Sunday, 23 August 2015

So You Want to Sell Toys Part 3A and 3B: The Customer Strikes Back!

In part one we looked at the numbers of selling toys, in part two we looked at selling and now in this third and final part it's time to look at customer service. This part will work as both a guide to people who want to open a business and a way for buyers to increase their chances of getting what they want when it comes to buying from sellers.

Open All Hours?
When it comes to your 'office hours', whether you work from a shop, an office, a warehouse, home or are a "bedroom seller" set your hours and stick to them. If you're using apps for Facebook, Twitter or other social media then switch them off when you're not working because you will get messages at all hours. Once you start replying at 3am then your customers will presume your customer service is 24/7 which is fine if that's what you're offering but if you don't offer it then never do it unless it's an emergency. It's not fair to set expectations in the mind of your customers that you can't live up to.

My car exploded but sure I'll check all 78 Arcees to send you the best one.

Never Tell Me the Odds
Of our customers about 30% are amazing people that I speak to regularly, some of which I consider to be good friends. 65% I very little contact with as they place their orders, their order is sent and that's it. On occasion there may be enquiries or brief coversations and they also tend to be lovely. Then there's the remaining 5%...

As Abraham Lincoln said, "You can please some of the people some of the time but never all of the people all of the time." Never have truer words been spoken and it's a very decent life lesson: Try to do good but be aware that no matter how hard you try someone will hate your guts. In a fandom where people become livid that Amazon didn't fulfill their order of 20 Masterpiece Optimus Primes (RRP £149.99) at £34.99 each it's unlikely that even Ghandi could participate and not honk someone off. Try your best, be honest and treat others how you'd like to be treated.

Masterpiece Optimus Prime Convoy
Not £34.99

That Old Chestnut
It costs 5 times as much to gain a new customer as it does to keep an existing one but as above, 95% of customers are brilliant and any problems can be resolved pretty reasonably. The other 5% though you actually do want to lose because they will be constant hard work who are far more effort than they are worth and frankly you'll  if you're finding a customer relationship difficult then it'll start to taint your dealings with other customers.The customer isn't always right. Usually, but not always.

That may sound harsh but we all know scammers are out there and some people's standards are too unrealistic like buying goods for Christmas on the 20th of December when they live in a different country. In any cross section of society you will also find difficult people who you can't get along with. Maybe it's them, maybe it's you or maybe you're just not a good match but if it's not working then walk away on good terms if possible.

Dealing With Difficult Demands
With any problem it's usually helpful, both as a seller or as a buyer, is to a) Put yourself in the other person's position and b) Give yourself a cooling off time if needed.

Sometimes a complaint can seem minor but if you reverse the roles you can often find that you'd be equally or even more annoyed if you were on the receiving end. We're all collectors and we all have our standards, it's sometimes easy to lose sight of that. Equally text doesn't convey tone so while an email may seem light hearted to the sender, it may not to the reader so sometimes it's best to wait an hour and re-read what you've typed before sending especially if the email is a bridge burner.

They won't always be back.

So a quick run down for sellers.

  • Communicate
  • Work with the customer, they pay your wage.
  • Put yourself in their place
  • If you made a mistake put it right!
  • Be patient
  • Your best. Whether you're a business or selling as a hobby you owe it to your customer to treat them the same way you'd like to be treated.
  • Set realistic targets. 
  • Remember that the names on the screen are people. Give people the benefit of the doubt and try to be kind,  you don't know what sort of day they are having or what's happening in their life. Henry Rollins perfectly sums it up in this (explicit language) amazing video.


  • Lie. You'll be found out. If there's a problem with an order own up to it.
  • Promise what you can't deliver. Goods, despatch times, everything needs to be realistic. 
  • Speak ill of customers especially to other customers.

3B - For Buyers: How to get What You Want

I've covered most things for retailers so it's only fair that I do a short guide but buyers. Some of you may take offense at what you're about to read but that's not my intention, my intention here is some gentle pointers of how you can perhaps avoid some pitfalls when buying in person or online. A lot of advice has been put out there about getting discounts etc but without proper explanation.

I spoke with some fellow traders and here's the main hates of sellers -

1. Hagglers/Price Matchers
2. Tyre Kickers
3. "I saw this at"/Unrealistic Trade Ins
4. Perfectionists
5. Eastenders

1. Hagglers
Haggling is fine but knowing when to haggle is a start. Online stores generally aren't worth trying to haggle with - they are cheaper than shops because of lower overheads and most offer subsidised or free postage on top.

At a convention you'll notice that the prices are higher than online, this is because the seller has extra expenses like travel, accommodation, food etc. However most will mark the prices up a bit because they know buyers will haggle. Also for a seller at a show, the less they have to pack and bring home the better so the last day of the show towards the end is the best time to ask as there'll be more leeway.

Being realistic in how much discount you ask for is key here.

£24.99, yes. £10, no chance.
We recently put up a load of Hot Spots for auction at £29.99 with an offer option. Every single person who offered £24.99 or above had their offer accepted because it's a respectable offer and again, we'd upped the prices for Ebay to allow for haggling and fees (they were £22.99 if you bought directly from the Masterforce site).

£165 of goods for £55?

This gentleman is the perfect example of how people do things completely wrong. 1. He had never bought from me before, either as Masterforce or personally 2. He name dropped someone I didn't know in the hope it would give him special treatment 3. These items are already on sale. This means that there's no profit on them anymore. 4. He's asked for them at a ridiculously low price. £165 of goods for £55 isn't a request, it's an insult.

That may sound dramatic but imagine going into work on a Monday morning and being told by your boss that as you do such a good job, how about he pays you less than a third of your salary for the next month? Would you think it was a cheeky offer and chuckle about it or would your reply be two words long with the second one being "off"?

Logically, why would any retailer give a massive discount to someone they don't know? If anyone is going to get discount it's going to be the people who have supported the business the most.

On the other hand...

The cause of many bleeding wallets

Recently a semi regular customer emailed asking about a full set of Warbotron's Bruticus, acknowledging that the mark up was low on it but was there any wiggle room if he bought all of the parts in one go. That is the perfect example - noting that they don't expect a huge discount (low markups) and enquiring if it was a possibility.

This is akin to your boss saying that you're doing really well but is there any chance you could do an extra hour for free just to finish off some bits as there's a deadline looming. You're much more likely to comply with this request because it's reasonable and he's given you the option to say no.

In short, if you're going to ask for discount then be reasonable, ask for a small discount and if you get a 'no' don't take it to heart. The best way to get discount is to be a regular buyer because no one is going to give discount to someone who supports the competition.

Similarly price matching is absolutely fine when comparing like with like. Price matching another UK retailer is a fair request and most sellers will agree if they are able to. Asking a UK seller to price match a Chinese seller, not so much. Toys are cheaper in the US and China because they are part of continents, the UK is a tiny island so there's shipping costs, import duty and VAT to consider so products will always be more expensive here. Sure if you lived in China you could buy a figure for two thirds of the price but then you'd be getting paid an awful lot less than your current wage...

Sure there are cheap toys but you only earn the equivalent of 40p an hour for working here.

2. Tyre Kickers
The name 'tyre kicker' is taken from car selling - it's when a potential buyer comes for a look at the car, has no real intention of buying and will kick the tyres as a way of showing some sort of interest. They are bored, killing time and aren't serious. A lot of people will happily do the online equivalent by asking questions that are easily answered elsewhere, but there's not one question, there's a string of them each in a separate email to draw the conversation out (known as email ping pong). The last one will usually be "OK well I haven't got any money at the moment but in two weeks if you still have it I may buy it."

Having questions even if they can be answered elsewhere is cool, but ask if you're seriously interested and can afford the item then and there. Increasingly tyre kickers simply get their emails ignored by companies - you can see this on social media where people are angrily posting about how they emailed Amazon/Toys R Us/their mobile phone provider/the cable company a bunch of times and got no response. They got no response because it's the online equivalent of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Fun Fact: in 2012 a survey found that 70% of all complaints made on social media to various companies were ignored.

3. "I saw this at..."/Unrealistic Trade Ins

"I saw this on Ebay for x price" and so on. Market value is subjective and because it was on discount somewhere or someone overpaid on Ebay it doesn't mean that's now the price. A few weeks ago we dropped the Masterpiece G2 Bumblebee to £34.99 for a day and sold out. That doesn't mean every seller now is going to match that price. It simply means we dumped our stock, full stop.

An extension of this is "But on Ebay they sell for x price" when it comes to trade ins. For a seller, they are looking to pay 40% of an item's Ebay value and so if you're selling to a retailer/seller you won't get the full price because the retailer has to tie their money up, take pictures, list the items for sale, possibly reduce them at a later date and then pay taxes on their sale. Also you will get lower value if your items are less desireable. Which would you prefer - a brand new mint sealed Masterpiece or an 8 year old figure with paint wear and missing parts? Funnily enough, the retailer is in the same boat too as he'd prefer the new product which will sell against the beat up one that nearly no one wants.

If you're looking to sell there are plenty of Facebook groups you can sell on and of course Ebay. If you do choose to sell to a retailer it'll be less hassle for you but for that convenience you'll get less money. Again, this is where realistic haggling can come in. If you want trade you'll do better than asking for cash and if what you want isn't brand new and a hot seller you're more likely to get what you want. So if you are offered £50 in cash, ask for the credit price. You may then get £75. From there you can counter with, "It's a bit cheeky but I've got my eye on x product at £84.99, is there any chance of a straight trade?" You may get a no, but you may also get a counter of your items plus £5 = the item you want. It's all about compromise so you both walk away happy.

4. Perfectionists
This was briefly covered before with Pop! Vinyl collectors - products are packed to make it to retail and that's it. Hasbro, Funko, Mattel, Takara, Bandai etc don't care about boxes and creases. If you collect 100% mint boxes with absolutely no flaws whatsoever it's understandable that you'd want them in the best condition possible, but the solution is to buy in bricks and mortar stores where you can take a look and see which ones are acceptable.The odds of a product being mint after it's been handled in a factory, packed into a box with no packing material then shipped from China to the UK and then from the seller to yourself is negligible. Hell, most airlines can't even get your luggage on the same plane as you so mint boxes? No hope.

As before, packaging is increasingly being cheaply made. It's frustrating to be a mint collector especially in current climates but it's not possible for retailers to send out multiple consignments of the same item and pay return shipping. Equally certain defects in paint or quality control are to be expected - a mass produced product will have inconsistencies and possibly design flaws. If an arm drops off that's unacceptable but slight uneveness in paint application is probably going to be found on every single one.

Personally some items I will always buy in a real world store and I recommend it for anyone else who has certain standards that can't be fairly met by online shopping. It's far less stressful if you have your own choice than relying on someone else to send you something you may or may not be happy with. If you can live with some minor defects then ask your retailer if you can pay extra for a 'collector's grade' product than any old one out of the box.

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth! No truth-handler, you. BAH! I deride your truth-handling abilities.

5. Eastenders
Here in the UK, Eastenders is a soap opera which features more drama then is humanly imaginable, oh and terrible terrible acting (yes that clip is genuine).

When something goes wrong, fairly often the customer will include words like 'disappointed', 'angry', 'upset', frustrated' and on occasion 'I have lost all faith in....', 'best customer', I was going to order...' and so on. There's a time and a place for these terms but using them in the first email is often overly dramatic and hurts your chances of the problem being's kinda like a footballer taking a dive when someone's barely touched him (Boy Who Cried Wolf Again).

How should complaints be dealt with? In business, especially within human resources there is a phrase that is known as 'The S#!t Sandwich' - The bread is praise with a filling of...well, bad stuff. In the case of an email it would be along the lines of:


I received my parcel the other day, thank you as always for the quick delivery. (Praise) Unfortunately there was a problem with [nature of problem], what can we do to resolve this? (The bad stuff) Thanks again for everything, look forward to hearing from you. (praise)"

This way you're opening nicely, you're then factually addressing the issue while leaving it in the retailer's hands to suggest a resolution and closing with more praise. That may all seem too flowery but being nice usually gets better results than aggression and dramatics and leaving it to the seller to decide may get you more than you would have asked for.

"I opened [product] yesterday and there was [problem]!!! I'm so disappointed with [company] and their products, this was supposed to be a treat for myself after a bad week and this just made it so much worse. I don't know why I even bother anymore! I want my money back by [date] or I'll go to Paypal"

Sadly, from speaking to other sellers, a significant number of complaints are written along those lines.

I'm not suggesting that retailers need buttering up or are sensitive souls but which of those would you go further for in resolving the problem? The first one, right? Again this comes back to role reversal and treating others how we want to be treated ourselves. It's incredibly frustrating to have a problem with a purchase but aggression, threats and drama isn't likely to bring out the best in another human being.

Obviously if the reply is unsatisfactory then it's time to escalate things but using the same sandwich and facts method:


Thank you for getting back to me about [the problem] and suggesting [solution] but I'd much rather [solution of refund/replacement/whatever is appropriate]. I look forward to your reply."

Again it's sticking to facts and now being assertive in stating what you want. If that is unsuccessful:

"I'm very sorry but that isn't an acceptable solution for me. As I've said, I'm more than happy to [your suggestion] and I'd prefer us to resolve this amicably as your service has always been great . I'm afraid I'm going to have to take this to Paypal if we can't reach a resolution by [date]."

No dramatics, just facts and still the odd bit of praise. The reply you want to send is probably laced with profanities but keeping calm is always better and if it does go to a Paypal decision, it'll undermine your position if they see you being abusive in previous emails. The bits of praise are there because it can (believe it or not) sway someone and make them think at the last minute, "actually they have been a good customer..."

These examples above may seem like they don't convey the disappointment, frustration and anger associated with the problem but are they relevant? Not really. You're really not going to get a better result by using these terms. The phrases "good customer"/"best customer" and "I was about to spend x but now I'm going elsewhere" should never be used simply because they are arrogant and usually wrong. Let's face it, you never were going to spend that amount you're saying it as a last kick in the crotch and both sides know it. Stick to the facts and keep your composure and dignity as it'll get you a much more generous solution.

Just to be clear here, I know these from using both tactics myself and thinking afterwards that I sounded like a complete idiot.

Breaking stuff and shouting is great until you have to tidy up.

To get the best results:
  • Be a regular customer
  • When asking for discounts go small
  • Check the site first. If you can't find the answer then ask in one email.
  • If it absolutely must be mint, trying paying a little bit extra or make life easier and go with in store purchases
  • When trading in remember you won't get market value, you'll be lucky to get half
  • When there's a problem keep a cool head and play the smart game to get what you want.

That's the end of the So You Want to Sell Toys series, I hope you've enjoyed it and it's given you an insight into the business. Either as a collector, seller or both, never forget that the idea is to enjoy the hobby :)