Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My response to Ian at Aquinas and More

[Note: this is the comment I've posted over at Aquinas and More's blog. Since his comments are moderated, it may take a while for my comment to show up (and as it's long, it may have to be trimmed to fit). I'm therefore taking the liberty of posting it here, too.]

Hi, Ian!

I'm sorry I wasn't able to respond yesterday, but I wanted to take a moment to address your response to my blog post. You're right that I haven't ordered from your store; in all honesty I must admit that your rather complicated return policy is one of the main reasons I haven't. I know it seems simple and straightforward to you, but to a shopper just wandering virtually around your site it seems confusing--cash refunds, but only in a certain time period, and not on some items including gold jewelry; store credit after that 30 day period, which is described variously as 30 days after the customer receives the items or 30 days after the item has shipped; defective CDs or DVDs will be replaced, but only if Aquinas and More plays them first, and if they work at your store you'll tell the customer to clean his equipment (which, you may not realize, comes off as rather insulting to the customer). And I only know this because I clicked on the link for "help" and then the one for "return policy;" how many of your customers place orders without realizing that they have ordered an item in your "non-returnable" category?

Like I said, this probably seems straightforward to you, and your many customers obviously don't have a problem with it. But put yourself in my place a moment: pretend you have a small budget to buy someone a gift (let's say a CD of Christmas music), you can order it from a store which will play the disk to "prove" it's defective if you say it is--or you can order the exact same disk from Barnes and Noble for pretty much the same price, knowing that they'll replace it immediately and without question if the item arrives and is defective. Which would you do? Or suppose you have enough money to buy your goddaughter a gold medal--do you order it online from a store where there's no possibility of returning it, even if you dislike the quality or workmanship once you see it, or do you go to Sears and physically look at their selection of gold medals? Considering how much money the customer is about to spend, here, I think it's only prudent to choose the second option.

I know you say the difference between big retailers and online Catholic ones is partly the "made in (fill in the totalitarian regime)" aspect that can be true of big stores. The thing is, it's also true of online Catholic ones. A lot of items I've ordered have turned out to be made in those same countries. Your store does pride itself on staying away from such items--but these days, books, CDs, DVDs and a host of similar items may be printed or manufactured (or have some components manufactured--CD cases, etc.) in those countries; even a simple item like printed wrapping paper often is. The question as to whether we ought to boycott those items or whether, as Pope John Paul II suggested, boycotts principally hurt the desperately poor is one on which Catholics might disagree; suffice it to say that the sort of thing I'm talking about isn't the kind of situation where the item I buy from the Catholic retailer will be made in a different country than the one I buy from a major secular retailer. In other words, if I want the new Susan Boyle CD, it's going to be the same CD whether it comes from Aquinas and More or Barnes and Noble.

And that is also true about your other objection which is that shoppers at big secular stores can't be sure of the orthodoxy of the items they are purchasing. Again, if I want to buy the latest book by a Catholic apologist, the book will be the same if I buy it at Amazon! With all due respect, if I'm shopping online, then I have plenty of ways to see if the item I'm buying meets my standards for orthodoxy or not, simply by doing a few online searches. I'm not really at the mercy of the big retailer just because the big retailer is only carrying Catholic goods at Christmas and Easter, for instance.

What the relatively small Catholic Internet stores, what even a big Catholic Internet store like Aquinas and More can do to earn my loyal business, is to treat me to an overwhelmingly positive customer service experience that goes above and beyond what I'd ever expect--because this is something the big secular retailers can't always do. I'm sure that this is how loyal customers of Aquinas and More feel about your store; I myself have been burned so many times by other Catholic Internet stores that I'm hesitant to take the chance again only to find myself, yet again, without a gift item I've ordered well in advance as the date of the occasion looms closer and closer.


Ian said...

(cross-posted on our blog)

Hi Erin,

Thank you for taking the time to write back. I appreciate your input.

I took your return criticisms to heart and made some initial changes already, (I’m the owner so I can do that). I will be discussing your other points at our management meeting tomorrow. All items that aren’t returnable say so on the product page in bold-red letters so it isn’t hidden away in the policy.

As far as the country of origin of products, I’m aware that most Catholic stores really don’t care where things are made and that finding non-Chinese items is tough. We have done the best we can to avoid such items. Yes, even our gift wrap is made in America and is actually religious! If it turns out that our cds are produced in China, we would quit carrying them. Unfortunately, finding country of origin on lots of products is impossible.

I think we are going to have to disagree on the morality of considering country of origin when making purchases. Since China is basically a totalitarian regime with a dab of capitalism thrown in to keep down revolution, any money we give to that country goes more to help build up their military and maintain their government structure than anything else.

I also think you overlooked my point about supporting corporations who give money and other support to anti-Catholic causes. Sure you can buy that apologetics book at (fill in your big corp.) but instead of helping your local Catholic store owner who probably gives to his parish out of his store earnings you are supporting a corporation that supports population control, gay marriage, etc.

I definitely agree with your last point and think that all retailers should take it to heart.

Another issue that came up today that we are unable to control but still results in us being blamed is postal delivery. We sent one customer a package of Christmas gifts on the 15th of December Priority Mail. Plenty of time, right? The package didn’t arrive until the 24th – too late for her to take to her family. Did she blame the post office? Nope.

Red Cardigan said...

Ian, thanks! I've appreciated your willingness to engage in this discussion and am encouraged by your committment to good business practices.

Anonymous said...

Although the interchange is informative and interesting, with regard to the ancestry of my children reaching far back to their roots in the so Far East that it's practically Near West, I find it rather disheartening to quibble about totalitarianism of a political regime that has only existed x number of years, and is slowly allowing its citizenry extension of basic human rights.

But, basically, this has been a consideration of thoughts that go through my mind when I order items online as well. One might tend to think that smaller companies might provide more personal and personable service as well as be overaccommodating, but imagine if there's only one worker, then it's difficult as well as time-consuming and costly to provide amenity to usual and customary consumer satisfaction.