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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Friday, September 20, 2013

Operational Crises

I should have had my existential crisis a couple of months ago when things were slow. A mysterious operational crisis hit during a busy sales period last Friday and preempted last week’s post. (Yes, I said busy; sales are picking up.) The existential crisis is postponed until next week because I’m too busy to deal with it.

I still don’t quite understand what happened. Two emails announce every order that comes in: One from my website and one from the payment processor. On Friday morning I received a credit card payment notification without an accompanying order notification email. Email can be a little flaky, but the order email usually arrives ahead of the payment email. There turned out to be no order in my transaction list corresponding to the small payment. 
This happened once before, many months ago. I never figured out what caused it then, but it wasn’t repeated so I chalked it up to a server hiccup and moved on. This time the customer promptly gave me the info I needed to reconstruct her order. A test transaction went through normally. A couple of hours later a real transaction also came through without incident. Then, late in the afternoon, I got a PayPal email with no corresponding order notification, and again the transaction itself was just plain not there.

Now that’s worrisome. I logged into my MySQL database to check the Orders table…and couldn’t find the table! In fact, there were a bunch of empty new “Mobicart” tables that I don’t use and a lot of my real tables had disappeared. My site was working normally, so the data obviously had to be there, but the strange-looking database sent me into a full-blown panic. The first thing I do in a panic is pause all of my advertising. I then contacted all three potentially helpful parties – MDD Hosting, Turnkey, and my contract developer – and sat back and worried, since I don’t have the technical skill to do any more than that.  

If it’s not already too late to make a long story short: The database had merely undergone an interface change. My web host said that their server was solid. My developer said everything looked dandy to him. Turnkey made a couple of guesses, but as I hadn’t updated Sunshop in many months I had no reason to suspect the shopping cart. We never did figure out what caused the two dropped orders, but the situation has not repeated. 

I’m convinced that Google punishes customers who pause their AdWords accounts. Even though the ads were only offline for a couple of hours, business died for three days after that. But Google’s over its snit and sales are picking back up.


This second one isn’t a crisis, although I could turn it into one if I'm not careful. On 8/23 one “Icuriocity (lastname) don’t share info” ordered a couple of small kites for $23.11. I filled the order normally two days later and forgot about it despite the confrontational customer “name”. A few weeks later the customer complained that she didn’t get her order. 

Delivery confirmation showed it arriving two days after I sent it, so I made a routine response: Your package was sent on this date and arrived on that date, here’s your delivery confirmation number, go to usps.com to see for yourself. And btw here’s a link to our missing package advice. The important thing on that page is this paragraph:

After a package is confirmed delivered, or when you are notified of a delivery attempt, that package is no longer the responsibility of Curio City. We aren't responsible for packages that are lost or stolen after they're confirmed delivered. Our ownership of that package ends when your carrier scans the label to prove that the package was left.

Some customers argue with me about that; most just go away. I figured my weird-name customer was in the latter camp until I got a letter from American Express a couple of days ago: “Our mutual customer claims that s/he did not receive the order and requests credit.” 

If that confrontational customer name had already raised my defenses, this development kicked them into high gear. Contacting Amex instead of me indicates that they have been down this path before. I’m probably dealing with a common thief. (It's also possible that the package was undeliverable due to the weird name on the label, but in that case it should have been returned to me.)

Fortunately the Amex letter is not a chargeback. It gives me the options of providing proof of shipment and delivery (both of which I have) or refunding the purchase. I’m naturally inclined to fight it because I’m in the right and the customer is probably pulling a scam. Amex’s instructions for resolving disputes are encouraging. But past experience with Mastercard and Visa disputes taught me that they are invariably resolved in the shopper’s favor at the expense of the merchant (you don’t think the bank is going to cover the loss, do you?). If Amex doesn’t consider my documentation adequate – which they might not because delivery confirmation doesn’t include a signature -- they’ll escalate it to a chargeback and I will incur fees beyond the refund. Meanwhile, because I didn’t find Amex’s “online dispute tool” until just minutes ago, I have to respond to this complaint by FAX…and since I no longer have a FAX machine or landline, those cost money and inconvenience. Issuing the small refund to avoid further costs and headaches is the logical response, so that’s what I’ll do. But I don’t like it, not one little bit. 

I did block the customer’s IP address so that they can never buy from me again, at least from that computer. That makes me feel a little better. Now I’m trying to decide whether to send an email explaining that even though they got their refund, I consider them thieves and their business is no longer welcome…or just try to forget about it. Since this shopper apparently is a habitual pain in the ass, reason says that I’m better off dropping it.  
Letting Bad Guys win really pisses me off, though.

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