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Tuesday, September 25, 2012



But, first, a question:  What is business?  What does it mean to be in business?  Is it only about making money?

I think there're at least 2 views on this.

One, it's a way to make money.  Plain and simple.  That's the focus.  Bottom line.

Another view, you have a product or service that you think will be of value to people, you can make money selling it.  Focus on the product or service, marketing, comparing your product to others,

So, I've been scammed, it isn't the first time, it undoubtedly won't be the last.  Part of it is my fault for not paying better attention to certain things and for not following up on things that don't look right.

I won't divulge all the details because it's embarrassing.

In March, 2012, I made an online clothing purchase from a retailer who also has a catalog.  Generally, I dislike their clothes; they're not well made and their styling is tasteless.  But, I needed an additional pair of summer pants and, after looking around at several local stores and online sites, I found something that looked promising and might fit properly.  I ordered online.  I've ordered online a great deal.  I've not had many problems.

A couple of months ago, I noticed an odd charge on my checking account from the catalog company.  I found the  invoice for the pants and put it aside to call them about the charge.  I forgot about it.  Today, I noticed the same charge on my account and remembered the previous charge.  I called the bank who reviewed the charges with me.  I tried calling the phone number attached to the debit and got a busy signal, several times.  I called the catalog company who told me the company who placed the debit was not them but they processed the orders.  It's a "rewards" program.

I called the "rewards" company again and got through.  They told me that when I ordered the pants, there was a page on which were several offers and a place for my email, etc. and a Continue button.  When I hit the Continue button, I had ordered the rewards program which entitled me to a $15 dollar discount on my next order with the catalog company that I never order from.  They also informed me that email confirmation had been sent.  I demanded a full refund of charges and told the person on the phone I would be contacting a lawyer.  There's a monthly charge for the program of $14.95.  Quite a deal, huh?

I'm well aware that I won't receive a refund.

I later visited the "rewards" program - which BTW is named for the catalog company - interesting, huh?  You can't see anything about the details of that company unless you log in with your membership number, which I don't have since I was never sent one, never received an email from them.  So much for the program they're charging me for. I, possibly, inadvertently ordered a membership in a rewards program for discounts on orders to a clothing catalog company that I never order from and for the cost of $14.95 a month, I got one discount of $15 on my next order which may never happen.

I left a message on their web site informing them that, if I don't receive a refund of the current month's charge by the end of the month, I will call a lawyer.  I will also call the bank at that point for a stop payment of $30 and it will probably be too late.

I'm sure this is not illegal.

I am very frustrated and disgusted - with myself as well.  But, above that, I have serious questions about what business means.

If I'm a farmer and have dairy cows, I let people know I have milk for sale and set or negotiate for a price or trade.  It's unlikely that I could get away with watering down white paint and sell it as milk.  If I'm good at cleaning house, I can let people know that I'm available to clean houses and what my rates are.  It's unlikely that I could get away with contracting to clean house, sit and watch TV there all day and clean nothing.  It's also unlikely that I could get away with actually cleaning the house but tacking on charges for house sitting while I was there, if it wasn't previously agreed to, or charge for walking the dog while I was there but wasn't asked to do.

I'm afraid that some people think that making money is more important than being a human being, in having an honest, straight forward manor of relating with other human beings, in having personal ethics that they themselves would expect from others.

Fortunately, there are individuals in business who are human beings, who are honest and straight forward in relating with other human beings and who have personal ethics that are at least as important to them as making money.

Distinguishing between the 2 types is not always easy but here are a couple of clues:

  • Does the business you're dealing with have easily distinguishable contact information:  address, phone number, email address.  If not they really don't want to be bothered with people, they just want their money?
  • Does the business give clear, easily accessible information about their returns policies and easy methods of accomplishing a return?

There are other clues that, at the moment are less clear to me.  I have much to think about in preventing this kind of thing from happening to me again.  I'll post more about business ethics as thoughts occur to me.

Regardless of these questions of ethics, if anyone treats you in a manner that you feel is unacceptable, you have every right to simply refuse any further contact with them, to seek some kind of resolution, to seek alternatives to interacting with them.  More on that later.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Few Observations

I started this business back in October 2011.  It's been nearly a year.  The business is pretty much over.  I never made a cent.  The original web site at will soon disappear because I will not renew the hosting fee.  The web site never functioned properly to actually do the business as I intended.  There's no reason to keep the site alive.

I started the business, as I suspect many small businesses begin, because I had what I thought was a good idea and thought enough people might be interested in what I wanted to do to make some money at it.  I didn't begin the business primarily to make money although, certainly, I hoped I would make enough to eventually supplement my coming retirement; I started the business doing something I enjoy, hoping it would be useful enough to make money.

Even before I officially registered the business in December 2011, I encountered a lot of number of small, local, independent business that had a somewhat different focus on business than many larger businesses and certainly corporations.  These small businesses seemed to be and, hopefully, are as interested in providing a product or service to their customers and in interacting with their customers as much as they are in making money.

Today, I renewed my Norton virus protection plus product after much difficulty online and was finally able to get through by phone and finalize the transaction.  The person who helped me was very patient.  The problem in completing the transaction was actually mine.

Today, I discovered that I've been billed by Yahoo, through PayPal for something I've been completely unaware I was being billed for and that I didn't, knowingly, order.

While I was primarily responsible for these problems, my initial perception of the problems was partially the responsibility of the company and how they do business.

I recently had regular service done on my car.  I take it to the dealer who has recently moved farther way from me; I used to be able to walk there.  I have the option of being driven home if the car is going to be there a while and then being picked up when the car is ready.  I believe I have the option of a loaner if it's going to be even longer.  I had them check the tires and found that I needed all new tires.  I prefer a particular brand that I wasn't going to buy from the dealer.  Nobody whined or tried to pressure me into buying tires there.  When I bought the tires I was told I needed an alignment to guarantee the tires but I wasn't going to have that done where I bought the tires.  Again, I wasn't hassled about not having that done there but was simply told that they couldn't guarantee the tires if the alignment wasn't done before 300 miles of wear on the tires.  I had it done at the dealer the next day.  After the service, I received an email from the dealer with a survey about my service experience that I haven't returned yet.  They also send me emails and text messages reminding me of upcoming recommended service.

First, in both cases, neither Yahoo nor Norton had or has any direct contact with me, the customer, and, in view of their web sites and methods of contact, don't want any such contact.  Automatic renewal is the preferred method of transaction by most software companies.  This is very indicative of the desire to not have contact with customers which, in turn, is very indicative of the desire to have no responsibility for customer satisfaction.

My web host, after creating a web site that did not and does not make possible the business model I outlined, has not made any effort to contact me since I paid for the web design.  Clearly an indication of the same desires to collect money without additional interaction with the customer including measuring customer satisfaction.

Next, business web sites without clear, obvious, easily recognizable contact information is another indicator of disinterest in customers and their satisfaction.  Brick and Mortar businesses who don't have their address, hours and phone number prominently on their home page are lucky to be in business.  How can you possibly expect anyone to come to your shop if you don't tell them where you are?

Thirdly, invoicing has become a study in how to confuse, befuddle and obscure what's being invoiced and again, is a clear indicator of disinterest in the needs of customers.  In many cases, it's a result of poor database design where product/service description is insufficient to be recognizable to anyone except the person who created the original lingo in the descriptions, many who must be illiterate.  In a lot of cases, these descriptions are nothing more than codes and are not descriptions at all; lazy database or data entry design. I, the customer, have a right to have a clear, concise description of what I'm paying for.  In the case of some medical invoices, it might arrive weeks after the appointment. My records are more important to me than those of the business I'm paying and shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

Finally, I'm a customer.  I'm paying for something.  I want the transaction to be simple, efficient, clear and final.  I'm not guaranteeing any future transaction.  I have no interest in spending any money for less than I want.  I want a decent product that the company selling it stands behind.  I want respect in the fact that I'm spending money for something and can just as easily spend my money elsewhere.  My money is worth something.  I prefer the experience I have at the Hyundai dealer where I bought my car.  They treat me like they understand that I don't have to do business with them.  I know that, personally, the corporation doesn't care about me the individual but they understand that I never have to buy a car from them again.  My positive service experience is more likely to benefit them than just selling me a car and forgetting about me.  I've had pretty good experiences with most of the auto dealerships I've done business with.  There've been a few exceptions.

Certainly Verizon doesn't care if I'm happy with my phone, wireless or DSL services although after completing a recently phone survey for them I began to get daily calls trying to connect with me because they were concerned about my less than glowing responses.  The companies who supply my natural gas, my water and my electricity aren't particularly concerned if I'm satisfied.  I have recently replaced a large portion of my electricity with wind supplied electricity so we'll see how that goes.

I don't want to be "friends" with business owners just because we have a business transaction.  And, we're certainly not "family".  I just want to be treated like my expenditure matters and that it's hoped that I'll come back.  I want to see that businesses are thinking about their customers in advance, not after they disappoint or piss off somebody.

I've had a lot of bad experiences with large, national and international corporations who are playing the odds that they have so many customers that completely ignoring their customers after a sale won't matter much in the long run because so many of their customers won't care anymore than they do.  These same corporations produce and sell and endless array of products and services and usually don't stand behind them.  They often have no reliable supply of standard products that you can depend on to replace something that breaks or wears out.  And, that's OK but not for me.  

So, particularly after the economic crash, whenever I'm able, I won't continue to do business with companies who provide a service and don't monitor how satisfied I am with their service.  I stop buying from companies who insist on automatic renewal plans.  I stop buying from companies who don't have hours that are convenient for me.  I stop eating at restaurants whose quality of food  and/or service declines.  I rarely shop at malls anymore because all the stores sell the same things over and over again.

In other words, for me to spend my limited money, I intend to get only what I really want and need and, if businesses aren't paying attention to what that is, they lose my business.  And, when I have the opportunity, I let them know.  After all who depends on whom?