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Why Not to Shop at On-line Catholic Retailers – A Response

Last week one of my employees pointed out a couple of posts over at And Sometimes Tea explaining why the writer wasn’t ever shopping at online Catholic retailers anymore. Checking our records it doesn’t appear that she has ever shopped with us but I thought that a response is in order for a few reasons. First, some of her criticisms COULD apply to us and I wanted to admit it. Second, some of her criticisms need to be responded to because they don’t take into account the strange nature of Catholic retailing. Third, I think that her “scorched earth” policy towards small Catholic retailers only serves to encourage the decline of Catholic retailing and the rise of the “if it’s cheap and available I don’t care if it comes from countries that persecute Christians and have horrible human rights records” mentality.

In 2007 Erin made five suggestions for Catholic retailers.

  1. Communicate Erin has been annoyed that retailers didn’t bother to let her know when something either went on backorder or was discontinued or if there was some other delay with the order. We have had procedures in place for years that require customer notification of order delays. The problem is that this was not an automated process so orders would sometimes get overlooked or the proper person wasn’t made aware of the delay. Yes, we did have occasions where an order would languish because one item had been backordered and the fulfillment department wasn’t notified to ship the rest.

    We recently corrected this issue by automating our backorder system. Whenever a product goes on backorder, the customer – if we have an email address – is automatically sent an update, customer service is sent an alert to call the customer if we don’t have an email address and fulfillment is sent an alert to make sure that the rest of the order is shipped if it is ready.We also have automated our cancellation process so that if a customer calls to cancel an item on an order, fulfillment is immediately notified to check the rest of the order for shipping.

    On the flip side, Catholic suppliers are notoriously bad about notifying Catholic stores about product backorders and discontinuations. In our seven years of business and my three years at another Catholic retailer before, we have only been sent a list of out of print books once and that was after we asked for it. The company never sent another. One of our other suppliers has been very good about calling us when products are changed or out of print. We also have a couple of suppliers who call us to let us know that products in our order are on backorder but never tell us before we order. That’s about five out of  300 vendors. The rest only let us know about discontinued and backordered items when we receive a shipment with a note in the box.

    We recently had a very large order go completely bad because of this vendor problem. A diocese had ordered three chrism sets from CatholicChurchSupply.com. We sent the order to the manufacturer and they sent the product to the customer. What was sent were three partial sets. When we contacted the manufacturer we were told that the item that had been ordered never existed even though we had catalog pictures and part numbers FROM THEIR OLD CATALOG showing the item. They also refused to take any responsibility for the error and refused to cover the shipping or to take the items back without a restocking fee. The customer canceled the order and likely, through no fault of our own, will not be ordering from us again.

  2. Be Professional Erin is very put off by companies that have little kids answering the phone or answer with “Hello” instead of with company identification. I second this complaint. If you are going to have a business, get a second phone line and either answer it personally or have voice mail that identifies you as a company.

  3. Don’t Nickel and Dime Your Customers I’m not fond of “handling” or “packaging” fees either. We base our shipping charges on price ranges and try to find a happy medium between affordable rates and not getting taken to the cleaners on postage. Honestly, packaging is a very small part of the cost so if you are charging more than .50 for packaging, it better be coming in a gold box. Handling shouldn’t cost a supplier more than $1 either or the supplier is darn inefficient.

    The biggest problem with postage today is that the USPS has made parcel post (the supposed “cheap” alternative for heavy packages) cost almost the same or more than priority mail. Priority mail rates didn’t get lowered, parcel post went up. The USPS also eliminated surface mail for international shipments so now your only options are first class for light items and priority for heavier. There isn’t an economical option for foreign shipping anymore.

    We do offer extra shipping services at additional cost but the costs are explained up front so you don’t get surprised on the last step of checkout. First, if you have an order under $75 you have the option of buying insurance to cover for damage or loss. We don’t make any money on this service as we charge exactly what the post office charges us for the service. If your package is over $75 we pay for insurance. Second, we offer a ship as available option if you are ordering multiple items and don’t want to wait for everything to be shipped all at once. Due to the high cost of postage now, we typically end up paying more for multiple shipments than the customer.

  4. Create Customer-Friendly Return Policies Admittedly, our return policy is not Land’s End policy. On about 95% of our items we take returns for cash back for 30 days after delivery with store credit being given for returns any time after 30 days. We don’t take returns but do exchanges on open media (cds, dvds) and don’t take returns on custom products such as certain liturgical vestments and custom prayer cards. Due to Halloween, we don’t take returns on clergy shirts purchased in October.I’m not sure if Erin would consider this “customer-friendly” so I’m asking for your input. Do you consider this fair?

  5. Remember That I Am the Customer At Aquinas and More one of our company rules is that “No matter how strange the request or rude the customer EVERY complaint is considered legitimate when the customer calls. Now, it may turn out that the customer is wrong and there is nothing we can do about it like the irate customer who called us on December 23rd demanding free overnight shipping on something she hadn’t actually ordered. Oops. Even when it is clear that the customer is at fault, we do the best we can to rectify the situation and usually end with happy results all around.

Since Erin posted these suggestions two years ago, it seems that she has had several other bad experiences with Catholic retailers and has vowed to only shop at large department and secular on-line stores for gifts from now on. I’m sad to hear this for a few reasons.

First, large department stores may carry more religious items but 1) they are all made in China 2) what they carry is typically very shallow on the content scale or there is no ability to discriminate between orthodoxy and heresy.

Second, large companies are typically giving money and support to things that Catholics should be objecting to. They aren’t supporting their local parish.

Third, if you are buying from these department stores or Amazon, you had better know exactly what you want because trying to get accurate information on the orthodoxy of the product you are looking at isn’t going to happen. Your local (or on-line) Catholic store should be able to provide you with assistance in choosing the best item for your needs and also help you find items that are orthodox. If you consider that a valuable service, taking all your business away from Catholic stores will only help to create a knowledge vacuum for Catholic products.

I am not suggesting to Erin and others that they should continue shopping at stores that refuse to address the issues she has. In fact, I wrote a similar post two years ago explaining why people shouldn’t shop at the local Catholic store. What I am suggesting is that while it is possible that a majority of on-line Catholic retailers are suffering from the problems Erin described, they aren’t all that way and I believe that completely turning your back on Catholic retailers doesn’t do anything to fix the problem.

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