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.


Reasons to be fruitful

Just because we are in a recession doesn’t mean you should put your dynasty building plans on hold. Here are my reasons to be fruitful in reverse order.

Fruit basket
Photo owned by IMAGINE!NATION (cc)

I’ve been thinking about this for some time and my recent reading of Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell made me realise I’m probably not the only one. It’s an easy read; you’d probably get through it in a weekend. His thesis is that success is not so much a result of genius and/ or hard work but a result of circumstance; being in the right place at the right time. One of the stories he recounts to illustrate is how a father and son, even though they went into similar businesses, the Great Depression got the better of the father. The son on the other hand being only one of a relative handful of babies born during the Depression enjoyed more attention in school and easier access to public services because there was less competition for those resources due to the fallen birth rate.

And that is the first reason that you shouldn’t put your progeny plans on hold just because of a recession. The theory goes that this bust comes after a boom when money was spent on creating fabulous educational establishments that nurture and develop our children to their best potential. Maybe in other countries. However at least the (temporary) classrooms of your little twinkle may not be quite so overcrowded. They’ll still be sioctha fuar sa gheimhridh and rósta te sa samhradh but spacious.

But that’s the very least of them and may not come to fruition if you all take my other points to heart and go forth and multiply. It is a scary time at the moment as people are losing their jobs and having their hours cut and generally having to keep your head down and not rock the boat. For women in particular this throws into even starker contrast, the eternal question of whether she should ahem “take time off” to have children. (Like it’s a bleeding holiday or summat!) Regardless of the conditions your employer finds themselves in you will still receive your maternity payments. If your employer had a policy of topping up maternity leave and they suddenly changed this policy and no other staff were forced to take a pay cut you might even consider discussing this with the Equality Authority because it is a change in the contract that you have with your employer. But I’m no employment expert so check your facts before you raise your blood pressure.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I have two nippers. So when I say that children in their first five years are not a huge drain on your resources, I know what I’m talking about. True there is some specialised equipment involved but there are some great deals online (I got our Phil&Teds stroller for EUR100.00 cheaper online than it was being sold in Dublin baby shops and delivered to the door.) Why do children save you money? Firstly there’s the 40 week detox which saves you a fortune on your social life. Mind you Himself went with the attitude when we did go out that he was drinking for three (Only kidding!) Now I’m not saying, “Say bye bye to your social life.” but you will find that your priorities change and as your ankles swell standing in a crowded pub stone cold sober becomes less glamorous as the minutes tick by. Once the pregnancy is over, of course, you can reclaim your party animal mantle, if you can afford to pay a babysitter between EUR7.00 and EUR12.00 an hour. Yes it does take the shine off going out a bit doesn’t it? We’re very luck that we have lots of generous family members nearby who are often happy to babysit for us. However I frequently remember a bit of advice from an acquaintance when I was expecting Nipper 1.0, “Don’t rely on your parents to babysit because then your social life revolves around theirs.” I cannot complain at all but a good stash of unrelated babysitters is a must. So apart from the added cost of a babysitter, you tend to splash out on a babysitter for special occasions only. Okay that’s not probably selling the kid thing to you but I swear I really enjoy going out so much more now than I did when I did it every week, every Friday and Saturday. You don’t see the same crowd over and over again so when you do go out it’s all new and there’s loads to catch up on. It works for me.

They also save you money because your priorities change. I’m not saying I don’t hanker after fancy shoes and bags or the latest gadget. I’m not even saying that I don’t occasionally indulge those hankerings (see soon hopefully my upcoming post about my iPhone.) but I put a little more thought into those indulgences. This means that I tend to have less cognitive dissonance about my purchases and I get more out of them. Well that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

But I’m saving the best til last. Having the two boys from the moment I knew they were definitely on their way to right now as I listen to their little sleepy shnuffles on the monitor is the most life-affirming experience I have ever had. Being a parent and having that responsibility adds meaning to the most meaninglesss, menial and even meaningful tasks. Money doesn’t come into it. I would do any job to provide for them and I believe if times get tougher it will be character forming for us all. I know that might sound naive but I will always be their mum; I will always have them to brighten up the horizon and to keep me going.

My main point is, in five years time or even further down the line, will you look back at this recession and think “Wow, I saved a few quids by not having kids!” If you do and you never wanted kids, good for you. If you do and you did want kids I hope you still have time.

Go on, go for it. It’s great craic.

Lots of fun with all the family
Lots of fun with all the family