I refurbished the Buckles – classic shoes for ladies with small feet website in October and November, launching the new look in the second week of November.
Buckles, the shop in Loughborough, closed finally in October. With access to Biggin Street closed by pedestrian access and council works that seemed to go on for months, the customer base had dropped. The proprietor also had family reasons for closing.
The problem was what to do with the outstanding stock.
Firstly, the company decided that it would sell only its smallest sizes online, since this was a niche market. That means British shoe sizes from 13 to 3, or Continental sizes 32 to 35.
I was instructed to use PayPal as the purchase mechanism. There were several reasons for this.
- The company already had a PayPal merchant account, and did not want to make the commitment of subscribing to another payment system. PayPal takes a percentage of a sale, and does not require subscription.
- It's relatively easy to set up payment options on a website using PayPal, providing there aren't too many items. Otherwise, it becomes very time-consuming to list the items and obtain the code.
- It's now possible for anyone to make a payment using PayPal using a credit or debit card. Customers don't need to have a PayPal account.
My reservations are that PayPal, partly, at least, from being owned and used by eBay, has a mixed reputation. Personally, I have never had any problems with paying via PayPal, but some people have. You only need to hear of one or two bad experiences to begin to distrust an agency or organisation.
The problems probably come from tales of 'phishing', and from the vast anonymity of using the mechanism.
Let's consider 'phishing' first. Phishing is the name given to the practice of deceiving people online to give personal financial information, which is then exploited to defraud the unsuspecting individual of income from a transaction and also to clear out all funds in bank accounts. I am surprised that so many people never seem to question emails that they might get which they are not expecting, which urge them to yield up their personal information, and which they answer. There's a dearth of shrewd judgement in the world. And yet, I have received phishing emails from scammers purporting to be from eBay, and these emails have looked unnervingly real. Click on any of the links and you are taken to a website which can rake in all your details without you even realising.
If you get such an unexpected email apparently from eBay or PayPal, you should forward the email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Here's the relevant eBay page with information on how to avoid being defrauded and which will enable you to report phishing websites too. All other financial institutions which practice online will have similar policies and procedures to deal with phishing.
I found a dedicated anti-phishing website at Millersmiles.
With regard to the anonymity of PayPal, everything is fine providing the transaction does what is expected. But what if you have a question, or what if you want to return goods? Both customer and merchant could lose out by not knowing exactly how to complain or who to complain to. At least with a bank, you can always call in at a high street branch and demand to meet a manager.
My own feeling about the Buckles website is that it doesn't offer enough stock at the moment and maybe not even the fashions that people seek, even though it's very difficult for women with small feet to find shoes that both fit and really look good. One reason why we never trod the ecommerce path before was because many of the customers were not, then, knowledgeable about online transactions, and there's nothing like coming in to the shop to try on the stock. I'm hesitant about buying shoes online myself because I can never be certain about the sizes and the fittings. In which case the idea of having an online showcase seemed to make more sense.
It isn't enough to have a website. You need to be able to interact with visitors, try to define the customer base and keep them up to date with offers and new stock via email newsletters. At the very least, you need to examine your website access logs.
And you need to be able to offer a variety of payment options. An ecommerce solution such as OSCommerce or ZenCart might serve the purpose better which would make it easier for the clients to update stock levels themselves and also to offer direct credit/debit card payments as well as PayPal. Pay-per-click advertising is also an option. At this stage, it may not be worth the expense of an ad campaign given the value of the stock. In which case, we have to focus on natural language searches using the keywords that we have identified.
This item was first published on 8th December 2006.