Some Thoughts about Etsy Seller Customer Service

(Let me preface this post by saying that most Etsy transactions go smoothly where there aren’t issues for the buyer and seller.  I have made many purchases from great Etsy shops and have had great experiences with almost all.)

I had my first bad experience as an Etsy buyer a few weeks ago.  It has been quite an eye-opener for me since I am usually viewing all things Etsy through the point-of-view of an Etsy seller.  Although this whole experience has left me with a really sour taste, I actually think it may be a blessing in disguise because it has made me think A LOT about the kind of customer service that I want to provide to anyone visiting my little shop.

So, let me tell you about the purchase that got me thinking so much about customer service. It was on my birthday, and I had been thinking of indulging myself a bit.  My husband had given me an Etsy gift card for Mother’s Day.  When he gave it to me, I thought to myself that I would probably end up using it for fabric for my business (being the practical person that I am!), but I really wanted to use it only for little treats that I normally wouldn’t buy for myself.  AND hopefully on things other than fabric (although I did end up getting some NICE Japanese fabric that I will talk about in a future post!). 

At the time, I was working on a new cobbler apron in a totally cute fabric with rows and rows of French macarons, which is probably why I had macarons on my mind.  I have drooled over the macarons for sale on Etsy many times, and now, since it was my birthday and I had my Mother’s Day gift certificate, I finally felt like I had an excuse to indulge in a box of these sweet treats. 

I looked at a few of the successful shops selling these little cookies and settled on one that had a lot of sales and lots of happy reviews.  I picked my choice of flavors and made my purchase. You know how they say that there is a lot of psychology that goes into making a sale – how the product makes the buyer feel, what the product represents to the buyer, nostalgia, etc., etc.?  Well, it is true because I have to say that that purchase made me feel really happy, probably because I don’t treat myself as often as I used to do when I was working full-time.   I told both my boys that I had ordered “special cookies” and we all couldn’t wait to receive that little box of macarons in a few days.

It was supposed to arrive in two to three days.  When it didn’t arrive on the fourth day I checked the tracking which showed that the package was “Missent”.  I thought that surely if the delivery took longer than the estimated three days it should still be ok.  I don’t deal in perishable products (or food products at all!), so I hadn’t really thought about a delivery mishap when I made the purchase. 

I sent a message to the seller telling her my macarons had not arrived.  I was hoping that she would respond telling me not to worry, that the cookies would still be ok to eat and that she would keep an eye on the tracking just in case the package was delayed further.  Instead, she wrote back informing me that the Post Office had missent the package and that unfortunately they would not be safe to consume when they were finally delivered.  She also added that she could offer me a 30% discount (not including shipping) if I would like to order a replacement.

Talk about disappointment!  We wouldn’t be able to try the cookies that we were so looking forward to, and I have to admit that having to place another order and pay for a replacement, with or without a discount, just added insult to injury, even though I am sure that wasn’t the seller’s intention (it was probably the opposite actually). 

I stewed a little about this (and asked my husband what he thought about it) before I responded to her.  I basically expressed my disappointment in the transaction and told her that I wouldn’t be ordering the replacement – almost $60 total for twelve macarons is excessive.  I added that since I am also an Etsy seller I understand how it might not be possible to offer a complimentary replacement because budgets are tight, etc.  I suggested to her that she should think of adding the cost of insurance to her shipping cost so that this kind of disappointment can be avoided in the future.  

I  expected that she would send a short reply to effectively close out the transaction on as positive a note as possible, maybe apologizing for the inconvenience and the disappointment and thanking me for my understanding in this bad situation.  After all, I had spent money in her shop and I wouldn’t be able to use her product.  This is probably what I would have done, had I been in her position.  However, I did not hear anything back from her, which made me feel more negatively about the experience. 

After a few more days I finally received the package.  At this point, I debated if and what to leave as feedback for the transaction.  Now, if you are not an Etsy seller, you may not realize how crazy most sellers are about receiving only positive feedback.  I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that most shops are selling items that the seller designs and makes with their own hands.  There is so much of yourself on display in an Etsy shop and I think that criticism is taken very personally.  But, when I thought about it, my experience was extremely negative (mostly because of a lack of responsiveness or concern after the problem occurred) and I wanted to say so.  I left a negative feedback explaining that it was a problem with shipping and not that the product was bad.  I mentioned that she did offer a discount for a replacement and that I recommended buying shipping insurance to prospective buyers.  Almost immediately after that, I got a nasty message from the seller along with negative feedback claiming that I was dishonest, unethical, unprofessional, two-faced (!), etc.  All of this was untrue and spiteful, but unfortunately it affects my shop’s positive feedback percentage.  This purchase was the gift that kept on giving, except for the macarons I had purchased of course.

I was amazed at how bad a transaction could get.  First a buyer pays for a product that they cannot ever use, and then on top of that the buyer has to deal with a rude and aggressive seller.  If I were a first time buyer on Etsy, I am sure that this experience would have forever turned me off to ALL the shops on Etsy.  Even having experience buying and selling on Etsy, this has probably soured me to buying from food sellers on Etsy.  It really made me sad.

This is when I really started to think about a transaction through the buyer’s perspective instead of the seller’s.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am always thinking about what visitors to my shop think of my products and the image my shop conveys.  I am always hoping that my customers are happy when they receive my products and don’t experience buyer’s remorse.  I love it when I get positive feedback from a buyer so that I know what I am doing is working.  But once an order is shipped, I am already moving on to fulfilling the next order or making the next apron or set of placemats. I think this might be what happened with this bad transaction of mine.  The seller probably thought, “I held up my end of the deal.  I shipped her my product and the Post Office didn’t deliver properly.  I even offered her a discount if she wanted another one”.  And all those things are true.  It wasn’t her fault but the Post Office’s that the package was missent, but she is the one who is left with the dissatisfied customer.  Not to mention that I most likely would have been a repeat customer, had this not happened and especially if this mishap had been handled well.  I knew that I never wanted a customer of mine to feel as negatively about a purchase from my shop, whether that purchase would turn into repeat business or not. 

I have found in general that most Etsy buyers tend to be very understanding and flexible.  Most realize that the seller is probably making, shipping and marketing the product, running the website, handling convos, etc., and the seller may not being doing this full-time.  But in the end, a customer is a customer, and they expect to at least have a useable product.  My shop policies are actually similar to the policies of the macaron lady’s, where I state that I am not responsible for lost packages, etc.  With this new buyer’s perspective, I find this policy to be penny wise, pound foolish.  The Post Office has never lost/damaged one of my packages (knock wood!).  If/when that situation does arise in the future, I think that the best response is to simply apologize for the inconvenience and offer to ship out a similar replacement (if I have one) or offer a refund.   I think this happens infrequently enough that it is just a (small) part of the cost of doing business.

By adopting this policy, I will be doing all I can to remedy a bad situation.  However, to take it one step further, I should also keep in mind that even with the refund/replacement, it is still an inconvenience to the buyer because they aren’t receiving the item when they expected it and it might not be the exact item they originally purchased.  The saving grace is that hopefully the buyer won’t be left with a bad impression of my shop or me personally.  All of this is probably obvious to most Etsy sellers already, but it didn’t quite hit me until I had this bad experience as a buyer.

I should probably keep a copy of this post handy just to remind myself of the buyer’s perspective if one of my packages ever gets lost!

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