7 comments
Nancy
Nancy

All I can say is that I have ordered from AquinasandMore.com several times in the past...each time, being better than the first. I have never had an issue with returning and have found that the variety of goods offered is pretty extensive. Overall...no complaints here.

NancyP
NancyP

Interesting discussion. Ian, I am glad you have automated your backorder policy because that was the only aspect of your customer service I have ever had problems with. (For me it wasn't a big deal, since I live in a suburb and could replace the gift, but I used to live on a remote mountain and would not have been happy with a similar problem during those years. Sounds like you've gone the extra mile to fix things.) I am one Catholic who really prefers not to buy items made in China - I have a great respect for China's ancient culture but cannot bear to think of all those unborn children, let alone the furniture makers who work for 70 cents an hour, or the restrictions on personal freedom imposed by the government. So, for me, knowing that a retailer - any retailer - stocks non-Chinese items is a big selling point. On the other hand, I like to shop in person for certain items - Erin's example of a gold medal is a case in point. I want to see a truly special gift for myself, up close and personal, before I buy it. That's an issue with all online shopping, though, not one confined to small Catholic retailers. One thing I would like to point out to readers who haven't, perhaps, worked in retail or accounting - large corporations have much more room in their profit margins for accepting customer returns, whatever the reason. I worked for a couple of small clothing shops and we carefully examined any returned item for signs of wear before accepting it. We couldn't afford to have customers return items we could not restock. The big retailers don't have to do that, whether for clothing, CDs or anything else - because one more return won't hurt their bottom lines. I'm 100 percent sure Erin (and most other customers) would never return an item except for cause, but there are people out there (lots of them) that think nothing of using an item and then returning it and demanding their money back. Specious returns like these can really harm a small retailer's bottom line, which is why owners must set up a return policy that really works for them.

Ian
Ian

Hi Erin, Thank you for taking the time to write back. I appreciate your input. I took your return criticisms to heart and made some initial changes already, (I'm the owner so I can do that). I will be discussing your other points at our management meeting tomorrow. All items that aren't returnable say so on the product page in bold-red letters so it isn't hidden away in the policy. As far as the country of origin of products, I'm aware that most Catholic stores really don't care where things are made and that finding non-Chinese items is tough. We have done the best we can to avoid such items. Yes, even our gift wrap is made in America and is actually religious! If it turns out that our cds are produced in China, we would quit carrying them. Unfortunately, finding country of origin on lots of products is impossible. I think we are going to have to disagree on the morality of considering country of origin when making purchases. Since China is basically a totalitarian regime with a dab of capitalism thrown in to keep down revolution, any money we give to that country goes more to help build up their military and maintain their government structure than anything else. I also think you overlooked my point about supporting corporations who give money and other support to anti-Catholic causes. Sure you can buy that apologetics book at (fill in your big corp.) but instead of helping your local Catholic store owner who probably gives to his parish out of his store earnings you are supporting a corporation that supports population control, gay marriage, etc. I definitely agree with your last point and think that all retailers should take it to heart. Another issue that came up today that we are unable to control but still results in us being blamed is postal delivery. We sent one customer a package of Christmas gifts on the 15th of December Priority Mail. Plenty of time, right? The package didn't arrive until the 24th - too late for her to take to her family. Did she blame the post office? Nope.

Erin Manning
Erin Manning

Hi, Ian! I'm sorry I wasn't able to respond yesterday, but I wanted to take a moment to address your response to my blog post. You're right that I haven't ordered from your store; in all honesty I must admit that your rather complicated return policy is one of the main reasons I haven't. I know it seems simple and straightforward to you, but to a shopper just wandering virtually around your site it seems confusing--cash refunds, but only in a certain time period, and not on some items including gold jewelry; store credit after that 30 day period, which is described variously as 30 days after the customer receives the items or 30 days after the item has shipped; defective CDs or DVDs will be replaced, but only if Aquinas and More plays them first, and if they work at your store you'll tell the customer to clean his equipment (which, you may not realize, comes off as rather insulting to the customer). And I only know this because I clicked on the link for "help" and then the one for "return policy;" how many of your customers place orders without realizing that they have ordered an item in your "non-returnable" category? Like I said, this probably seems straightforward to you, and your many customers obviously don't have a problem with it. But put yourself in my place a moment: pretend you have a small budget to buy someone a gift (let's say a CD of Christmas music), you can order it from a store which will play the disk to "prove" it's defective if you say it is--or you can order the exact same disk from Barnes and Noble for pretty much the same price, knowing that they'll replace it immediately and without question if the item arrives and is defective. Which would you do? Or suppose you have enough money to buy your goddaughter a gold medal--do you order it online from a store where there's no possibility of returning it, even if you dislike the quality or workmanship once you see it, or do you go to Sears and physically look at their selection of gold medals? Considering how much money the customer is about to spend, here, I think it's only prudent to choose the second option. I know you say the difference between big retailers and online Catholic ones is partly the "made in (fill in the totalitarian regime)" aspect that can be true of big stores. The thing is, it's also true of online Catholic ones. A lot of items I've ordered have turned out to be made in those same countries. Your store does pride itself on staying away from such items--but these days, books, CDs, DVDs and a host of similar items may be printed or manufactured (or have some components manufactured--CD cases, etc.) in those countries; even a simple item like printed wrapping paper often is. The question as to whether we ought to boycott those items or whether, as Pope John Paul II suggested, boycotts principally hurt the desperately poor is one on which Catholics might disagree; suffice it to say that the sort of thing I'm talking about isn't the kind of situation where the item I buy from the Catholic retailer will be made in a different country than the one I buy from a major secular retailer. In other words, if I want the new Susan Boyle CD, it's going to be the same CD whether it comes from Aquinas and More or Barnes and Noble. And that is also true about your other objection which is that shoppers at big secular stores can't be sure of the orthodoxy of the items they are purchasing. Again, if I want to buy the latest book by a Catholic apologist, the book will be the same if I buy it at Amazon! With all due respect, if I'm shopping online, then I have plenty of ways to see if the item I'm buying meets my standards for orthodoxy or not, simply by doing a few online searches. I'm not really at the mercy of the big retailer just because the big retailer is only carrying Catholic goods at Christmas and Easter, for instance. What the relatively small Catholic Internet stores, what even a big Catholic Internet store like Aquinas and More can do to earn my loyal business, is to treat me to an overwhelmingly positive customer service experience that goes above and beyond what I'd ever expect--because this is something the big secular retailers can't always do. I'm sure that this is how loyal customers of Aquinas and More feel about your store; I myself have been burned so many times by other Catholic Internet stores that I'm hesitant to take the chance again only to find myself, yet again, without a gift item I've ordered well in advance as the date of the occasion looms closer and closer.

AC
AC

Glad you responded as well. Nicely put, especially arguments against taking the dept. store/amazon route. Thanks!

Paula
Paula

Great counterpoints. I'm glad you responded.

Lionel V
Lionel V

Thanks for explaining some of the unique challenges that Catholic online shops face. God bless.

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

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Lionel V December 28, 2009, 3:24 pm

    Thanks for explaining some of the unique challenges that Catholic online shops face. God bless.

  • Paula December 28, 2009, 5:28 pm

    Great counterpoints. I’m glad you responded.

  • AC December 28, 2009, 10:19 pm

    Glad you responded as well. Nicely put, especially arguments against taking the dept. store/amazon route. Thanks!

  • Erin Manning December 29, 2009, 8:25 pm

    Hi, Ian!

    I’m sorry I wasn’t able to respond yesterday, but I wanted to take a moment to address your response to my blog post. You’re right that I haven’t ordered from your store; in all honesty I must admit that your rather complicated return policy is one of the main reasons I haven’t. I know it seems simple and straightforward to you, but to a shopper just wandering virtually around your site it seems confusing–cash refunds, but only in a certain time period, and not on some items including gold jewelry; store credit after that 30 day period, which is described variously as 30 days after the customer receives the items or 30 days after the item has shipped; defective CDs or DVDs will be replaced, but only if Aquinas and More plays them first, and if they work at your store you’ll tell the customer to clean his equipment (which, you may not realize, comes off as rather insulting to the customer). And I only know this because I clicked on the link for “help” and then the one for “return policy;” how many of your customers place orders without realizing that they have ordered an item in your “non-returnable” category?

    Like I said, this probably seems straightforward to you, and your many customers obviously don’t have a problem with it. But put yourself in my place a moment: pretend you have a small budget to buy someone a gift (let’s say a CD of Christmas music), you can order it from a store which will play the disk to “prove” it’s defective if you say it is–or you can order the exact same disk from Barnes and Noble for pretty much the same price, knowing that they’ll replace it immediately and without question if the item arrives and is defective. Which would you do? Or suppose you have enough money to buy your goddaughter a gold medal–do you order it online from a store where there’s no possibility of returning it, even if you dislike the quality or workmanship once you see it, or do you go to Sears and physically look at their selection of gold medals? Considering how much money the customer is about to spend, here, I think it’s only prudent to choose the second option.

    I know you say the difference between big retailers and online Catholic ones is partly the “made in (fill in the totalitarian regime)” aspect that can be true of big stores. The thing is, it’s also true of online Catholic ones. A lot of items I’ve ordered have turned out to be made in those same countries. Your store does pride itself on staying away from such items–but these days, books, CDs, DVDs and a host of similar items may be printed or manufactured (or have some components manufactured–CD cases, etc.) in those countries; even a simple item like printed wrapping paper often is. The question as to whether we ought to boycott those items or whether, as Pope John Paul II suggested, boycotts principally hurt the desperately poor is one on which Catholics might disagree; suffice it to say that the sort of thing I’m talking about isn’t the kind of situation where the item I buy from the Catholic retailer will be made in a different country than the one I buy from a major secular retailer. In other words, if I want the new Susan Boyle CD, it’s going to be the same CD whether it comes from Aquinas and More or Barnes and Noble.

    And that is also true about your other objection which is that shoppers at big secular stores can’t be sure of the orthodoxy of the items they are purchasing. Again, if I want to buy the latest book by a Catholic apologist, the book will be the same if I buy it at Amazon! With all due respect, if I’m shopping online, then I have plenty of ways to see if the item I’m buying meets my standards for orthodoxy or not, simply by doing a few online searches. I’m not really at the mercy of the big retailer just because the big retailer is only carrying Catholic goods at Christmas and Easter, for instance.

    What the relatively small Catholic Internet stores, what even a big Catholic Internet store like Aquinas and More can do to earn my loyal business, is to treat me to an overwhelmingly positive customer service experience that goes above and beyond what I’d ever expect–because this is something the big secular retailers can’t always do. I’m sure that this is how loyal customers of Aquinas and More feel about your store; I myself have been burned so many times by other Catholic Internet stores that I’m hesitant to take the chance again only to find myself, yet again, without a gift item I’ve ordered well in advance as the date of the occasion looms closer and closer.

  • Ian December 29, 2009, 10:44 pm

    Hi Erin,

    Thank you for taking the time to write back. I appreciate your input.

    I took your return criticisms to heart and made some initial changes already, (I’m the owner so I can do that). I will be discussing your other points at our management meeting tomorrow. All items that aren’t returnable say so on the product page in bold-red letters so it isn’t hidden away in the policy.

    As far as the country of origin of products, I’m aware that most Catholic stores really don’t care where things are made and that finding non-Chinese items is tough. We have done the best we can to avoid such items. Yes, even our gift wrap is made in America and is actually religious! If it turns out that our cds are produced in China, we would quit carrying them. Unfortunately, finding country of origin on lots of products is impossible.

    I think we are going to have to disagree on the morality of considering country of origin when making purchases. Since China is basically a totalitarian regime with a dab of capitalism thrown in to keep down revolution, any money we give to that country goes more to help build up their military and maintain their government structure than anything else.

    I also think you overlooked my point about supporting corporations who give money and other support to anti-Catholic causes. Sure you can buy that apologetics book at (fill in your big corp.) but instead of helping your local Catholic store owner who probably gives to his parish out of his store earnings you are supporting a corporation that supports population control, gay marriage, etc.

    I definitely agree with your last point and think that all retailers should take it to heart.

    Another issue that came up today that we are unable to control but still results in us being blamed is postal delivery. We sent one customer a package of Christmas gifts on the 15th of December Priority Mail. Plenty of time, right? The package didn’t arrive until the 24th – too late for her to take to her family. Did she blame the post office? Nope.

  • NancyP December 30, 2009, 9:18 am

    Interesting discussion. Ian, I am glad you have automated your backorder policy because that was the only aspect of your customer service I have ever had problems with. (For me it wasn’t a big deal, since I live in a suburb and could replace the gift, but I used to live on a remote mountain and would not have been happy with a similar problem during those years. Sounds like you’ve gone the extra mile to fix things.) I am one Catholic who really prefers not to buy items made in China – I have a great respect for China’s ancient culture but cannot bear to think of all those unborn children, let alone the furniture makers who work for 70 cents an hour, or the restrictions on personal freedom imposed by the government. So, for me, knowing that a retailer – any retailer – stocks non-Chinese items is a big selling point.

    On the other hand, I like to shop in person for certain items – Erin’s example of a gold medal is a case in point. I want to see a truly special gift for myself, up close and personal, before I buy it. That’s an issue with all online shopping, though, not one confined to small Catholic retailers.

    One thing I would like to point out to readers who haven’t, perhaps, worked in retail or accounting – large corporations have much more room in their profit margins for accepting customer returns, whatever the reason. I worked for a couple of small clothing shops and we carefully examined any returned item for signs of wear before accepting it. We couldn’t afford to have customers return items we could not restock. The big retailers don’t have to do that, whether for clothing, CDs or anything else – because one more return won’t hurt their bottom lines. I’m 100 percent sure Erin (and most other customers) would never return an item except for cause, but there are people out there (lots of them) that think nothing of using an item and then returning it and demanding their money back. Specious returns like these can really harm a small retailer’s bottom line, which is why owners must set up a return policy that really works for them.

  • Nancy January 4, 2010, 1:50 am

    All I can say is that I have ordered from AquinasandMore.com several times in the past…each time, being better than the first. I have never had an issue with returning and have found that the variety of goods offered is pretty extensive. Overall…no complaints here.

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