The holidays represent a stressful time for all, but at the center of that anxious nexus lies the average small business: artsy, evocative of attentive craft, and generally warmer than the local Walmart.
One would reasonably expect that such businesses would struggle to keep up with demand, which is why a relatively recent trend of misleading consumers about their order statuses is so frustrating.
Virtually every consumer can identify what makes a small business appealing in comparison to its larger counterparts, and where they fall short. Purchasing from a smaller business as opposed to something like Amazon is not without its drawbacks, namely in terms of shipping speed and efficiency. When a consumer makes a conscious choice to buy small, they are accepting that the product may take a long time to arrive but will be worth the wait.
All consumers ask, in return, is transparency and fair customer service. Judging by this concerning new trend, that is not what they are receiving when they purchase from small retailers.
Small businesses occupy a liminal space that comprises both the illusion of big-budget advertising and the homemade quality one often associates with a small operation. This means that the disconnect between what one sees in marketing materials – emails, Instagram ads, and even texts – and the actual services provided by the business in question can be quite substantial, so much so that one might even consider them misleading.
Chief among this subterfuge is the infamous tracking link, something that most small businesses will send once an order has been processed and shipped. In theory, actually shipping the product requires it to be moving toward its destination in some form; unfortunately, more and more businesses are pushing out the “Shipped” status days – sometimes even weeks – prior to the package leaving.
All the while, the business has to keep up with its online marketing. That isn’t something to fault, but if you’re sitting at home refreshing a tracking link (we all do it) and wondering why, for the eighth day in a row since receiving the shipping email, your package has yet to be picked up by a carrier, you wouldn’t be wrong in wondering why the company bothered to send the email at all – and that online marketing doesn’t do anything other than increase your resentment.
At first, this may seem like a one-off issue. You purchased an item during peak holiday sales, it was hastily marked as processed and shipped, and the carrier took an extra day or two to pick it up.
The problem with that logic is twofold: This is happening a lot more than circumstance would allow for, and packages are sitting unattended for a lot longer than a couple of days; it also doesn’t justify flat-out exaggerating an order’s shipment status.
As eCommerce participants, small businesses have an obligation to be honest and forthright with their consumers. If a package is going to take four weeks to ship, it’s better to simply communicate that in no uncertain terms upfront.
Yes, this may prevent a one-time purchase from consumers who are in a hurry.
Yes, this may deter a few potential repeat customers who have no sense of delayed gratification.
But failing to communicate honestly and effectively with your actual customer base – the one that will return to you again and again – in favor of misleading incentivization tactics is the only surefire way to alienate your most loyal demographic.
Unfortunately, small businesses who engage in this kind of manipulation only further make a case for a wholesale shift to online retailers like Amazon, who – despite egregious human rights violations and soulless regurgitation of small business ideals – have the resources and financial support to offer reliable and honest communication and customer service. Regrettable as it is, that’s enough to sway the average buyer.
In no uncertain terms, lying to buyers about the window in which they will receive their purchases represents an erosion of trust that cannot be undone; it’s far better to simply explain delays without attempting to sugar the pill.