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Thread: Yes, it *IS* a can of worms... advice? Suggestions?

  1. #1
    Super Member Favorite Fabrics's Avatar
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    Backorders... pre-orders... I think most online fabric shops don't allow them but we do.

    And as long as our customer is in the US, it's not a problem. It's not *that* awfully expensive to ship a second envelope with the backordered items.

    But our issue is with international orders. We love our international customers and it is fun to send fabric to exotic destinations in places we will never see. And we want to give good service to our far-away customers. But today our brains are all tied in knots. Four of us have been discussing this puzzle and cannot figure it out so I'm asking for collective wisdom from the forum.

    Suppose Jane places an order for four yards of "fabric A" that are in stock now, and four yards of "fabric B" that are not coming for another few months. We base our international shipping rates on the number of flat-rate envelopes that are needed to hold the order; each envelope can hold up to 8 yards. In Jane's case, all her fabric will fit in one envelope, so she has been charged for one envelope. But not all the fabric is here.

    So the puzzle is how to get the fabric to Jane and keep shipping costs and other fees reasonable and fair.

    - If we cut and set aside "fabric A" to wait until "fabric B" comes in, there are two choices. Either we charge for "A" now, or we don't. If we don't, it is essentially a fabric that is "on hold" for several months, unpaid. (Not good from the seller's perspective, as by the time "fabric B" comes in the customer's credit card could no longer be good, or she might change her mind about the yardage or cancel the item.)

    - If we don't physically set aside "fabric A" then we'll probably wind up selling it before "fabric B" comes in. (Not good from the buyer's perspective.)

    - If we send "fabric A" now (and charge for it) and then send "fabric B" later, we would have to charge a second round of shipping (not good for buyer) or send "fabric B" for free (not good for us).

    - Space does not permit setting aside "fabric A" on the bolt for months.

    Here are some of the ideas we have tossed around among ourselves and I'd really like to know what you think of the:

    - We could just send what we have in stock and say, "Sorry, but we will just have to cancel the backordered fabric; please order again later when it is in stock."

    - We could ask permission to charge for the "fabric A" now (plus the shipping), and then send everything together when "fabric B" comes in. (Since "fabric A" would already be cut, we wouldn't want to accept a cancellation on that item and that's why we'd be inclined to want to also have the shipping charges paid for too.)

    - We could wait for a short period - say two weeks - just in case "fabric B" came in sooner.

    Complicating issues: there could be several backordered fabrics with different arrival dates.

    If we send in several shipments, customers might have to pay more in fees - or less in duty/taxes - depending on their individual country (and there's no way we could possibly keep up on this level of detail).

    If we make several charges to the customer's credit card instead of just one, they might wind up paying extra fees (or not).

    And... while our first choice would always be "Contact the customer and ask!", sometimes customers do not reply to e-mails or phone calls, and of course e-mail doesn't go through 100% of the time.

    I'm trying to figure out a reasonable policy that works for both our customers and our business here. At the moment we're "over-thinking" trying to figure it out.

    Wisdom, suggestions, different perspectives, and suggestions would all be appreciated! (And thank you already.)

  2. #2
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    Lie back, put a cold wet cloth on your forehead, sip a glass of wine, then look again at your orders and go quietly insane!!

    All that lost me after all the "back orders". I can't see how you keep them all straight and I admire you for trying.

  3. #3
    Power Poster amma's Avatar
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    Maybe a policy of only one back ordered item per hold? :D:D:D

  4. #4
    Super Member Favorite Fabrics's Avatar
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    I agree that a glass of wine would be VERY nice right now but wouldn't I be setting a really bad example by drinking on company time?

    :shock:

  5. #5
    Super Member sunflower126's Avatar
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    I would think that maybe for international orders no backorders. Maybe you could keep a email list to notify them when a backordered fabric comes becomes available. Maybe give them 7-10 days to order before making available to others. Although they would have to pay the postage twice they would have a chance to get the fabrics they want. It's seems like a no win situation for all. Hope you come up with a workable solution. Maybe you'll get some input from the international shoppers about how they feel it could best be handled. Good luck.

  6. #6
    Moderator sharon b's Avatar
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    When I was working - our company shipped international - we charged full shipping first time all back orders went at half the cost - most were ok with that since it could be months in between shipments. If we knew it was coming in fairly soon we held the orders to make it a better deal for both parties. There is no easy answer - sorry

  7. #7
    Moderator kathy's Avatar
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    well I'm not international but...... one place I frequent sends an email to say part of my order is on back order, do I want to wait and send it all together, send what's in now and pay seperate shipping on the back order, or just cancel any part or all of the order. If I do not reply, they hold it till it's all in but that's never been more than a few days. Another place shows on my invoice what's on back order, then I get a surprise in the mail and at the bank! when the rest comes in, it has been 3-4 wks and of course I forgot about it.

  8. #8
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    I like this idea:

    We could just send what we have in stock and say, "Sorry, but we will just have to cancel the backordered fabric; please order again later when it is in stock."

    And maybe give just a little more explanation as to why it had to be done, don't write a book or anything just tell them, shipping internationally is more difficult etc etc.

  9. #9
    Super Member sahm4605's Avatar
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    If it were me, I wouldn't do back orders for international orders. And if they have pre-orders they can do it but it will be shipped and billed with a hold of two weeks when there is a large amount of pre-orders for that one order. But this would only be on the pre-cuts. if they want yardage. then they need to pay upfront for the yardage to be cut and the shipping will be when the two week period goes by from the first pre-order getting in. you can also send emails when the backorder or pre-order items get in. kinda like connecting threads does. hope this is clear as mud for you.

  10. #10
    Super Member abdconsultant's Avatar
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    Ship what you have in stock, no back orders! You are making it too complicated. The banks certainly don't fret over charges. Notify customers when new fabric comes in. None of us are guaranteed a tomorrow. Just my opinion.

  11. #11
    Power Poster Lacelady's Avatar
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    Hancocks of Paducah doesn't charge for shipping of back orders at all (only for the item itself). It's one of the reasons I like to deal with them, though it can be frustrating when things arrive in dribs and drabs, and I have been known to forget that something is on back order, and order it again!

    I can only presume that they absorb the costs because ... what? They had it in their current catalogue and didn't have it in stock, ergo they regard it as their fault? They want my custom? They are willing to provide this service to keep my custom? I don't know what their thinking on this subject is, but whatever, it works for me.

  12. #12
    Super Member Vicki W's Avatar
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    I would suggest, just emailing the customer and advising them that only part of their order is available (if your website does not tell them) and seeing if they want to have it shipped as two shipments (and occuring two shipping charges) or if they wanted to wait for fabric A and hope that is it available when fabric B comes in.

    Sometimes people are buying things to go together and wouldn't want them unless they had them together. I think as long and you communicate honestly with your customers they will understand.

  13. #13
    Super Member Favorite Fabrics's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lacelady
    Hancocks of Paducah doesn't charge for shipping of back orders at all (only for the item itself). It's one of the reasons I like to deal with them, though it can be frustrating when things arrive in dribs and drabs, and I have been known to forget that something is on back order, and order it again!

    I can only presume that they absorb the costs because ... what? They had it in their current catalogue and didn't have it in stock, ergo they regard it as their fault? They want my custom? They are willing to provide this service to keep my custom? I don't know what their thinking on this subject is, but whatever, it works for me.
    I looked at their shipping charges. They state that for all international orders, they charge 30% of the order cost, with a minimum of $20. So if you ordered 8 yards of fabric at $8 / yard they will charge you $20 for shipping. We would only charge $14.50 (which just covers our costs including insurance).

    They are charging $5.50 extra, and must be using that to cover the backorders. (If 2 out of 3 orders are all in-stock items and can be shipped in full, they are getting enough extra to take care of that 3rd order.)

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vicki W
    I would suggest, just emailing the customer and advising them that only part of their order is available (if your website does not tell them) and seeing if they want to have it shipped as two shipments (and occuring two shipping charges) or if they wanted to wait for fabric A and hope that is it available when fabric B comes in.

    Sometimes people are buying things to go together and wouldn't want them unless they had them together. I think as long and you communicate honestly with your customers they will understand.
    I was going to say they can't order anything that is back order and tell them why, but I think Vicki W. has a point.

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    Power Poster ckcowl's Avatar
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    ok, answering from a customer side of view...if i ordered 2 different fabrics from anywhere and nothing came and nothing came i would not be a happy customer. if half of my order was shipped without me knowing what was happening...i would be very upset.
    i guess what i'm trying to say is...
    COMMUNICATION IS MANDITORY FOR GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE! instead of asking us you should be asking the customer how they would like their order handled.
    there have been times when i've ordered on line...waited 2-3 weeks contacted the store to hear...oh sorry one of the fabrics are on back order...so we are holding the order... REALLY!??? without telling me? well one of those fabrics i needed 2 weeks ago...the one on back order was not even one that mattered...but they did not bother contacting me, even sending a simple email so i could tell them that i needed the other fabrics. so i cancelled the whole order (over $300 order) and will not even visit the site on line. had they contacted me i could have told them the fabric i needed right away and made arrangements for the remainder of the order-since they chose to just set it aside with no correspondence i have no time for them... i did receive an email order confirmation a couple days after placing the order...so kept expecting it and stressing over it for over 2 weeks...wondering if the pony express was bringing it.
    if you want to keep your international customers happy you need to have GREAT CUSTOMER SERVICE! WHICH MEANS COMMUNICATION!

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    If the policy is not explicitly set out, I think you should eat the shipping charge for the backordered fabric.

    And then you should set up a policy that if part of an order needs to wait, then the customer can choose to split up the shipping, i.e., pay for shipping twice, or cancel the backorder. Kind of like Amazon tells us we can ship separately or keep it together.

    Or you can charge more for shipping from now on.

  17. #17
    Super Member Favorite Fabrics's Avatar
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    We do contact our customers... but sometimes they don't reply. I posted the question here because, to try to get a reading on what most people think would be sensible, to formulate a reasonable plan for what to do when the customer does not reply back to us.

    It's not a perfect world. Sometimes we e-mail, and the customer does not receive it (and we do not know this).

    Sometimes the customer replies, and we don't receive their e-mail (and they do not know).

    In our shopping cart, it does show the ETA for all backordered fabrics. So the customer should be aware of the stock status even before they decide to submit their order.

    'Course... we can't *force* them to read what's on their screen... but that's a whole other issue! :?

  18. #18
    Super Member ghostrider's Avatar
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    You could follow Hancock's of Paducah's model which is charge full shipping with the initial package, bill the credit card for backordered items only when they have been shipped, and do not charge for additional shipping on backorders. Their international (Canada excluded) shipping rates, however, are figured as a percentage (30%) of the cost of the complete order, not a box size rate. They are also a much larger operation than you are. :lol:

  19. #19
    Super Member Favorite Fabrics's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sing
    If the policy is not explicitly set out, I think you should eat the shipping charge for the backordered fabric.

    And then you should set up a policy that if part of an order needs to wait, then the customer can choose to split up the shipping, i.e., pay for shipping twice, or cancel the backorder. Kind of like Amazon tells us we can ship separately or keep it together.

    Or you can charge more for shipping from now on.
    We do eat the shipping charge for domestic shipments. We can't eat the shipping charge for international because we would lose more money than we took in on the backorders; just can't do that. We certainly *can* specify a policy on our site for international orders; I'm just struggling with the wording given that English might not be the international customer's first language, and we don't want to confuse our US customers who also place backorders/preorders.

    Our shopping cart is not as sophisticated as what Amazon has. They're big and we are little. We can't prevent international customers from putting backordered items in their cart, because we don't even know they are international customers until they start the checkout process.

    Perhaps the safest policy would be "First we will try to contact you and ask if you would like us to charge you now for all in-stock items (plus shipping)... and then charge for each backordered item as it comes in ... and then hold the order for shipping complete whenever the last item comes in. And then if we do not receive a reply within a week we will ship what we have and cancel all backorders."

    And this is essentially what we already do.

    Overthinking again... what if the customer responds two weeks later, berating us for sending a partial shipment, because she was on vacation and unable to receive e-mails?

    (Yes, this has happened. We just cannot seem to keep everyone happy even though we really do try!)

  20. #20
    Super Member Favorite Fabrics's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ghostrider
    You could follow Hancock's of Paducah's model which is charge full shipping with the initial package, bill the credit card for backordered items only when they have been shipped, and do not charge for additional shipping on backorders. Their international (Canada excluded) shipping rates, however, are figured as a percentage (30%) of the cost of the complete order, not a box size rate. They are also a much larger operation than you are. :lol:
    Yes, they certainly are bigger, and I'm not envying them because their headaches are probably bigger than mine too. (Does that entitle them to a BIGGER bottle of wine?) :shock:

    Their $20 minimum shipping cost isn't so customer-friendly to the international shopper who just wants a little bit of fabric, though. Hmmm...

  21. #21
    QKO
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    As an online shop owner, I'd give the following advice to simplify your life. (take it or leave it)

    8 yards in a flat rate envelope is about double what can comfortably fit in those without; a) violating USPS rules, b) costing you a ton of time trying to wrassle that much fabric into them, and c) risking damage to the fabric. A couple of suggestions:

    1. There really is no competitive advantage to over-stuffing FRE's, especially when your orders come back as damaged. Cut your maximum yardage for FRE's down, your orders will pack up quicker and you can protect them better, eliminating damage returns and/or complaints.

    2. Use 1st class International parcel for your smaller orders, up to 4 pounds (about 12 yards+). It's just as cost effective as FRE's but a lot easier to deal with, the customs papers are simpler and faster, and it takes the same transport as Priority mail does, so it gets there in about the same time. Of course, this may require that you change your cart shipping calculations which takes some setup work. You'll also have to buy your own containers.

    Don't sell what you don't have in stock. That eliminates your problem with pre-orders and back-orders. With manufacturers canceling lines right and left nowadays, pre-orders are becoming more problematic, and backorders are always a problem, as you're discovering. If you oversell a fabric, i.e. you have 2 yards in stock and the customer orders three, contact them and ask them if they want the 2 or if they want to cancel. I use skype for international calls to customers, it's cheap and works well, but you do have to check and see what time it is where you're calling before you call.

    FWIW... :mrgreen:

  22. #22
    Super Member Favorite Fabrics's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by QKO
    As an online shop owner, I'd give the following advice to simplify your life. (take it or leave it)

    8 yards in a flat rate envelope is about double what can comfortably fit in those without; a) violating USPS rules, b) costing you a ton of time trying to wrassle that much fabric into them, and c) risking damage to the fabric. A couple of suggestions:

    1. There really is no competitive advantage to over-stuffing FRE's, especially when your orders come back as damaged. Cut your maximum yardage for FRE's down, your orders will pack up quicker and you can protect them better, eliminating damage returns and/or complaints.

    2. Use 1st class International parcel for your smaller orders, up to 4 pounds (about 12 yards+). It's just as cost effective as FRE's but a lot easier to deal with, the customs papers are simpler and faster, and it takes the same transport as Priority mail does, so it gets there in about the same time. Of course, this may require that you change your cart shipping calculations which takes some setup work. You'll also have to buy your own containers.

    Don't sell what you don't have in stock. That eliminates your problem with pre-orders and back-orders. With manufacturers canceling lines right and left nowadays, pre-orders are becoming more problematic, and backorders are always a problem, as you're discovering.

    FWIW...
    Good to have another shopowner's input, QKO.

    I have an official USPS customer service rep stopping by tomorrow morning and I am ever so anxious to ask questions about the limations of FREs (flat-rate-envelopes). This past year we have had only two problems with our fat envelopes (both were problems on the receiving end - not damaged, just "postage due"). So for us, thus far, they are still working even when overstuffed.

    I will ask the rep about the First Class International option.

  23. #23
    Super Member Kooklabell's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Favorite Fabrics
    Quote Originally Posted by ghostrider
    You could follow Hancock's of Paducah's model which is charge full shipping with the initial package, bill the credit card for backordered items only when they have been shipped, and do not charge for additional shipping on backorders. Their international (Canada excluded) shipping rates, however, are figured as a percentage (30%) of the cost of the complete order, not a box size rate. They are also a much larger operation than you are. :lol:
    Yes, they certainly are bigger, and I'm not envying them because their headaches are probably bigger than mine too. (Does that entitle them to a BIGGER bottle of wine?) :shock:

    Their $20 minimum shipping cost isn't so customer-friendly to the international shopper who just wants a little bit of fabric, though. Hmmm...

    Seems that being "fair" is the hardest thing to do. My thought - the one international response wasn't unhappy paying the $20 minimum shipping. A person who is buying US is still paying less than their home country and they will buy more in the future if happy. If part of the order was "backordered", I'd have the shipping people put a standard piece of paper in stating "part of order on backorder and will be shipped out ASAP". You might even be able to put a smidge of material or something in with the note for being patient. People, women in particular, like little surprises/gifts.

    You will always get complaints - some just like to complain. :)

  24. #24
    Super Member Favorite Fabrics's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kooklabell
    You will always get complaints - some just like to complain. :)
    Noticed that...

    sigh...

  25. #25
    Super Member Lynnie25's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sunflower126
    I would think that maybe for international orders no backorders. Maybe you could keep a email list to notify them when a backordered fabric comes becomes available. Maybe give them 7-10 days to order before making available to others. Although they would have to pay the postage twice they would have a chance to get the fabrics they want. It's seems like a no win situation for all. Hope you come up with a workable solution. Maybe you'll get some input from the international shoppers about how they feel it could best be handled. Good luck.
    Great suggestion. I am international and if I backordered fabric I would expect to pay shipping (again) when that fabric arrived and was posted. I buy online when I want fabric that isn't available here in Australia and so I am prepared to pay whatever shipping costs to get it here safely to me.

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