Tuesday, September 23, 2008

St Ebeneezer II

A few generic requests and pointers for online shoppers, on behalf of all those dispatchers out there who remember last Christmas and are fearing this one.

Part Two: Costs and Charges.

The postage and packaging charge

The cost of postage is set by Royal Mail (more on Royal Mail another day) and varies according to the exact size, shape and weight of your package. The pricing structure is complex to say the least, so many shops charge a flat rate for P&P, or link it to the value of the order, to keep things simple. This means that yes, one or two people pay a few pence more than the exact cost of their package, and others pay a few pence less. A few pence either way is all it will be. This is not rampant profiteering. Do not write angry letters of complaint because you paid 15p more P&P than Royal Mail charged.

There's also a clue in the name of the charge. Postage and packaging. We recycle where possible, but stock which arrives in no more than a dozen large boxes, goes out in hundreds of small boxes, envelopes, corrugated wrap, etc. Then there's things like bubble-wrap, sellotape, parcel tape, 'Documents Enclosed' packets, 'Do Not Bend' stickers, replacing worn-out tape dispensers, all sorts of silly things. Where I am, it averages out at around 25p per package.

You could argue a case for the dispatcher's wages to be part of P&P, too. I'm not part of the regular shop staff, I'm employed solely for postage and packaging purposes. It's a low-waged job role, but it's still about 10p per minute. So even if it only takes me two minutes to wrap up and sort out postage for one package, that's still 20p extra per package over and above the regular shop staff overhead.

Basically if your P&P is within £1 of the Royal Mail postage charge, you are not being ripped off.

Customs Charges

We are obliged to put Customs stickers on every package we send to a non-EU country. We are obliged to fill them in accurately. It's not that we don't like you. We just don't want to be investigated and shut down for dodgy business practices. The money you pay for Customs does not come to us, it does not increase our profit at all. We are not squeezing it out of you. It is not our choice. It is also not a new thing. If you are old enough to have a credit card and order things online then you are old enough to understand the basics of VAT and import/export. In most cases, if you get charged for Customs and look carefully at your receipt you will see that you have not been charged VAT. That's why you have to pay the customs charge.

Dodging VAT

Some people try to dodge VAT by using the following address:
Mr Very English Name
27 Very English Street
Well-Known English Town
Definitely an English County
English Postcode
Country Outside The EU That Doesn't Get Charged VAT.

Well done. The website has deducted the VAT, you are paying a quid or so less for your goods, although you're also paying a quid or so more for your postage and packing charges, so you're probably not saving much money. However, your credit card has been flagged - country not matched - so if you do it too often, someone will probably start to take an interest. It's not worth it to save 50p. Oh, and everyone is laughing at you for being so cheap.

We are not trying to rip you off.

We've been in business for quite a while. We want to stay in business. Ripping customers off is not a viable long-term business plan. Well, except for companies selling an absolutely essential commodity like water or fuel, where the consumer has little choice but to hand over whatever is demanded. But we don't sell that kind of product and we're not that kind of company. We want you to choose to shop with us, and part of that is not upsetting you by 'inventing' charges or charging an unreasonable rate. Certainly we want your money, but there's no need to assume we'll invent reasons to swipe it.

Short commercial break: Today it's for Sweet As, who not only do incredible bespoke chocolate cakes for special occasions, but also do mail-order chocolate brownies - including a gluten-free version if you like - in a package that fits through a letterbox. I had some of these brownies for my birthday. They are perhaps a little bit expensive but Worth. Every. Penny.

Part One: Placing Your Order.
Still to come: Royal Mail, and Other Issues.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

St Ebeneezer

As the esteemed blogger Scaryduck (I am not worthy, etc) recently observed, St Ebeneezer's Day - "the first day that Christmas displays appear in shops and public houses" - has well and truly occurred.

Speaking from the trenches of mail-order dispatch of classical music, I can confirm that the rush has started. The volume of orders is increasing, and the orders being placed have more than a sprinkling of titles like "Concertos and Cantatas for Christmas", not to mention Bach's Christmas Oratorio (available on CD, SACD and DVD from just about any record label you care to name).

I'm guessing that quite a few of the people who read this blog are likely to do at least part of their shopping online, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to make a few generic requests and give a few pointers, on behalf of all those dispatchers for small businesses out there who remember last Christmas and are fearing this one.

... actually, thinking about it, this may work better as a series. Other readers on the frontline should feel free to make additions in the comments.

So onwards, with Part One - Placing Your Order.

Fill out the form properly.

It's not really a difficult form. Put your postcode in the postcode box and your address in the address boxes. If you don't know your address and postcode, go and ask a responsible adult.

For each new line, use a new line of the address box - don't just type in twenty spaces, or half a dozen full stops. You can click in each box, or you can use the TAB key to scroll through them. While you're at it, why not let the shift key enter your life? It's not just there to make the keyboard look nice.

"As Above" is not an address. Nor is "as previous order," as I can't actually see your previous orders unless I stop everything and start rootling around in the database. And please, for pity's sake, don't think you're being clever by asterisking out the first few letters of each line of your name and address "for security". We need your proper address in order to send you the things you have ordered. The postman will not take packages to "** ***ley Road", okay?

You should also know that it's not "the computer" that fixes these things so that you get your goods. It's me, putting my Stalker hat on with the help of Google in a way that would probably have you feeling quite uncomfortable if you knew about it. You may also like to remember that all the time I spend correcting your address, I'm not shipping orders - you're holding up the queue!

Contact details

We're not asking for the fun of it, nor are we likely to sell your data. If we've said that we won't pass your details on, then we really won't. It's one of those big business/small business things. A big business is only ever about the money. A small business, on the other hand, is personal, and all of its employees are going to be trying to provide the sort of service we would like to recieve from others. So we won't pass your phone number to other companies owned by the same multinational conglomerate, or "relevant third parties", and we won't flood your inbox with spam. We're asking for fast contact details because if there's a problem with your order, we'd prefer to be able to let you know as soon as possible, and give you a chance to change your order, rather than waiting for you to contact us several weeks later because your goods have not arrived.

Your credit card 'security code' is NOT your PIN.

Your security code is the last three digits of the little number on the back of your card, where you put your signature. It's not a difficult thing to find. You never type your PIN online. If you type in your PIN where you should have put your security code, all that happens is that your credit card gets flagged - security code not matched - and you may have to wait longer while we check to find out whether you're (a) incapable of reading simple instructions or (b) a fraudster trying to use a dodgy credit card, and let's be honest, neither of those are good really, are they?

Reasonable Requests

Most small businesses will do their best to meet any requests you make, it's part of what makes us different to Amazon and Tesco. Perhaps something is a gift and you want to be sure it's sent to the recipient without the price on it - no problem. Maybe you are on holiday and want to delay posting to make sure your package won't arrive while you're away - easy. Maybe you want your order shipped in as many lots as it takes to make sure that each parcel is no bigger than the pannier on your bike - we can do that. But please, please, let us know early on. Preferably before you place your order. If we know your requests before the order comes in, then we can do our best to meet them. We won't be able to get the package back off the Post Office if you only put in your request after the order is dispatched.

Still to come: Costs and charges, Royal Mail, and Other Issues.

And now, by request of a friend of mine, a short commercial break for a friendly online mail order business. Adults only, I cannot stress this strongly enough, adults only may wish to look at Temptations for all their adult toy needs. Temptations is run by a couple of entrepreneurs with a long-standing interest in adult toys, aiming to provide the sort of service levels they would prefer to recieve when shopping online for such items. Please don't click that link if you're under 16 or easily offended.

Under-16s, and those who are not in the market for the kind of wares Temptations stock, may prefer to visit the 100% family-friendly appropriate-for-everyone Web Of Wool to spend their money.

Edit 20:17 07/09/08 broken link fixed.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

We Apologise For The Break In Transmission

Wow, no blogposts for a month. Not quite sure how that happened. My apologies to anyone who got concerned. I am okay.

On with the excuses, well, I had a week or so at the beginning of August where I couldn't seem to phrase anything right. After that, I kept telling myself I would blog later, which never came.

Two things are notable for having NOT occurred. First, I still haven't heard anything more on the Remploy problems. They were going to investigate it internally, but then my MP stepped in via the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and now contact is supposed to flow via the MP and the DWP. Which it isn't. In mitigation, my MP is the "anti-fraud" minister (see "we are determined to catch those taking money that does not belong to them") which probably makes it difficult to suddenly reverse mindset to a non-claimant whose problem is that they are being offered and declining to accept money.

Second, I haven't organised that proper week away at the coast and I'm no longer convinced that I want to. There seems to be an awful lot going on at the moment and I get the strong impression that my presence would only exacerbate matters.

However, I HAVE been doing lots of things.

I've applied to Social Services for help and they have done really well - preliminary assessment over the phone same-day, a home visit from a social worker to do a full assessment the following week, a home visit for a financial assessment the week after that, then it was a home visit from somebody from the Rowan Organisation to talk me through the options for Direct Payments and whatnot, and finally a visit for assessment by an Occupational Therapist.

This level and speed of response would be pretty good even if they'd just turned around and said "no, you're not eligible for any help, care, equipment or services, and even if you were, you'd have to pay the full cost." But amazingly, and despite all the horror stories I've heard from both service users and providers, they've really come through.

The social worker has assessed me as needing 7 hours of personal care and 3 hours of social care per week. The financial assessment means this will be funded by social services. The Rowan will help me use Direct Payments to hire a PA to help me. They will help me find a suitable Personal Assistant (PA), do criminal records checks, assist me with holding interviews, and help with the paperwork (eg taxes and NI for my PA). It's all ready to go and there is just one problem - while Steve agrees with the idea of me getting the help I need, faced with the reality of it he found that he has difficulty with the idea of someone coming into his house. I don't have the balls to just go ahead with it without his consent but hopefully we'll work something out soon, as it's really quite upsetting to be struggling and going without while knowing that I don't have to.

The social worker also said we could have an emergency plan, in case Steve is hospitalised or has a family emergency or something. The "In Your Place" scheme means that if something like that happened, a temporary carer would be sent to the house to stay with me and fulfil Steve's role - not just the active personal/social care things, but also supervision, and doing the things that I can't do but am assessed as not needing help with because I live with someone who can be reasonably expected to do them, like cooking or going to the supermarket or changing the sheets on the bed (the idea is that these things aren't "care" as he would have to do them anyway if he lived alone). The temporary carer would stay with me for up to 72 hours, until either Steve was back at home, or a longer-term solution could be put in place.

The Occupational Therapist has done well for me too. A lot of the simpler bits and bobs I need, Steve or I have already purchased, but she's got me things like a swivel bath seat that helps me get into the tub safely to have my shower. She'll come back for another visit next month to see how I'm getting on and think about what else I might need. Most of the things she wanted to prescribe, I can't have, because it's a privately rented house and the landlord might object to permanent objects like grab rails and level access and a stairlift being installed. But, she's writing down officially that she thinks I should have them, which might help with the DLA appeal and will be a head-start if we ever get our own place.

On a different level, I applied for an admin job. I made it to interview entirely on merit (I made it clear that I was NOT applying under the "two ticks" scheme) and from there got onto the shortlist, but didn't get the job in the end. I'm a bit disappointed. It would have been nice, it would have suited my skills more, and I'm keen to get out from where I am at the moment. However, my current job isn't unbearable, and it's not like there'll never be another part-time admin job advertised ever again. The feedback was positive but not in a vastly useful way - apparently my application, qualifications, experience and interview was all fine, there wasn't anything that they felt I should improve upon, and I'm the second choice, so they'll call me if the first choice passes it up or can't provide references.

Of course they might have just said all that to make me feel better. Who knows. For now, it suits me to take it at face value and think yes, I was good, someone else was better, never mind.

We went to the wedding as planned, which was a total success in every sense. We caught up with a few familiar faces from the darker corners of the internet, as well as meeting a few new ones, and had an absolutely lovely time. The weather behaved itself, so the ceremony took place with gorgeous sunlight shining through the windows and making the bride look even more beautiful. It was very relaxed, and everybody was happy. Technically I caught the bouquet, but we should probably bear in mind that I was the only one trying and it was tossed directly to me from a distance of about two feet, very theatrically, for Steve's benefit. Steve, for his part, pointedly ignored the whole thing. Bah.

I got to see Pip and the Littlun, who is now The Boy as he is more than waist-high. I can't believe how much he's grown! He'll be four soon. We played with his trains and read a story, and spent a lot of time doing a sort of counting/sorting game of his own invention with little ludo pieces. Seeing Pip was good. I have missed him an awful lot since moving away. We really could have done with an hour to chat like grownups, maybe next time.

There's been other stuff too - going places, seeing people. I can't remember it all and this post already has too much variety in it. It was a good summer. Hopefully there is still a little bit more to come.