I have to admit upfront that I am somewhat biased here.
More than biased—I am actually pretty pissed. Not only because BabyCart failed to keep their commitments to their customers but also because they treated these customers appallingly after receiving many well-earned complaints.
I also run an online business, and for years I have spent hours each day crafting its reputation and encouraging trust from South African customers. It’s difficult to conduct a business purely online, where you often do not physically meet the client. You need to structure your company’s online presence with the wary customer in mind; this begins by creating a solid online brand and platform.
Your ‘online platform’ is the term used to describe your company’s presence in all forms on the internet. It includes the obvious channels, like your website, and other less obvious channels such as your Facebook page, Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, etc. It has taken many years to actively cultivate my presence online to reflect the trustworthiness of my business.
Such efforts at improving an online image are tarnished when another local online business, operating out of Pretoria, South Africa, starts operations without making customer-satisfaction their first priority, or any kind of priority at all.
I can’t help thinking that my dealings with potential customers will now be that much more difficult, as I rely on customers’ trust for them to do business with me. Maybe they were a customer of Babycart, or just an observer; either way, this total lack of a service-ethic hurts all online businesses in the country.
The BabyCart Modus Operandi
This particular fiasco started with the BabyCart business owner, Britney de Lange, posting an advert selling nappies on Facebook. Now, as a male who pleads ignorance to anything remotely baby-related, I can only assume that R160 for two boxes of Huggies nappies is some kind of bargain, based on the number of times the advert was shared online and the minor frenzy it created within new-mom communities.
This Facebook advert then spread, presumably very fast, judging by the amount of unhappy customers (numbering well over 150 from recent reports). The advert was shared across the Facebook and Twitter platforms by excited mommies who just wanted to save money.
(As a side note – at the time of writing, the BabyCart website is still very new, so I think most of the BabyCart victims would have been found via Facebook.)
What happened after the initial flood of orders is somewhat vague, but after sifting through the growing number of online complaints against BabyCart, it seems that orders for nappies starting from mid-April 2015 were simply not honoured, and by that I mean they were not delivered at all—no reasons given, nothing.
Searching online, it is not hard to see that this business only came online somewhere in March 2015. With problems starting as early as April, it tells me two things:
- Firstly, this business owner was not prepared at all; she had no plans for how to handle the flood of orders that came as result of her Facebook marketing.
- Interestingly, it also suggests that she must have had a good business idea, gauging by the initial interest shown by the moms.
The Real Problem
So far, the story seems fairly straightforward, right?
A South African “entrepreneur” launches the BabyCart.co.za online business in March 2015 and, unprepared for the success of the concept, and subsequent ordering and delivery of baby-related products, she falls far behind on her initial orders. Realising she is sitting on a potential gold-mine, she gets back on the wagon, apologising profusely to all aggrieved customers and offering a full money-back return on all orders placed. Once the last unhappy customer has been appeased, she starts the business up again. This time around, she benefits from the understanding of how important her customers really are and that she will need to have solid business systems in place before she “opens the tap”.
The problem? This never happened.
What actually followed the initial missed-deliveries was a deluge of customer complaints on various platforms, and then a very telling interview with the business owner on live radio. After being inundated by email and sms complaints, Radio 702 managed to get the owner on the line. (Being hard to get hold of – #mistake) This interview should be studied for years to come in classrooms of aspiring business owners as the worst possible response to unhappy customers.
702 Talk Radio Interview
I first picked up on the Babycart saga during the interview, where Britney, the owner of BabyCart.co.za, was being questioned by consumer-champion Xolani Gwala. You can listen to the complete audio-disaster by visiting the interview-recordings directly from the 702 website.
You will most likely cringe, as I did, listening to the excuses, complaints and infantile tantrums thrown out by this business-owner as she shirked her way through all her commitments to her paying customers. She used phrases such as “doing the customers a favour” by “allowing them to collect their orders” from a third-party’s house in Pretoria; luckily, Xolani picked up on this and took her to task on the choice of words.
Many times during the interview I listened as she voiced her frustration at having to deal with unhappy customers (really?) and running out of excuses, she eventually seemed to lay the blame for the missed deliveries on her courier. (From her website, I see she was making use of Fastway couriers; I would love to hear their side of the story.)
Saying sorry – what BabyCart should have done
Some advice from a business owner: sometimes all it takes is an honest apology. People make mistakes; I don’t think we are heartless enough to crucify a business owner who realises they have made an honest mistake and tries to make amends.
Britney from BabyCart, here is how you could have handled the dropped balls (nappies?)
- Call each and every customer (yep, all 150+) and apologise for your mistake, assuring them that you are doing your best to fix the backlog of orders and that they (the paying customer) have not been forgotten about. Where the customer is not available, leave a voice message. Customers should be given the option of :
- A full monetary refund or
- An alternative product purchase from your website for the same value (many customers would no longer need the nappies.)
- Follow up on your calls with emails to the customers, again apologising for your mistake, and giving a new deadline for the outstanding deliveries to be made. This date you commit to must not be missed. Deliver the orders that you can in person; this will help keep you grounded.
- Refund the customers who have requested that option, following up with an email of apology to these customers.
- Stick to your promised delivery deadline, keeping the customers up-to-date at all times with email correspondence.
- Where you miss the second deadline, refund the client immediately, even if the product eventually gets delivered.
- Release a statement, posted on your website, admitting to the mistake and apologising. You will need to counter much of the negative links prospective customers will now be finding through online searches by releasing your own “controlled” statements through your platforms.
The goal of this exercise should not be holding on to the “profits” you made through the initial “sales”. You messed up and have let down many people in the process. You need to switch to customer-satisfaction mode. Carry out the recommended steps above even though you will potentially be losing money.
Defensiveness has no place in your interactions with the unhappy customers; empathy and understanding are needed.
How to protect yourself from untrustworthy online businesses
So back to the original point, BabyCart has hurt other online businesses by creating a flock of disillusioned customers who will think twice before paying money to another online business. These customers will have friends and family who might also contract the scepticism.
Here are some tips, on how to better protect yourself whilst deciding to do business with a particular (online) supplier:
Search online using the company name and including search-terms like “scam”.
For example entering “babycart scam” into Google, will give you numerous results that each give ample reason to stay away from this particular business.
Using/searching complaints directories such as HelloPeter.com
Have a look at the growing list from HelloPeter.com listing numerous complaints from unhappy clients of BabyCart.co.za:
Notice how many complaints there are? Each of these complaints will float around in the internet ether and haunt the company’s online presence for some time as they appear in the upper regions of related search results.
For those of you who might not know, HelloPeter is a great resource to list complaints/ compliments about certain companies. The benefits of using HelloPeter are numerous:
- Due to the high traffic of the website, your complaints will always be highly visible on Google searches containing the company name. This ensures that any future potential customers doing their homework will be alerted.
- Companies often reply to and have dedicated teams of people who monitor complaints made on HelloPeter, and they will help you outside of the normal complaints channels. (This only tends to happen with larger companies.)
- Just remember that your complaints will be kept online for a minimum of a year, so think carefully about your wording before you post your complaint.
Use social media
Have a quick glance at a particular company’s social media platform/s, keeping an eye out for three things:
- Positive testimonials/ reviews
- That the content is regularly updated (This indicates a business trying to grow)
This is what you would have found if you searched Facebook for posts related to BabyCart.
More subtle signs that might be cause for concern when shopping online:
A brand-new company
This is self-explanatory: a new online venture such as BabyCart obviously had not yet properly tested its systems to handle customer complaints, or how to effectively deliver product to its clients on time. There are a few ways to estimate the company’s age, the easiest being the age of posts on the Facebook/ Twitter platforms. You can also look up a domain WHOIS. Here is the domain query for BabyCart which indicates that the domain (website) was opened early in March 2015.
An empty blog
Any online business worth their salt will know that if you start a blog, you should commit to regularly update it with interesting information for your target market. Only create the blog if you are able to update it at least once a month. This applies equally to Facebook and Twitter profiles: busy is better!
Babycart’s blog was not even populated as of the time of writing, more than 3 months after opening its doors; this is a big mistake for companies who have made the decision to start a blog.
I really hope that the customers of Babycart.co.za have their money returned. I wish I could reassure each customer that not all South African online businesses conduct themselves in the same manner. For fellow business owners, I hope we won’t be judged by the actions of one inexperienced individual.
Customers, do your homework, use common sense and stay safe.