Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Being a retailer at Christmas

shoppersI'm writing this post in lieu of smacking some of my customers upside the head, which is, at any rate, hard to do long distance. Please indulge me in a little rant to blow off some steam, since I try to be nothing but courteous and professional in my customer-service emails.

Sam and I sell DVDs online, on venues like eBay and Amazon Marketplace. It never fails to amaze me that we get customers who berate us for deceptive business practices if they find out that they could get the item cheaper elsewhere, or that we, in fact, did.

Yes, that's right, certain astute customers have found out that retailers sell items at a profit. It was a closely guarded secret, handed down through the ages, but now it's out. Our business model is ruined. Now we will have to pass along items at the same cost we buy them for, because that's only fair. (NB to these customers: This is me being sarcastic.)

Imagine you walk into The Gap. There are jeans there for $60, let's say. Does anyone really think The Gap bought those jeans for $60? They probably cost them pennies. Imagine you walk into any grocery store. I guarantee that every single item on those shelves the grocery store paid less than half what they're charging you at the regular price. That's how retail works! That's how businesses pay their expenses and, afterward, turn a profit. I should think this is obvious, but apparently not to the yahoos who buy from me.

Let's take a further example. Let's say that the same manufacturer in China makes the same pair of jeans for several retailers, switching out thread colors and tags, and selling them for $5 a pair. Wal-Mart buys a zillion and sells them for $10 each. The Gap charges $60. Le Chic Boutique buys 300, claims they're limited edition, and charges $300 a pair. Which of these business models is deceptive? The answer: None of them. Items are worth what a customer is willing to pay for them. People buy from Le Chic Boutique (I made this store up, if you can't tell, since I don't shop at this price point ) for the cachet of owning jeans with a certain tag and stitching color. People buy from The Gap for the convenience. People buy from Wal-Mart because they're cheap (no offense -- present company included).

To bring this back around to me (which I live to do), customers buy from us because they want low price and convenience. We handle shopping around for deals both in brick-and-mortar stores and online, obtaining (often exclusive) coupons, and buying in bulk to maximize savings on shipping and, sometimes, price. We pay for seller's fees, packing materials, sales tax, and gas to the post office. We spend hours each day wrapping packages, placing orders online, answering customer-service emails, driving to stores, and standing in line at the post office's APC. And we get very little sleep in December. We make not very much by doing all this. I won't give an exact number, because you'll tell me to get a real job. But we do it because we like working from home, sharing our lives, and raising our son together.

So, to the bargain hunters out there, more power to you. If you want to buy 1,000 jeans direct from China so that you can get the $5 price, and then deal with the hassle of selling off the other 999 pairs you don't want, that's your prerogative. But there's no point in slamming a retailer for selling it to you for more than that, since they're doing all the work.

Ok, end of rant.

Here's my holiday advice for everyone: Be patient with customer-service reps and cashiers. Smile at postal workers. Remember that Christmas spirit is not so limited that it must be reserved only for your loved ones. Everyone could use a little.

Bah! H--I mean, merry Christmas.

Photo of annoying customers (ha ha) courtesy of pipp on stock.xchng


Wilderness Mama said...

Ugh, how annoying! They're only mad at themselves though for not finding the deal themselves. I'm sorry they take it out on you. :(

Hey, tag, you're it!

Suzanne said...

I feel your pain. This is the first of many years that I am not working retail for Christmas. I'm kind of enjoying not getting berated because there's a 45 minute wait to get our complimentary gift wrap!

Personally, all my years in the biz has taught me that sometimes, it's far better to pay a little more and get better service than complain about the price. Don't like it, don't buy it!

Hang in there, there's only two weeks left.

Apparently, the captcha feels your pain, too. I've got My Tais as the word-guess it wants you to have some cocktails today.

ryssee said...

Hi there! Game to your blog through a blog her link on my cousin's blog. I was intrigued by the title.
I worked retail for many years and now I work for a wholesaler. Really opened my eyes to how the whole system works and why things cost what they cost. I get so mad when people say, "Well it only cost $5 to make that $15 tee shirt!" without realizing the costs to actually get it to a conveniently located store or warehouse for them to purchase.
Your statement about items being worth what the customer will pay is also very true.
Well, just wanted to stop by and say I liked your post. Hope you have a happy and profitable season!

Lauren Wayne said...

Slow response to you all! I've been eating, sleeping, and breathing packages.

cindy: That's what I think, too! If people want to put in the work of finding the deals, that's totally their call -- but there is a value in time, right?

suzanne: I totally took your suggestion and had a nice margarita. ;) Makes everything better.

ryssee: Yes! There's so much behind the scenes that people don't understand or figure. It's like how people on eBay want to pay only the "real" shipping cost, not realizing that there are bubble wrap and envelopes to buy, Delivery Confirmation to add, etc. -- there's this feeling of entitlement that everyone deserves the cheapest price regardless of whether this is a good deal for the sellers involved. Well, at least cheapskates feel this way -- and I think that's the kind of buyer I attract! :)

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