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The New PACT Act Goes Into Effect Tomorrow for all Online Shippers

Posted on July 29, 2010. Filed under: Other | Tags: , , , |

Beginning tomorrow, the PACT (Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking) Act signed into law earlier this year prevents shippers from mailing cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products with few exceptions.     Some exceptions to this law include:

  • Shipment of cigars is not prohibited under this Act
  • Shipment entirely within Alaska or Hawaii
  • Shipments transmitted between verified and authorized tobacco industry businesses for business purposes, or between such businesses and federal or state agencies for regulatory purposes
  • Infrequent, lightweight shipments mailed by age-verified adult individuals
  • Shipments of cigarettes sent by verified and authorized manufacturers to verified adult smokers age 21 and over for consumer testing purposes, and shipments sent by federal agencies for public health purposes.

All shipments of cigarettes that qualify for one of these exceptions must include a unique mark for its particular exception on the address side of the package. Additional requirements may apply.

The USPS website has more information about this new law.

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PayPal sends $25 Buy.Com Coupon to Top Customers

Posted on June 9, 2010. Filed under: Other, Paypal | Tags: , |

PayPal recently sent out an email to their “Top Customers” offering a $25 coupon (off $100 purchase) on Buy.com .   Information below:

Terms & Conditions

  • Offer begins on 06/3/2010 and ends on 06/10/2010.
  • Offer limited to one per PayPal account.
  • Discounted amount will be subtracted from your subtotal product purchase at time of checkout. (Excludes tax and shipping costs.)
  • To receive this Offer you must: a) have a U.S. PayPal account in good standing, b) receive an email from PayPal inviting you to participate in the Offer, c) click on the redeem button and the Offer coupon will appear in your shopping basket, and d) complete your purchase using PayPal.
  • This Offer is not valid with any other coupon or promotion.
  • Instant Rebates, Coupons, and eCoupons may not be used together.
  • PayPal and Buy.com reserve the right to cancel, suspend or modify part or this entire Offer at any time without notice, for any reason in their sole discretion.
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    The Bonanzle Approach to Dealing with Trademark Infringement

    Posted on June 7, 2010. Filed under: Other | Tags: , , , , |

    For more than a few years now, eBay and manufacturers have battled over trademark infringement issues and a number of news sources, including AuctionBytes, have reported the outcomes of court cases as they have occurred. 

    Even Amazon is not immune to trademark infringement lawsuits  but Amazon does not have the wide range of problems as eBay does because Amazon more closely monitors their sellers and places more limits on who and what is allowed for sale on their platform.

    Bonanzle, a relative newbie e-commerce platform when compared to eBay and Amazon, makes sure to include information in their list of  Prohibited Items stating that fakes are not allowed for sale on the Bonanzle site.  And it is interesting that some manufacturers, such as Burberry, are registered Bonanzle users and are on the Bonanzle platform to defend their trademarks.  So, then, how does Bonanzle deal with the issue of suspected trademark infringement?  A close friend of mine forwarded me an email she recently received from Bonanzle about some of the items she offered for sale on Bonanzle.  The actual term she was using is a common word and even appears on her manufacturer invoices so she was shocked to learn that the term is a trademarked word.  She wasn’t purposely misusing the trademarked term; it’s obvious that this word has been used in everyday language for so long as a generic term that no one realizes it is trademarked.

    I have copied a portion of that email and included it below but have taken out the manufacturer’s name and the actual trademark term.  In their place I have used “manufacturer” and “trademark” where the original names were included.

    “I’m sorry to inform you that we had to place some of your items on RESERVED status due to a recent communication from MANUFACTURER (see below). We wanted you to be aware that these items have not been deleted from your booth but were put on a temporary hold, and they can be accessed through your Batch Editor.

    MANUFACTURER is claiming infringement on their trademarks for any items using the term TRADEMARK on articles that are not associated with the MANUFACTURER brand. The use of the term TRADEMARK or a similar phrase, needs to be removed from these items before they can be re-listed. With the large number of items that were being sold on Bonanzle, it was impossible to identify individual items in your booth that may NOT infringe (e.g., actual MANUFACTURER items). Therefore, it became necessary for us to remove ALL items that used “TRADEMARK” in the title or description of the item. We apologize if you had actual MANUFACTURER items (that would not be in violation) that were removed. Those items can be re-listed without any necessary changes. These items can be accessed with the Batch Editor and the status of those items can be changed back to FOR SALE. You would use the FILTER option to search for items where “Status is RESERVED” and then change the status to FOR SALE under the “ Apply to Selected Items” section.

    However, if your items are NOT MANUFACTURER, please edit them to remove any reference to the term “TRADEMARK.” Possibly changing it to [alternative term provided by Bonanzle] would suffice. You can use the batch editor to replace text in the description section of your listing. Here’s a link that explains how to use the text replacement feature “

    What is interesting is that searching by this same trademarked term on eBay, the search yields almost 60,000 different items for sale.  And the manufacturer has not enforced their VERO rights on eBay (the same seller lists items on eBay and has not received a VERO violation notice)  perhaps because it would require them to individually report each and every listing which infringes on the trademark.  On Bonanzle, however, a general “sweep” is done so that all items are removed at one time and then it is incumbent on the sellers to relist their items even if their original listings did NOT infringe upon the trademark.  Perhaps because eBay charges an insertion fee for every listing they are not as willing to consider this way of dealing with potential problems.  In addition, eBay “punishes” sellers whom they are told are in violation based on just the word of the Verified Rights Owner whereas Bonanzle does not approach the Trademark Infringement issue as one where sellers should automatically be punished.  It appears that Bonanzle is more concerned about sellers correcting the problem and removing the “offending” term rather than focusing on punishing sellers who may not have even realized that they were infringing upon a trademark.

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    I am a Smart Entrepreneur Who has Made Some Dumb Mistakes

    Posted on January 11, 2010. Filed under: Other | Tags: , , , , |

    To me, writing blog posts are kinda like writing in a journal.  It’s a nice release from the daily stressors.  It’s no secret that my blog is my hobby.  And it’s really enjoyable to know that others have an occasional interest in my ramblings.  In making plans and developing strategies for 2010, I’ve had some folks who know me quite well throw out the idea of me writing a book. But that isn’t gonna happen.  Okay, never say never.  But it isn’t gonna happen in 2010. 

    But it did get me to thinking.  If I were to write a book and I could write about anything I wanted (not worrying about who would buy it and read it), what would I want to write about?  I think I would want to write about my mistakes as an entrepreneur… my errors in judgement… the poor choices I made which seemed to me to be so right at the time.  It amazes me how most people are reluctant to talk about their business mistakes.  While I am far from being proud of my past mistakes, I know that my “good decisions” today come as a result of making the wrong decisions in the past and learning hard lessons.

    I have enough examples of past mistakes to fill a book but today I’ll mention just one.  I started out buying products wholesale and then, as a result of some really creative marketing strategies (a story for another time), I earned a distributorship with a solid company very quickly.  And then I earned the honor of being labelled their “fastest growing distributor of all time”.  And before I realized it, my business was built almost exclusively on reselling their product.  I still sold other product but 90% of my sales came from one manufacturer’s product.  And that was because I was doing incredibly well with the line and so I kept expanding and kept investing more time and money into the line.  But I forgot one very important thing and that is my success depended on their success and I had zero control over their success so, in essence, I had zero (or almost zero) control over my own success.  It’s easy to look back and say “What the heck was I thinking?” but, at the time, it seemed like the good times would never end… especially because they were such incredibly good times.

    But one summer, the new product arriving from China slowed to a crawl and for a few months the company said they had container problems for their items coming out of China.  Given the world events at the time, it seemed like a plausible explanation.  Much later, however, we learned the truth which was that the company was experiencing financial problems.  At the time, before it was sold to a much bigger company, the manufacturer was a privately held company so we didn’t have access to their financials to be forewarned. 

    After several very lean months of selling current inventory and not having anything new (which, in the toy / collectible business is like the kiss of death), we flew to the company’s headquarters to have a meeting with the manufacturer.  We were shown the new product that had just arrived and, while we were there, trucks were dispatched to our warehouse with tons of new product.  And I truly mean tons.  The day after we arrived back to our business, the trucks began rolling in and didn’t stop.  We had 4 months worth of new product arriving as well all the holiday items which we had ordered in very large quantities.  I remember one evening trucks arrived after hours and we didn’t have any more room in our warehouse so the trucks had to offload pallets of product in our parking lot where it sat overnight. 

    We began the process of filling retail preorders and wholesale preorders.  One wholesaler we supplied, for example, had $12,000 (wholesale) worth of product awaiting shipment — 10 weeks worth of product at $1200 a week.  He gave us authorization to charge his credit card and ship as did most of the other wholesalers.  Everyone had been waiting for product for so long that they were excited to receive it.  We realized that we were using our credit card processor at a volume that was unusual so we called our processor in advance and explained the situation.  They said they understood and it was not a problem so we proceeded with charging cards and shipping product.  We had so much product going out that we worked in shifts around the clock for days.  Unfortunately for us, our credit card company decided that our unusual spike (which was known by them in advance) worried them.  Never mind that we had been in business for more than 3 years and had not had even one chargeback.  Never mind that we had excellent credit.  The credit card processor was one we had been with since the beginning and they were not used to handling charges from mail order companies (the riskiest type of business for merchant processors) and they definitely were not used to handling the volume of transactions we were generating.  So, they immediately held back an outrageous amount of money as well as 20% of our daily receipts.  So the lean months were followed by an unexpected and severe cash flow crunch that crippled our business.

    Now, we did survive.  We got a new credit card processor company and eventually got back all the funds held from the previous processor and we did ultimately expand the other product lines we were carrying and we took on new product lines.  But to get there, my partner and I spent a lot of sleepless nights working at the business.  I remember many nights when I brought the kids in with me and rolled out sleeping bags for them to sleep in while I worked around the clock.  And I have absolutely nobody to blame for this rough time except myself.  It does seem so easy to say “Don’t rely on one manufacturer” or “Don’t rely on only one venue” but while you are in the process of building your business day-to-day, you don’t always see the dangerous path you are heading down.  But it only took one time of making that big mistake.  I guarantee you that we don’t rely only on one venue or one product line or one anything anymore.

    I’ll never forget one employee that we had who made a very costly mistake his first month on the job.  He was packing up his things to leave mid-afternoon when I caught up with him.  I asked what he was doing and he told me that I didn’t have to go the trouble of firing him because he was quitting.  He had arrived to work every day on time and had obviously given the job his full effort but he made a mistake…. a costly mistake.  I told him that I wasn’t firing him and had no intention of firing him.  The look of shock on his face was absolutely priceless.  I then told him that I had just invested a great deal of money in “training and educating him” as a result of that costly mistake and that it would be crazy for me to fire an employee who wasn’t ever going to make that mistake again and that I didn’t want to hire a replacement who I would then have to train… at great expense.  As he realized what I was saying, he smiled and I actually thought he was going to cry.

    Even smart and educated people make mistakes and have errors in judgement.  But the smartest folks of all realize that making mistakes, even costly ones, are just a form of education and learning.  It isn’t cheap to get a college education and can get expensive to buy and read lots of books about customer service and marketing.  It also costs money when you make mistakes in business.  But sometimes the school of hard knocks teach the most valuable lessons of all.  It’s really all in how you take what you’ve learned to use it and go forward that makes it a worthwhile expense or not.

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    Holiday Hangover in January: Dealing with Online Shoppers’ Returns

    Posted on January 9, 2010. Filed under: Other | Tags: , , , , |

    We sell a variety of items including gifts and toys so November and December is an incredibly busy and lucrative time of year for us. We absolutely love it. But then comes January… the Holiday Hangover month as we call it. It’s the time of year when I wish I could just disconnect the phones and put a “Gone Ice Fishing” sign on the front door. Below are some tips about returns that we have learned throughout the years.

    1. Customer Returns are inevitable so don’t put energy into fighting it. Instead put energy into preventing them (as much as possible) and dealing with them in the most efficient manner possible that will cost you the least time and money.

    Regarding Prevention of returns, whenever we get a return back from a customer we always classify it as either “preventable” or “non-preventable” in an effort to prevent returns in the future. For example, the first year we were in business we learned a lot and we had many returns because we shipped the wrong item (a preventable return). In 2009, we shipped the right item 100% of the time. That didn’t just happen because of luck. We made it happen. Items that were very similiar, either in part number or color or some other attribute, were put in different locations (ie on different shelves or different parts of the warehouse) so it was not as likely that someone would pull the wrong item to begin with. We also made sure that everyone – from the person pulling the order, packaging the order, typing the label, etc – was very familiar with the products. And we now have a formal process of verifying each order before it is shipped. That way, if a mistake is made in pulling the order, there are many steps along the way where it could be “caught” before shipping to the customer. Since the person packaging has product-knowledge, it is less likely that the wrong item would be packaged up and the person typing the labels would recognize the difference between an item that is expected to weigh 1 pound versus an item that is expected to weigh 4 pounds.

    2. Being firm is different than being confrontational. And it’s always better “keep it positive” by stating what you WILL do rather than what you WILL NOT do regarding returns.

    It is absolutely positively critical that you have a stated return policy. And the return policy should be the most restrictive that you think you’d want because you can always be more accommodating on a return than your policy states. For example, on our Amazon Return Policy we state that we charge a restocking fee and we are very specific about the amount. However, if a customer returns the item in exactly the same condition as we sent it (unopened and undamaged) and in a reasonable time then we waive the restocking fee and let them know that we have done so. If the item comes back weeks after we have approved a return or has been opened then we follow through on charging a restocking fee.

    And we do our best to avoid being confrontational with a customer but yet keep from being taken advantage of. For example, if a customer asks us to send them a prepaid label for a return we let them know that we can accommodate that request and also let them know we would just subtract the amount of the postage from the refund that would be due. Obviously, the customer was asking us to pay for return shipping in an indirect way but our response was one where we agreed to make the return easier for them (return label) without it costing us any more money and yet we were not directly confrontational. Instead of saying “no” to their request, we said “yes” but we did so in a way that didn’t cost us money.

    If directly asked if we would pay the return shipping cost, we say “no” but in a polite manner without a long explanation. For example, our response would be “We will not pay the return shipping cost but once we receive your item back, we will process your return quickly so that you receive a refund promptly.” And if the customer presses further, you can always make a concession by offering to waive the restocking fee as long as the item is returned in the exact same condition as was sent. In that way, the cusotmer feels that they got a better offer (return shipping was not paid but the restocking fee was waived) for the return than was stated but in reality you would have been willing to issue a full product refund without them having to ask. Of course, if the customer is a repeat buyer who spends a great deal of money with you then sending a prepaid label and giving a 100% full refund would be well worth keeping the customer for the long-term.

    3. Remember to focus on the aggregate of your transactions instead of each individual transaction and, whatever you do, don’t take it personally. Losing money on returns just means you made a little less profit. That is all.

    Don’t get so wrapped up on trying to prevent losing money on any single transaction, especially where a return is involved, that you forget to look at the big picture. If you have to lose 5 cents in returns for every $100 profit you make, you could either chose to focus on the loss of 5 cents or the net profit of $99.95 . Recognizing that returns are a cost of doing business, just do what you can to keep that cost down. And even when you know that a customer is taking advantage of you and you’re going to come out on the losing end, don’t take it personally and get caught up emotionally. In the time you take to fight, and possibly win, against that one whacko customer you could have potentially made many more sales. It doesn’t make bottom-line sense to fight over the nickel only to lose the $100. Pick your fights wisely.

    4. A “one-size fits all” Return Policy is not reasonable. Figure out the Return Policy that best works for you for the type of product you sell and on the venues where you sell.

    I’ve read many articles written about Return Policies for online merchants that advocate creating a return policy where you agree to take back anything and everything no matter what. That is simply crazy in my opinion. Now, while it’s true that it may work while selling some particular products on some venues, it is really not reasonable for most sellers to state that they have this kind of liberal return policy. Even Amazon, who is considered by many to be the most customer-friendly shopping site online, does not have this type of return policy. Buy jewelry, a laptop, or a new DVD from Amazon and you can’t send the item back “no questions asked” and get a complete refund. Amazon has specifics about what they will take back and whether a restocking fee will be assessed. And Amazon won’t pay for return shipping if you simply changed your mind about the item.

    Creating a return policy is a very important part of establishing an online business. Having a “I’ll take back anything and everything and give you 100% back and pay your return shipping, even if is 2 years from now” might be a part of your selling strategy and it may work for some sellers. If I sold a different type product and I thought it was right, I’d be willing to offer that type of return policy. But know that it is also possible to have a “No Returns Accepted” policy and make it work, too. Before deciding on an extreme Return Policy, like taking everything back no questions asked or not accepting returns under any circumstance, if I were a new ecommerce seller or were selling a product I had never sold before, the first thing I’d do is check out my competitor’s return policies. On eBay, I have different return policies for the different products I sell. I do have a selling ID where I state No Returns Are Accepted and I’ve made that work quite well. Rarely do I have someone buy something and want to return it but when I do, I work with the customer and will consider taking the item back and giving a full refund as long as the product is unopened. But I have said No to a return request before on that account. On another selling ID I state that I’ll take back the item within 7 days for a full refund with no reason needed just as long as the item is returned in original condition. Different types of products and different venues will lead to a wide variety of acceptable return policies. There really is no one-size-fits-all return policy for ecommerce.

    5. Handling returns is one way that your company can outshine the competition in a big way. Whatever you do, respond quickly but first, assess each return as either a “No Fault Return” or a “Return with Cause” and make sure your response appropriately addresses the type of return.

    It’s relatively easy to take an order and ship it. And you won’t likely hear from a customer when you have done what they expected from the transaction. It’s when the buyer needs customer service from you that you have the opportunity to shine. Prior to the sale, customers sometimes have specific and unusual needs and as long as you can deliver on what you promised that addresses those specific needs, you are a hero. And the buyer will often sing your praises to others especially in the form of feedback left on a 3rd party platform. Deal with a return after the sale and you can still be “the good guy”. Returns don’t have to be a negative experience for the buyer unless you make it so.

    When a buyer expresses a desire to return an item, make sure you get enough information to determine whether they have cause to return the item — such as they received the wrong item (a blue widget instead of a green widget) or the item was damaged in transit — or whether you have a “No Fault Return” to deal with. In the case where the customer has a good reason to return the item that has nothing to do with simply not wanting the item that was received then you must do everything possible to make it right and take care of the problem very quickly. Offer to send a prepaid label for the wrong item and send out the correct item right away or tell them you’ll file a claim with the carrier and then make sure to get an undamaged item to them in a timely manner. For a “No Fault Return”, be sure to respond with specific instructions to the buyer (ie please make sure to return the item with all original packaging and send to this address below) in a timely manner. Customers don’t like having to return items they purchased online but they really don’t like being given unclear or imcomplete instructions and they really really don’t like having the return process drawn out so that it takes weeks or months to get their money back.

    Returns are not a pleasant part of the online shopping experience for either the buyer or the seller. But the return process can range from a mildly uncomfortable experience to an incredibly painful drama-filled event and it is the ecommerce merchant that mostly determines how painful or painless the process will be for both parties. An ecommerce merchant who states their return policies in sufficient detail prior to the purchase, who responds promptly to a customer’s request for a return and gives clear instructions, and who keeps the communication professional and business-like will find that they can get through the Holiday Hangover month of January without too much misery.

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    Endicia Customers Take Advantage of the new USPS Parcel Select Shipping Service

    Posted on January 9, 2010. Filed under: Other | Tags: , , , , |

    Beginning January 2010, the United States Post office began offering a new service class called “Parcel Select”.  The new Parcel Select service was created for medium to large size companies who were looking for an affordable ground service.  For small companies who want to take advantage of the cost savings, the US Postal service provides a list of Shipping Consolidators such as APO Box, DHL Global Mail, FedEx SmartPost, Mystic Logistics, Puerto Rico DDu Plus Inc, and UPS Mail Innovations.

    eCommerce shippers who currently use Endicia for their postage needs can take advantage of the cheaper Parcel Select postal rates.  The Endicia Price Change information gives more detail about the cost savings.  Essentially, there is only a little savings in the postal cost (about 3 cents) but packages shipped via parcel select are given delivery confirmation for free.  I ran a label for a 10 pound package today and the price difference between a 10-lb parcel post package with delivery confirmation and a 10-lb parcel select package with delivery confirmation was 22 cents.  Now, while that is not an earth-shattering amount of savings for one package, if you ship about 100 packages a week via Parcel Select rather than Parcel Post you could save about $100 dollars in a 4 1/2 week period (a month).

    The margins from eCommerce sales have shrunk considerably in the last decade so there is little room left for sellers to absorb increased costs.  It’s a great idea for eCommerce merchants to start 2010 out by reviewing all costs, especially shipping costs, to determine if there is any way to keep overall expenses from increasing.  My prediction is that cost savings will be the best bottom line for success in 2010 since many merchants do not realistically have the option of passing along increased costs to online shoppers at this time.

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