Being in retail for twelve years was my eye opener to the range of intelligence of the general public. I thought I’d seen and heard it all teaching public school for ten years, but I was, oh, so very wrong. These people made my remedial English 8th graders of yesteryear look like down-right geniuses.
The first years of having a retail shop in my affluent town weren’t too bad. People seemed reasonable and still had logic in their arguments.
“You need to be softer on your prices!” one customer yelled at me. “We’re in a recession!”
This was the beginning of 2008. She knew before I did.
Then there was the guy who didn’t like my offer of 20% off on my sugar bowl, so he stole it. I’ll make it free. Logical, but wrong.
Or the people who broke things and then dashed for the door.
“It’s your fault! You have too much stuff in here.”
Or the woman who set down her keys in my shop.
“How am I supposed to find my keys?”
Good luck with that.
Due to a renovation I was forced out of my building in 2011. I took the business online. The first few years were great, except for the 5:00 a.m. phone calls. I added to my website that I was in California and that I got up at 7:00 a.m. PACIFIC Standard time. The army wife in Kazakhstan still called at 5:00 a.m., but I gave her a pass.
I’d heard of Etsy, a website like Ebay, except that everything had to be handmade or vintage. There was no bidding, all Buy It Now. I signed up to sell on it in 2013. My sales skyrocketed after that. Everyone across America needed a pioneer outfit for their 3rd grader. I could barely keep up. Some days all I did was iron and sew until 1:00 p.m. to get the orders out to overnight them by the 2:30 cut-off. April and May were the busiest months. I started making dresses ahead of time so that I would be ready for all the spring orders.
Then, as the years went by, people became lazier and greedier. They wanted free shipping. They stopped calling to discuss sizes. They didn’t tell me how tall their daughter was, the one who needed an ankle-length dress. They wanted to hit a button and have me magically know what to send. These were semi-custom orders, and I needed measurements.
The efficiency of a phone call was replaced by two days of back-and-forth Etsy online conversations called convos. It was inefficient and confusing. The buyers often didn’t respond at all. With a dozen orders at a time and multiple Eleanor Roosevelt costumes, it was harder and harder to keep it all straight. Plus, they needed it yesterday.
Some of my favorite responses through Etsy convos:
Me — “How tall is your daughter?” Buyer — “She’s an average third grader.”
Is she Asian? A farm girl in Iowa? From Texas? She could be four feet tall or five feet, five. Help me out, folks.
“How tall is your daughter?” “She comes up to my shoulder.” “How tall are you?” “I’m short.”
“How tall is your daughter?” “Last spring she was four feet tall” (a year has passed).
“How tall is your daughter?” “She’s 48 inches tall, I mean four foot, eight inches tall.” “Well, which is it?” “I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask my husband.”
“How tall is your daughter?” “I don’t know. I don’t have a tape measure.”
“How big is your son’s head?” “About the same size as mine.” “How big is your head?” “Big.”
“What size do you need?” “Here is a photo of my child.”
“I need a size.” “He weighs fifty pounds.”
“What size do you need?” “Whatever you think is best.”
“What size do you need?” “Whatever a third grader would wear.”
“What color would you like?” “Any color, as long as it looks exactly like the photo.”
“How long would you like the skirt to be?” “Ten inches from the floor.”
I started skipping those orders and doing the ones with complete information.
“Where is my outfit?” the lazy order people would ask.
“You didn’t tell me how tall she was.”
“My daughter needs it for tomorrow.”
“You didn’t give me a skirt length.”
“The hat is crushed! You owe me a hat. Overnight me a hat.”
“I just tracked your package. Your hat went to San Diego and back and has been in the postal system for 17 days, because you gave me a bad address.”
“You have horrible customer service! I am going to tell everyone what a bad seller you are!”
“I demand that you overnight a different shirt! You didn’t send a blue plaid shirt like the photo.”
“Your whole order was $44.95. You want me to overnight a shirt to you for $23.95 postage? I can’t do that. Return the whole outfit and I will give you your money back.”
“But my son will be so disappointed.”
“Then have him wear the brown plaid shirt that I sent.”
“I am sending back the whole thing.”
“Where is my order?” “I sent it a week ago.” “I moved. Why can’t the post office send it to my new address?”
“Because you gave me the old address on your order and never informed the post office that you moved. I went online and tracked your package. The outfit is coming back to me.”
“You’ve ruined my daughter’s special day! I’m going to write a review and tell everyone what a horrible seller you are!”
“Please stop screaming at me.”
“You never asked me which house to send it to! I have ten houses!”
‘You gave me the NYC address on your order.”
“You are a horrible business woman!”
I finally had to hang up on that one (she got her money back a month later when the package got back to me).
My fun way to make money was becoming less fun.
Then Etsy, which had grown huge, demanded that I start taking Direct Pay credit cards. With Direct Pay, I’d never be able to get measurement from anyone. Etsy threatened to shut me down if I didn’t agree. I didn’t. Etsy did.
I was forced to retire.
I donated 500 dresses to Dress a Girl Around the World. Yes, my helper pointed out that some of them were butt ugly, all the leftovers after twelve years of selling (two of those years getting over a bad break-up where all I did was sew, sew, sew). But still. They were well-made cotton dresses, and I shipped them to the Dress a Girl headquarters at my own expense.
Yes, I still have inventory to get rid of. I maxed out my allowable $5000 in charitable donations for my income taxes this year. Yes, I miss the extra money. But I don’t miss the hassles with, the attitudes of, or the sheer laziness of the internet shoppers.
Buy a tape measure and figure it out, people!
It’s not that hard.
Couldda Wouldda Didda
Yup, I retired.