How not to run an online business or FAIL

At the end of August I ordered just over €100 worth of schoolbooks from (I know, I know, I should have ordered them last JANUARY right?!)

The nippers started back in school on 30th August and no sign of the books. I couldn’t tell from the website whether they were to arrive imminently or not. Around this time I realised that I wasn’t the only customer whose books were missing but I took them at their word (to the media, mind, not me) that the books would arrive shortly. However at this time our (truly wonderful and sorely missed) childminder finished up with us so there was no one at home to receive our parcel. So I emailed them at and asked them could they deliver to my city centre office. 2 working days later I was worried about the lack of confirmation about this action.

Upon investigation online I realised that the situation was far worse than I initially thought. I also realised that I was dealing with people who were being a little loose with the truth claiming, for example, that they had contacted every single customer that was affected by what seems to be some sort of technical issue. Apparently I didn’t count as I have never received a single word of communication in any format from as I’m trying to be nice I will refer to this as “not best practice” especially as we are repeat customers.

I continued trying to get through by phone and tweeting about the issue in the extremely vain hope that someone might respond.

At this point I emailed to cancel my order. I still have no idea whether they read or acted upon that email. I thought that the books may still arrive.

By the end of the first full week (9 days of school) we decided we couldn’t possibly send the kids back to school the following Monday without books. I legged it to Reads of Nassau st one lunchtime and despite the assistance of a really helpful staff member Reads didn’t have a single one of the books (please note I was looking for Irish language books only for my Gaelscoláirí).

En route back to the office I rang the National Consumer Agency who made all the right noises in a non-committal sort of way. They sent contact details to me but there was nothing I hadn’t already gleaned from the website. I asked the NCA whether they would be investigating the issue further but the very nice chap I spoke with couldn’t say at that point. He also reminded me of our rights as online consumers which I was very familiar with thanks to my last job. One point he made was that should the books arrive AFTER I had bought them elsewhere I could refuse delivery and would be obliged to refund. Good luck with that, Rosie!

Since then I have written to the Visa Chargebacks department in the hope that my money might be refunded. I finally received a complete refund on October 8th.

Bodil Mimi Krogh Schmidt-Nielsen (b. 1918) with her childrenOn September 21st I spoke about this during my usual monthly technology slot on Splanc, Newstalk’s Irish language radio show. Obviously I’m dismayed that I’ve been badly treated, annoyed that I was out of pocket but what bugged me the most is that with the application of a little cop and some cheap or free technology a lot of this could have been fixed. If they wanted to be old fashioned about it a few grand to a half decent PR company could have saved their business. What galls me the most however is that the MD’s attitude to his customers has at the least cost him business and at most cost him his business. While I have as little care for him as he obviously has for me, I think in these recessionary times (sorry) it is practically criminal to play so fast and loose with his staff’s livelihoods and other people’s money. When I got home that evening, lo! the books had arrived and are still sitting on our sideboard in their packaging.

So what you might say? Well I think that are in fact a perfect anti-case study. I would generally avoid using negative examples but tick all the boxes.

It’s easier to keep old customers than find new ones (or as the grown ups call it Retention vs Acquisition). We have bought our books from for the last 4 years, spending at least €50 every year. have always been poor at maintaining contact, not reminding us at crucial points in the year about themselves in order to ensure our repeated custom.

Join the conversation or they will bitch about you and not even behind your back! I already knew that were poor communicators, having not received much by way of correspondence from them over the last four years; a blessing you might say in these times of bulging inboxes. It’s possible that Mr. John Cunningham, MD of, thinks that he is being stoical by refusing to engage with customers on Faceboolk Twitter, and blogs like this. He may be of the mind that it will all blow over but Gawd help the poor sucker who has to manage their SEO in the future. Considering the company is unlikely to exist in the future

Social media is all media. A storm in a tweecup can quickly become national news because you can no longer presume that the busy bodies on social media are not influencing the busy bodies in national media. This story quickly became a running theme for back to school week on Joe Duffy’s phone in radio show. became synonymous with bad customer service and it will be some time before the market will forget. What a waste of a perfect URL.


Music and social media

As you may have noticed I’ve been bigging my little sister up a lot lately on this blog but I’ve also been talking to her on and off about the ways she can use social media to market her business which is, of course, making and sharing music. I really believe canny use of new media will increase her audience and inevitably her sales. We’ve been planning a proper sit-down to discuss strategy and it occurred to me that if I got the two brothers on Skype (and other musos too – let me know if you’re interested) and talked to them about what they’re doing, what’s working, what’s not etc. it might make for a more interesting session. I also hope to record and therefore share it. I’ll keep you posted.

Just about managing

As you know I have recently moved jobs. Himself was slagging me when I told him that I would be writing and managing the IIA’s newsletter as this was something I did in An Chomhdháil as well. In fact I worked on An Chomhdháil’s two newsletters and digest service from inception, during that time moving one of them from one platform to another. I love writing newsletters, I love to get them and I still think a well written and presented newsletter is the digital communication most likely to see results. I’ve seen the results. To many the cost of setting them up may seem prohibitive, but the return on investment, once you have a good writer/ editor is immeasurable. If you are thinking about starting a newsletter, a good place for advice that I go back to again and again is E-mail Universe. Now while there was some virtual guffawing among the Irish Twitterati last week in relation to email marketing, I still try to have time for ezines that matter.

However sometimes I don’t have enough time. I love RSS for this reason* and my Google Reader in particular which, although it’s currently groaning from overzealous subscribing, allows me to zip through lots of content especially on my phone. This I love because no matter where I am (in Ireland) I always have something to read.

But what I would really love and maybe it already exists is a similar thang for managing all my ezine subscriptions. I hate unsubbing because having been at the receiving end I know a little bit of one dies inside when a subscriber is lost. I used to email them and ask them every so nicely why they were choosing to unsub and thankfully it was never because of something I did. They were moving jobs, going on ma leave or had changed accounts. What conscientious people! Unlike those reams of Hotmailers (I am also guilty although I retain mine for IM purposes) whose newsletters are probably still bouncing around the ether. So dear Lazyweb, as Conor O’Neill of LouderVoice would say, is there a web service out there that will help me manage all my newsletters to all my various accounts? Wouldn’t that be great? I might even be able to go back and correct my past transgressions and unsub all those I used my hotmail account for. The other thing I would love to be able to do and, I would, as a newsletter producer, love people to be able to do, is to suspend newsletters while on leave by entering the exact dates of that leave. Or just a better way of recognising newsletters from real people. But sure therein lies the holy grail of email.

* Yes I am painfully aware of the fact that my own RSS is not working. I’ve tried to fix it. I’m too dim obviously. This is what happens when you are a self-hosted blog pioneer. I’ve been at this lark since 2003 folks when you all thought RSS was a snake with a lisp.

When was the last time we talked, I mean really talked?

Yesterday evening I was going to write a post on a similar subject as gapingvoid: 10 things I hate about web 2.0. I agree with most of what he is saying to a greater or lesser degree. Hugh McLeod is always good for an ironical, fresh view on all things web.

I do believe that blogging has made the traditional media more wary of thinking about themselves as the ONLY source of information. I also have concerns that Web 2.0 is in the process of eating itself, starting with its nose to spite its face. A meaningful conversation in the real world doesn’t usually happen when someone is unneccesarilly rude (I can never, ever spell any form of the second last word there. Note to self: memorise the spelling of necessary? neccesary… It’s not called One of these days… for nothing, this blog!) but some bloggers and more so commenters think this is the best way to do it.

I have two rules when engaging someone on a blog:

  1. My mammy was right: if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. However I will add an addendum to her sage words: if you can’t say anything nicely, don’t say anything at all. Feedback is important. How else will we improve? We all learn from our mistakes, but sometimes they have to be pointed out to us. That said nothing will make someone bridle more than “That is sh*t”. Surely it doesn’t take a genius or an extra five minutes to comment “I think what you are doing could be improved if you did X or Y. Maybe I could help you with it?”
  2. If you are writing it, say it out loud first. Would you really say that to somebody standing in front of you? Would you say it over the phone? If you were a contestant on Big Brother would your comment result in your being up for eviction? (Oho timely reference wha’?) Does it sound blunt? Does it sound harsh? Does the issue you have merit such vehemence? If in doubt about whether your witty brand of sarcasm translates into text, go on, use an emoticon to take the edge off.

It costs nothing to be nice but it could earn you a lot.