Are small businesses just terrible at eCommerce?

What exactly is so awesome about our customer service? - I really don’t think it's that great.

Every day I receive emails from the product review software I use on my websites telling me we have new product reviews. These are normally not product reviews but people saying how amazing our customer service is.

What I don’t understand is why people think our service is so great? I consider what we do to be the minimum customers should expect from an eCommerce shopping experience. Is everyone else just doing it wrong, or have I accidentally discovered the recipe for outstanding customer satisfaction?

I’ll explain what happens when a customer places an order with us:

1./ A potential customer finds a product on one of our websites that they like the look of. They find the price to be acceptable and decide they would like to buy it.

2./ Before they add it to their basket the site tells them how many we have in stock, when we estimate we will ship it and when they can expect delivery. If we have no stock they are instead given a lead time and are allowed to purchase anyway.

3./ They fill in their details and pay by either credit card or by PayPal.

4./ Once they have paid they receive an email confirming that we have received the order.

5./ We ship the order. Normally with a hand written thank you note (although I am aware that Pete often forgets this – he probably thinks I don’t know).

  • If the product is in stock and we received the order in the morning or early afternoon we will ship the same day.
  • In stock orders received late afternoon are shipped the next day.
  • Out of stock orders are normally shipped within the lead time given on the product page.
  • If we cannot ship in the time frame advertised we will contact the customer to discuss. We apologise and give the following options:
    • We can ship when the goods become available.
    • We can send something else if there is a suitable alternative.
    • We can immediately cancel and refund the order.

6./ Upon us shipping the order the customer receives as email telling them that their order is on it’s way.

7./ If we shipped using a 24 hour courier, which we do in most cases, they will receive an email or SMS from our courier with a tracking number.

8./ Customer receives their order. This is almost always the day after we shipped it, providing there was someone in to receive the delivery.

9./ Two weeks after the order date the customer receives an email asking them to do us a favour and write a short review of the product.

10./ In most cases the customer, instead of writing a product review, writes about how quick/awesome our service was.

The fact that we receive such strong positive feedback really confuses me.

What exactly were people expecting? Did they think we would take 3 days to get round to looking at their order before emailing to say the product was out of stock? Have they been experiencing this sort of service elsewhere?

British and American eCommerce has come a really long way really fast, although it appears to me that other European businesses have a bit of catching up to do. There are now tools available which allow small retailers like myself to be every bit as efficient with their stock management and order fulfilment as Amazon are with theirs. The tools are there and they are cheap and easy to use. With a bit of organisation and discipline there is no longer any reason why the service we offer, as described above, should not be an absolute base line.


If you have any opinions, I'd love to hear them on the Facebook thread that corresponds to this post.


Some plugs for a couple of the tools that make my life a lot easier:

Brightpearl – Inventory management, order processing and accounting software

Shopify – Hosted eCommerce websites
Richard Hall October 22, 2014 7 tags (show)