Friday, March 27, 2015

How to Deal with Getting Behind as an Online Seller

Recently I had a really bad knock-down drag-out reaction. Silly me, I thought I could go to a grocery store. Nope. I barely made it out of there, despite wearing my standard mask and gloves.
It was a week for which I had high hopes. I had reclaimed food candles to make! Special order custom paper flowers! Personal vintage shopping! Vintage Lover's Club boxes to buy for, wrap, and ship! A sale at @uniquelyleanna on Instagram! I had the week's meals planned out, my to do lists for every day ready for action, and I was feeling positive about things.
Then I went to get groceries. Stupid, I tell ya!
Well, there went my week. So what's a small business owner to do when her other half has returned to working outside the house?
Here's my secret:
I was honest.
Shocker, right? The business world is dog-eat-dog and all about perception. Look big so you can compete with the big dogs.... Right?
Well, that may be the path for some, but not for my honey and I. We believe in honesty and doing the right thing even when it hurts us to do so. Every time we have taken a hit to keep a customer happy we have been blessed in return like crazy. But that's not why we operate like that- we just believe in the truth and doing what's right, no matter what.
Since most orders were from Instagram, I posted there. I had 40 outstanding orders there at the time, and I felt wretched, so there was no way I would be able to DM every single person. I felt badly about that as every single order means the world to us- but it just wasn't feasible.
Most people who had purchased something saw it and commented something nice, because, let's face it, the vintage community on Instagram is just plain amazeballs.
I barely made it out of bed all week, but I did do a sale on Friday of stuff I had on etsy forever- all I did was screenshot and copy and paste, easy peasy from the comfort of my bed!
Anywho, I did manage to get Amazon orders out as Amazon will put me in time out if I don't, but etsy peeps are generally pretty laid back and understood as well.
In apology I offered a cupcake tart to some who had already been waiting for things, and all late packages are arriving with a discount coupon. I could sit and write apology notes, but my time would be better spent getting those packages out the door!
Generally speaking, I know I am way more upset about this than any customer. If anyone is upset they haven't given any inclination that they are, but I of course am ticked off, disappointed, and feel incredibly guilty. It's me, I am my toughest critic. I am, however, working really hard to not be so stinking hard on myself. I'm a work in progress!
As of today I'm down to 13 packages- woo hoo- including 3 custom orders that should be finished over the weekend. Considering the backlog I had and the fact that I just had a sale, adding more packages, I'm pretty pleased with my speed of getting it all done when I'm not busy being hard on myself about it. I know when I'm caught up I'll move on to feeling bad about the fact that I've barely cooked or cleaned in two weeks.
In summary, if you have a delay: be honest, do something to make it up if you can, and don't be like me- try not to beat yourself up. Life happens to us all, just 'fess up when it does, and if someone is a jerkbutt about it, ask them if they had a rough day. The answer just may have nothing to do with you. ;)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How to Be Sensitive to Allergies as an Online Seller

IMG_8542.JPGAs many of you know, I'm allergic to so many things I have to carry a binder around to keep track of them all! Since I'm the queen of all things allergies, I was recently asked about how to be considerate of the allergies of potential customers as an online seller.
Here are some guidelines and considerations to keep in mind:
~ Smoke
Do you smoke? Does anyone in your home smoke? While you may think that keeping your items in a separate room where there isn't any smoking will be sufficient, smoke doesn't see a wall and stop. It permeates through walls, doors, and WILL permeate your product. If you smoke, you will not smell it. I've been smoked out of three apartments. Walls will not keep smoke confined.
If you personally smoke, the chemicals are released through your pores. Simply touching items can contaminate them and cause problems for someone who is allergic, especially if you smoked within the past 24 hours.
The best solution for dealing with smoke of any kind as an online seller? Quit.
If you thrift something that has even the faintest smell of smoke, regardless of the material, the smell will never come out. We have had so many belongings we had to trash! The only thing that can really remove (some) smoke is an ozone machine. Those are both cost prohibitive and don't always work. So if you can, sniff things when out thrifting. I would if I could, but I'm in a mask!
If anyone in your household smokes, please disclose it to your buyers.
~ Pets
Many people are allergic to cats or dogs, so it is important to disclose any pets in your household as well.
Not too long ago a new-to-us customer purchased a troll doll and a sheet, and mentioned that she was allergic to cats. Since we have cats, I offered to wash the sheet again (she declined, as she was going to put it directly in the washer anyways), and I wiped down the troll doll with witch hazel. While it was clean and wasn't actually dusty, some witch hazel on a cotton ball would have snatched up any errant cat dander. There wasn't much I could do about the troll doll's hair, and I said as much to the customer. If it is a hard, non-porous material, a witch hazel wipedown is the way to go.
For washable items and stuffed animals, be sure you store them in closed containers after washing. We use lots of plastic totes for this purpose.
~ Washable Items
Many people are sensitive to scents and laundry products. The best bet to prevent any issues with this aspect is to make your own, homemade laundry soap. Not only is it extremely effective, including as a stain remover, it is remarkably economical. It costs under $5 to make a batch, and it last us for 3-6 months! With a hubby who works in landscaping, we wash some filthy dirty clothes. This stuff works! (I'll post a laundry soap recipe here soon.)
The next best option is hypoallergenic or sensitive skin laundry soap. Unfortunately this is often quite expensive, which can reduce your profit margin.
If both of the previous options are out, using your regular laundry soap, with an extra rinse cycle and using vinegar as a fabric softener cleans your items and helps to rid them of the chemical residue left behind by traditional laundry detergent.
Obviously my most highly recommended option is homemade laundry soap! Fabric softener isn't necessary, but white vinegar will help decrease static cling.
~ Sanitizing Spray/ Fabric Refresher/ Etc.
If we receive something in the mail that my hubby reports smells of fragrance, I am immediately suspicious. What is the seller trying to cover up? These products are for hiding smells, so what lies beneath the chemical-laden layer?
Skip them. Not only am I not the only customer to have the above thoughts, many people are allergic to these. Who needs more chemicals in their lives?
~ Latex Allergies
Soapbox time! Latex allergy is so mis- and under- diagnosed it absolutely infuriates me. With every exposure to latex making a minor allergy closer to being airborne anaphylactic, and every exposure to latex for the "average" person increasing the likelihood of developing a latex allergy, it is critical to be on the safe side here.
Handling things with latex gloves, at any point, is risky. This includes rubber kitchen gloves, unless of course they are nitrile (in which case, kudos to you!). The form of latex used to make latex gloves is especially prone to "shedding" particles all over, so much so that any room in which a latex glove has been used is immediately contaminated.
If you have to use a rubber band, use latex free rubber bands. However, there really is no reason to use any when shipping items. Small items can always be corralled in a Ziploc baggie. (Ziploc is latex free by the way!)
~ Cleaners
While I am personally allergic to all dish soap and cleaners, and I can only use baking soda, vinegar, running alcohol, and witch hazel to clean products, the good news for you is that you really don't need to make any modifications in cleaning items such as dishware.
As long as you rinse items well in the sink after cleaning, you should be just fine, unless of course a special request is made. A good rinsing is generally standard anyways.
Of special consideration is Pyrex. Some use coconut oil to shine Pyrex. If you do so, it is extremely important to disclose this when selling- not only due to coconut allergies, but also as a responsible, honest business owner.
~ Little Extras
It can be fun to add in little extras such as candy, perfume samples, pencils, and such. However, it is also extremely risky. I personally have friends who have gone into anaphylactic shock because of little extras included in a package such as something as seemingly innocent as a pencil or eraser. Do you really want to be responsible for this? Shock is potentially fatal, so I'm going to go out a limb and assume that you don't!
Would you include a bag of peanuts with an order? Likely not, due to the common occurrence of peanut allergies. Latex allergy is actually more common than peanut allergies, so it is of utmost importance to take both into consideration. Latex is in over 50,000 products, so if you are wondering if it is in something, please feel completely free to ask me!
Chocolate and candy can also contain allergens, but I've known sellers who have received nasty feedback for sending a piece of candy. Wondering why? It melted all over the product!
Personally if I am going to add something extra in, I either ensure that there are no allergies on the receiving end or add in something similar. For example, if someone purchases ephemera and I have some similar pieces, I may add those in.
My handmade upcycled paper flowers have sticks as stems, so anyone with an allergy to trees may have issue with them. The only scents I can tolerate are my candles- but others may not. So if I add in either of these things, I ask beforehand. Sometimes a customer doesn't want one- and that's just fine!
The customer will still be pleasantly surprised at the little bonus token of appreciation, they will not be receiving something they don't want (no one wants more clutter!), and you'll be ensuring the transaction is a happy one!
Blow your customers away with fantastic customer service, ninja shipping, and reasonable prices. Little extras are nice, but let the core of your business speak for itself!
As you've read, there are a lot of considerations to take into account as an allergy-sensitive online seller. If you have any further questions on this topic, please do not hesitate to contact me! This is a critical topic that I am passionate about, so I am always happy to address any concerns and help you keep your customers happy and, more importantly, safe!