and demanding to know where your order is.

Ship the item to a location where you or someone else will be available to receive it.

Some types of shipping and some shipping services require that someone be physically present to sign for a package at the time it is delivered. If no one is going to be available at your home to receive the package, consider having it sent to another location, such as the home of a friend or relative, or the place where you work.

Check then double check the accuracy of your shipping address.

Don’t automatically blame the merchant if your package is returned or delivered to the wrong address. Most of the time the problem is a detail like a wrong house number or misspelled street name entered by the customer.

Remember that the shipping time does not include processing time.

Once you’ve purchased an item from a website, it does not immediately box itself and jump into the arms of a waiting truck driver. Someone has to first process your credit card information, pull the item or items from their inventory, package them, and prepare them for shipping.

While this process is usually fairly quick, it’s not instantaneous, and some purchases will take longer to process than others. Also, orders placed late in the day or in the evening won’t likely be processed until the following day.

Learn to count shipping days.

The time it takes for an order to ship only starts the day after the package has left the facility where it was stored and is on its way to you. This means that if you request 3-day delivery on an order that’s shipped on Monday, it will not arrive until Thursday. Or, if you place an order in the evening on Tuesday but request Next Day Air, it will also arrive on Thursday, not Wednesday.

Shipping days do not count weekends and holidays.

Yes, we’re all used to receiving mail on Saturdays, but shipping services like UPS do not make standard deliveries on Saturday, and no one delivers on Sunday or holidays.

For example: Suppose it’s Thursday at 8 PM and you find a cool toy you want to get for your nephew’s birthday this weekend. You count Thursday, Friday, and Saturday — three days — so you choose 3-day delivery. However, the merchant likely won’t even see your order until the start of business hours on Friday. He or she may package the item that same day, but remember the shipping time only starts after the item has left, and UPS won’t ship on the weekend. So, even with 3-day-delivery your package won’t actually arrive until the following Wednesday.

If time is a factor, account for the nature of the purchase and the possibility of delays.

Sure, some items you purchase online may only need a mailing label slapped on the boxes and they’re ready to go, but others are going to take time. If you’re ordering something that’s being engraved, personalized, or custom made, then you’ll usually want to add at least a few days to the amount of time it will take to process your order — and even longer for some items. Remember, someone, probably a skilled artisan, is going to have to sit down and actually make your item — there is simply no possible way it can ship immediately.

There are also other issues outside of anyone’s control that can potentially delay your package. The number of other orders placed before yours, distance between you and the shipping facility, severe weather, even accidents can be a factor in the amount of time it takes to receive your purchase.

“We work with brides every day, so we understand that time can be an issue,” Ward says. “We pride ourselves on not missing wedding dates, and we get all our orders out as fast as possible, but things like engraving are always going to add to the time it takes to process an order.”

If time is a factor, finish your online shopping well in advance of the date that you need something. If, for whatever reason, you still need to order an item at the last minute, then work with the merchant to see what you can do to rush your package and receive it as quickly as possible. Don’t demand miracles, and don’t blame the merchant for your time constraints.

Once you receive your package, check the entire box.

Many packages arrive stuffed with Styrofoam peanuts and other packing material. If you open the box but don’t immediately see what you ordered, take a deep breath and check the inside of the box more thoroughly. Empty out all of those peanuts if you have to — more often than not you just missed the item the first time. Make sure you’re absolutely certain that your item hasn’t arrived before contacting the merchant.

Being a Better Customer Will Always Get You a Better Shopping Experience

Just as all of us are looking for businesses we can trust and enjoy dealing with, businesses are always hoping for great customers — serving those people is very often what inspired the owner to start their company in the first place.

“It’s such a pleasure when a customer becomes an active participant,” Bob Bryant says. “It’s truly rewarding when they understand all aspects of the transaction and start working with you.”

“We get really excited when the customer is excited,” Ward adds. “Sharing in the enthusiasm of a friendly, understanding customer helps us work better.”