Thursday, 22 February 2018

Stolen Identity?

Ok; it's not quite as drastic as the title of this post makes it sound, however, by the end of reading this entry (if you've not nodded off) I think you'll agree there's not really anything else I could have put - well, nothing which is repeatable on a family friendly page :)

The easiest way to explain, is to relay a phone conversation I had earlier. 

Customer: "I just wanted to check you are the florist in Fareham Park Road"
I replied: "I am indeed, right next to the chip shop" (everyone knows the chippy).
Customer: "Oh thank goodness; last time I called you I ended up ordering through someone completely different, and I've no idea how because I googled your shop".

I am hearing customers tell me this so very often now I almost feel as if I should be answering the phone with "Good morning (or afternoon) Moonstones, the florist in FPR next to the chippie" which I am sure will agree would be quite a mouthful :) 

In the past 2 weeks I've received 5 complaints about flowers - none of which have been ordered through me. Now, while this is great in one way, because it means whoever is receiving the orders is making mistakes, it's not-quite-so-good in another. If I've had so many people take the time to contact me with a complaint, how many haven't taken the time to do so, instead just bad mouthing my shop to their friends? This is not-so-great at all, for they could be bad mouthing me about an order I've had nothing to do with, and know nothing about.

People thinking they were coming through to me, when in fact they aren't, was brought to my attention earlier this year when a regular customer phoned me. He'd recently lost his phone, hadn't backed up his contacts to the cloud (always back up your contacts lovely people, it saves an awful lot of hassle :) ). As a result, when he went to call the shop he had to use google to get the number. He told me he typed in 'Moonstones Florist' - nothing more, nothing less, looked at the results (without actually paying full attention) saw there was a "Call Now" button, pressed it, and assumed he was going to be connected directly to me. He told me when the call was answered he said "Hi, Sarah, it's .................; can you sort me out some flowers for my Mum". Whomever he spoke to (and it could be one of many different shops/companies who are employing the decoy tactics I will explain in a minute) never bothered to correct him, instead leading him to believe he was talking to me. It was only when the person the other end asked him for his Mum's name and address he realised something was wrong. You see, I know his Mum really well; have done for years. I know her name, where she lives, I even know what flowers she likes. When he phones me he'll tell me if they're for his Mum, Sister, Girlfriend, Nan or Secretary - they are the only people he sends flowers to, and I know all of their names and addresses and the flowers they like (that's what I love about regular customers and local businesses - this is why you should always try to shop local; you won't get those personal touches with a large chain or company). He hung the call up, had another scootch through google, finally coming across my number and rang me as he intended to originally (storing my number in his phone, promising me he will always back up when he adds someone from now on).

How was he able to get the wrong number? Simple - whoever he called had used our name (Moonstones) in their keywords for their google advert. Because I don't pay to advertise on google they automatically came above me. He didn't bother to check properly, assuming because he'd only put 'moonstones florist' in, he would find me at the top. Had he put "fareham florist" or "moonstones fareham" he could easily have got anyone who uses the tag "fareham", however, just typing in our name, he should only have got us. It's a tactic employed by a lot of businesses, and while it's totally unethical, it's not illegal. Anyone, anywhere, can use the name of another business to direct customers to their business, and there's nothing any of us can do about it. From Bournemouth to Brighton, Brading to Basingstoke, anyone in could put Moonstones florist, Moonstones Ltd (our official name) or Flowers by Moonstones (all names customers use when searching for us) into their keywords, therefore directing customers away from us, to them. It doesn't just have to be florists; builders, bakers and butchers can do so too if they wish - in fact anyone who pays for a google advert can do it. 

A few years ago M & S started to use interflora words in their keywords, so they took them to court - ironic really when several of their members all over the country were using their own local competitors business names in their keywords to siphon off orders to themselves. A lot of 'order gatherers' employ these tactics too (these are people who set-up websites in their living rooms with photos of flowers on; people who have never stepped foot in a florist, yet they will take orders from unsuspecting customers, duping them into believing they are dealing with a florist, and then spend an hour ringing around shops in the area the order is be delivered, in the hope they can find someone to fulfill the order they have taken). There are many of these companies out there, and most can be found in the paid advert sections (those which appear right at the top of any search page). 

I know, and am fully aware, what they are doing is nothing like having your identity stolen - or is it? These businesses are masquerading as another business for the sole purpose of extorting money from the customers, just as someone who has stolen another's identity masquerades as the person whose identity they have stolen - for the sole purpose of extorting money. It may not cause the same stress as faking a person, but it can be just as damaging. Whilst distressing for anyone who has had it happen to them (I have friends whose identities have been stolen) they usually (in 99.9% of cases) are able to get their money back, have any issues sorted out and dealt with, and can move on with their lives; albeit in a much more cautious manner than before. A business can't recoup so easily. As I've mentioned above, how many people are wandering around out there right now, thinking they've called me and I've let them down? It takes 1000 good reviews to earn you 10 customers, but just 1 bad review to lose you 100. Those figures, to a small business, can be catastrophic. How many people believe they have ordered their loved ones flowers through me, when in fact they have ordered them through someone sitting behind a computer screen in their pyjamas, who has never stepped foot in a florist before? How many shops out there are using their competitors name to (backhandedly) steal customers away? 

I am all for competition; it keeps us all on our toes, makes us constantly think about what we are doing, and can only benefit our customers as we will go out of the way to ensure we never lose a single one. Competition is key to any successful business. However, competition should always be fair. It should be about who is the best, provides the best, put's themselves out the best. It should never be about using someone else's name to siphon off customers to your shop/business or web page. Not only is that unethical, it's also extremely sad. I'd rather earn my customers through my hard work and service, than duping them into believing they are dealing with someone else. 

Still, in a weird way I suppose I (and all those other businesses who are being spoofed) should be flattered. If another business has to use mine (their) name to get themselves customers, rather than earning them on their own merit, then I (we) must be doing something right :) 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Best laid plans :)

Goodness me; 5 weeks into the new year already and all my plans to update our social media pages daily (or every other day J ) and to write some waffle to fill the blog each week, have (as always) gone completely out of the window J

What a start to 2018 we have had. If the rest of the year continues in the same vein (not sure if that is the right vein to be using – I’m sure someone out there will correct me if I am wrong!!) then this could well be our best year ever. It’s been a phenomenal start, and for that, and each and every customer who has walked through the doors, telephoned an order through, or placed an order online, I am truly grateful and extremely thankful. You are the reason I drag my fat bum out of bed each morning J

The start of this year has also been a beautiful time for flowers (if you follow our Instagram you will have seen the gorgeous green hellebore I had in this week – they were stunning).

The quality we’ve been receiving has been second-to-none, and while flowers are costing more than previous year (the pound doing so poorly against the euro is really affecting prices) I think you will all agree that as with anything, you ‘get what you pay for’.  The 2 photographs below I took this morning; they are from the display hand tied I have in the shop, which I made up on Monday 22nd January. 17 days ago. As you can see they still look as good as the day I made them. Admittedly it is most likely slightly colder in the shop than in your own homes, however, in your homes you would have taken them out of their box by now, conditioned them every few days, and kept them away from heat sources and drafts; I have done nothing to these except top their water up, so in effect we’d be on the ‘same page’. I do still have some carnations indoors that I took home on Christmas Eve.

Spring flowers are coming in thick-and-fast right now too and have been for a few weeks. Double tulips this year have been the best I’ve ever seen in all my hundreds of years in the trade. I guess the dutch had good growing weather. I had some gorgeous double daffodils in for an order yesterday (which were mixed with lilacs and purples – such gorgeous colours together) although I do still prefer to see daffs in a garden (or the side of a road) than in a shop. Of course, a bunch in a vase on your dining or coffee table will always be a welcome sight; I just prefer if they are picked from your own garden. I actually saw some on Tuesday morning in full bloom at the edge of someone’s garden. I know the weather has been a lot milder (until this week) but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them out quite-so-early. Our seasons really are causing our flowers to bloom at the wrong time.

I need to apologise to those of you who couldn’t keep track of me the week I was poorly – I’ll put the record straight now on what happened that week, for I have heard so many different reasons as to why I had to close the shop, some of which have made me chuckle and others have made me stand there shaking my head wondering what kind of person could dream up such a thing in the first place? Anyway. The real reason is because I caught chickenpox. I know, at my age! As a result a doctor signed me off sick for 10 days, however, I had orders coming out of my ears, and was busier than a busy person, so I still had to come to work, but, all the time I was contagious I wasn’t allowed to open the shop, hence why it was closed for a week. A couple of you I was able to serve through the closed shop door (sorry for scaring you with my spots J ) but many of you I had to let down by not being here, for once I had completed each day’s orders I did take the advice of my doctor and took myself off home again. I can tell you now I have never experienced anything like it, and would not wish it upon my worst enemy (if I had any, that is J ). We sure do need to be careful what we wish for, because as a child I desperately wanted to catch it so I could have time off like my family and friends were. I never got it, had to sit in school classes on my own while everyone else was off with them (and other childhood diseases). Some 40 years later they decided to finally put in an appearance and I still didn’t get to have time off!  Sorry about the grumpy looking photo, but I was concentrating more on getting the spots in focus than on my expression; this was taken on only my 2nd day. The following morning all the gaps I had between them were filled with more. It’s been over 3 weeks and I still have some.