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 :)