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Take Control of Your Sale
Online Sales Policy
An online seller should protect himself against misunderstandings. mis-use, and abuse of credit card chargebacks and returned checks, items broken or refused in shipment, and a bunch of other obnoxious things that can get in the way of making the customer happy and making a profit on your hard work. The best way to do this is to adhere to a stated set of practices and standards. They must be public and all sales should be directed to observe them before purchase. You can't make a customer read them, but you should make them obvious, and have them posted online on your website. If you change them for any reason, makes sure that the changes are also noted and the dates after which they apply. Observing a set of exemplary trading standards will provide solutions to most of your online headaches... and scammers will flee from an online sales site that covers its bases. Think of it as a firewall for your online transactions. Scammers exploit weaknesses in trading law and in unprepared merchants. Stating your sales policy clearly will close the exploitable loopholes and will give the scammer an understanding that you didn't ride into town on a truck load of turnips.
Setting up an online sales agreement can vary with location and I welcome any input from experienced sellers from around the world.
Please set up and additional Wiki for local requirements that should be included and link them here by country rather than try to squeeze everything into one page.
The way it generally works in the U.S.A. is that if you sell through your website or an auction site (Ebay, Yahoo, Froogle, etc) you should post a link to your online sales policy on your website. This keeps the page from getting cluttered up with what will probably be a full page of "Don'ts."
So long as the words "Read and understand our online sales policy before making your (bid, purchase, offer), the external page is considered just as valid as if it where in the text of the sales page. Make the link prominent. Don't try to hide it away or you might lose a dispute unnecessarily.
There are many organizations that monitor trading standards around the world, each in their own specific area. The UK has Square Deal in Portsmouth and the Trade Standards Insititute elsewhere. The U.S. has the Better Business Bureau and a large number of similar private statistics gathering organizations. You should pattern your sales policy after the expectations of what is “fair” in your area.
If you want to extend your customer service beyond those standards then just make sure you aren't making promises you can't keep. Doing this will have the additional effect of impressing your customer with a forthright and professional appearance... setting the rules down in advance will also drive off clumsy buyers who depend upon getting everything their way when they discover that they really didn't want that item after all. Better to have fewer, higher quality clients than a wealth of headaches from buyers who don't practice standards of fair trading as a buyer. It also makes it easier for the seller to keep their customer happy, by making the buyer and seller both more aware of what is expected...
Sometimes a customer has a very real complaint. Handling it gracefully and timely will distinguish you from the great number of Sales Scammers on the Internet. Keep your customer happy, and they will be back for more of your artwork.
http://www.portsmouth.gov.uk (Square Deal) UK - Portsmouth
http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk (Trading Standards Central)
http://www.tsi.org.uk/ (Trading Standards Institute)
http://www.bbb.org (U.S. Regional)
Ebay Member Sellers also have access to a large and helpful tutorial regarding customer relations and selling online.
Your Sales Policy should include:
Payment - What is your prefered currency? How will you accept it? What forms of payment do you not accept? State clearly your terms and conditions for payment. Outline those type of payment you don't accept. Make sure you let your customers know that payment will be posted at the time that the transaction actually clears and explain that for international transactions that can mean weeks or months.
When does the transaction finalize? It's important to state whether you still own the piece while it is in transit. On the surface this seems attractive, but it complicates breakage claims. If you own the piece, and the customer claims damage then they can refuse or return the shipment at your expense.
Why re-ship a damaged piece. If it isn't in a condition that would allow your buyer to love it and care for it, why would you expect that returning it would be advantagious to anyone?
It is normal in cases like this to finalize the transaction at your studio, or the dock of your shipper. This leaves a loose end... What happens when a piece does show up damaged? If the customer now owns a damaged artwork they might be fairly upset.
That is the reason that the piece should be shipped insured at the full value of the shipment
Shipping and Breakage - Do you use just one primary carrier? Does the customer get a choice of carrier? What sort of packing arrangements are you going to make to generate a very high likelihood of the piece showing up in perfect condition?
Is there a provision in shipping charges for crating or special packing for fragile pieces?
Before you quote a shipping price, make sure you check at least two carriers for rate structure. Make certain you price the materials for a crate if required. There are additional things you can do safe-guard the shipment. For fragile items, you might include impact detectors in the package. A small impact detactor called a ShockWatchtm can be a valuable tool for protecting glass art, mixed media, sculpture, etc. They don't make it less likely that the contents will break if abused, but they do make it less likely that the package will be abused. The ShockWatchtm is glued right to the side of the box. The carrier can see it. It is a bit like a Nanny-Cam for your artwork. The driver will understand that if the box gets kicked or dropped, it will show up in the ShockWatchtm. An insurance adjuster seeing this will almost always instantly write a check for a damaged shipment.
Document your packaging... ESPECIALLY for fragile pieces. Take digital pictures. You can even forward copies of these to your customer showing them the piece they purchased on its way to them. It also removes all question of how the piece was packaged if the item is damaged and the packing has been removed from the box or thrown out. Customers sometimes complicate frieght insurance claims. Doing this can make it easier on them. Make sure this is done as a coutesy service and make certain that while you are eager to assist them with a breakage claim, the responsibility for the claim falls to them. The insurance claim becomes their full refund in case of breakage. Impress upon them the need for them to follow the freight carriers insurance rules when reporting a claim.
Actual Loss An item "lost" in shipping almost always turns out to have been delivered to a wrong address. Make very certain your shipping label is clearly printed, and properly affixed to the container. Also require that the package be signed for rather than dropped off with whatever neighbor happens to be handy. Just because people happen to live next door, doesn't attest to their honesty or their respect for the package contents.
Cases of Loss are actually more difficult in terms of collecting an insurance claim because loss isn't defensible. The carrier just bought a piece of artwork, and they have no idea yet where that piece is. They will ask your customer to be patient and wait a few days to give them time to try to find it. It may have been delivered to an address on a similarly named street or could be next door to the intended recipient.
In cases of loss, make sure your sales policy helps the customer understand that this is just like breakage except that there is a good chance the item can be found if the recipient is patient. If the item isn't found, their refund is the insurance on the shipment, not a refund from you. If you state this clearly, there are customers who will shy away. There are also customers who will totally understand and feel at ease knowing you have planned out the worst possible case to prevent them from losing the value of their investment.
This is part of selecting your carrier. Do they have a good reputation for covering damage and loss timely? This is one reason you should select the carrier with care. Sure the insurance should cover loss or damage, but if the customer has to jump through hoops of fire then your preperations to save him trouble will be for nothing. This is crucial to your reputation as a seller and as an artist. The Insurance and the carrier must be reliable and punctual. Online tracking is also a very valuable tool. Not only because it avoids lost packages and insurance claims, but because it provides your customer with a visual each day of the package as it approaches.
Insurance should not be limited to shipping. If you are an artist transporting and setting up work in a gallery or show, make certain that any and ALL persons handling your work will be insured or that the show sponser or gallery owner takes responsibility for any breakage during set up and display.
Include a death clause in your sales agreement if you are spending significant money to get a piece to a showing or finalized sale. I've only every heard of it happening the one time, but serious injury or death can happen to a buyer, or gallery owner and the show sponser could be hit by a bus the same as any of us. If you are spending a big handful of cash to transport your work, and you show up only to find the sale, or show has been cancled due to death or injury, you're stuck. Cover yourself by insuring that your effort and risk in moving your work is not lost. No one thinks to do this and they should if moving a piece could mean the possibility of loss, damage, or the financial burden of taking it back home.
Any warranties you plan to make.
Your Return Policy CYA - Return Policy and the conditions under which you accept returns.
Shipping arrangements, insurance fees, crating fees, handling fees, etc. with an explanation of exactly what each fee is for and whether it applies specifically to a particular item or group of items, or if it applies generally to all items you sell.
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