It is inevitable when running a busy e-commerce business that things go wrong from time to time.   Everyone makes mistakes and in my business, carelessness may lead to dispatching the wrong size of print or the wrong number of prints – or, on a bad day, both!   This usually leads to a customer complaint.

How to deal with customer complaints

This is an easy one – if it is your fault it is always best to put your hand up and admit the error.  Apologise and communicate with your customer at the earliest opportunity to let him/her know your intended actions to rectify the situation.   You may now be thinking “oh duh, that’s obvious” but I have been on the receiving end of sellers that don’t give a damn and it made me, as the customer, furious and determined to never buy again from that person.   Also we live in the days of feedback so it is worth solving any problems quickly and efficiently.  Depending on the scale of your error it may be worth considering some small recompense.   I will sometimes send an extra A4 print by way of an apology.

In all the years that I have been selling canvases I have only had one returned and that was via Amazon with a “not what I was expecting for £59 thank you , I could have bought better at a discount store”.  Considering that I use top quality canvas, FSC certified pine frames, top of the range Canon printers and frame each canvas carefully myself in the studio, I was not best chuffed to be compared with a mass produced product.      I became very very shouty indeed and felt like travelling to Aberdeen to give the customer what my mum used to call “a piece of my mind”.   When I had calmed down I had to accept that the framed canvas wasn’t what she wanted and had to respect her opinion, hold my tongue and arrange to recover my canvas (by that stage I didn’t want her to have it anyway!!!!…… but then I’m off again).

Errors are particularly irritating when the fault lies with others, especially if you are paying for a service and the service provider messes up big time.   I use Hermes for my UK deliveries and on the whole they are very good but a nightmare to deal with if a parcel goes astray.

When things go wrong with Hermes and other courier services

I send hundreds and hundreds of canvases each year without incident so I really can’t complain too much about Hermes. I  have a good working relationship with Alex and Jacqui who collect sometimes up to 16 canvases from me and on a cold winter’s night I can only admire their hardiness.     However when canvases go astray, this means hours and hours on “live chat” with Hermes live chat room.    The employees on “live chat” are friendly but are working to a script so don’t expect much.   The most effective way is to prepare your case thoroughly as a word document and get photographs, screen shots etc. lined up ready to attach to this document.   Email it to Hermes who will open up an incident number.  The next day and the next and the next, email in your complaint and each day an incident number with have to be generated and eventually the penny drops that you are NOT going to give in!

It is important to remember that the contract is between you and the courier and not your customer and the courier.   Although I send my customer the tracking number, if there is any problem at all, I assure them that the problem is mine and the issue is between myself and Hermes.  When things go awry, customers can get very heated and I have been in situations where a considerable amount of my day has been taken up liaising with Hermes in trying to nail a delivery time whilst at the same time trying to placate my customer.  Often the incident is caused by a lazy driver at their end who makes no attempt to deliver a parcel until he has more parcels in that locale.   I know that happens and I’m sure Hermes knows that happens but will they admit it!!

Fedex are excellent, especially their International Priority Service which means I can export a canvas to the USA and it will arrive the next day.    Despite the nightmare of the detailed input required on their website to generate all the necessary export documentation, Fedex do the job efficiently unless it means exporting to South Africa.   Both times that I have exported to South Africa I have been left out of pocket as the South African customs demand more money – usually in the region of £40.        There is no problem exporting via Fedex to USA, Australia, Canada or New Zealand so I’m not sure what the situation is with South Africa but in future any orders from my customers will have to carry a £40 excess.

Despite investing in a great website, spending hours and hours thinking of the best phrases to use in listings, preparing postal tariffs that are uncomplicated you can guarantee something will go wrong……..


If there is a way to mess things up a customer will find it!

You may thing it is straightforward to type in an address and postcode.   Nope, that is often where the first error lies and only comes to light when you find there is a conflict of addresses and/or postcode on the courier’s data base.   It’s easily rectified but it takes time and energy to contact a customer either by phone or email and on a busy day this isn’t what you want to be doing.

Sometimes your customer is required to follow instructions.  This is at the top of my website listing for the Thistle and Clan Tartan print……

“IMPORTANT:  With your order I will need to know the STA or STWR Ref Number and the name of your clan tartan/plaid from the Scottish Tartan Register.  It’s very easy – just log on to and type the name of your tartan into their search box. What to do next…..On the checkout page of my website there is a box marked ORDER NOTES and it is here that you can inform me of your tartan name and STA/STWR Ref Number to identify the exact tartan that you require.”

Despite the above I will often receive tartan names without STA numbers, STA numbers without tartan names, attachments of hazy photographs of unidentified tartan samples and requests for help via long strings of communications via facebook.   I have to accept that this is part of my job and do what I can to help, after all it will lead to a sale so it’s best of get on with it and be as helpful as possible. 

One perpetual headache that Chris and I encountered was the confusion caused by the unframed canvas.  There was clearly a problem with the word “unframed”.  The canvases are box framed (i.e. stapled around a wooden frame) but I also sell the canvases unframed and rolled in a tube which are popular if the customer lives overseas.    Despite the “unframed” option on my website being accompanied by a photograph of a rolled canvas, customers would interpret “unframed” as not having an additional frame around the outside of the pine frame so were disappointed to receive a canvas rolled in a tube.  No matter how many times Chris and I changed the wording, there was still confusion, until Chris came up with the brainwave of calling these “rolled” rather than  “unframed” – sorted!

If customers don’t always read the words, photographs can help.    They are also invaluable in another way…..

How to help the customer to visualise your product in their home

There are photo stock companies on the internet which have gorgeous professional  photographs you can use if you pay a licence fee.    I use You can subscribe for £45 per year but I prefer to buy on demand……£25 will buy you 3 photographs, £35 will buy 6, £69 will buy 12.  Once downloaded you can use the photographs again and again so it’s cheap as chips in the long run.   IMPORTANT – don’t ever use photographs off the internet as all photos are the property of the photographer and you will be in deep doo doo if you download someone else’s image without permission.




The classic black dresser and the beautiful lamp on a background of blue wall and striped curtain

Using photoshop I place my canvases on the “wall” of  an Istock interior.  It’s all about life style and aspiration these days and if your customer sees a fabbydabby interior decorated with your product she/he may be tempted to buy.    

Because I sell my A4 and A3 prints unframed I find it leads to more sales if I post the print on social media displayed in a frame.    This I do through photoshop using a photograph that I have taken of readymade frames from discount stores and point my customers towards outlets such as The Range and Wilko where they can obtain a frame for as little as £5.       I also enclose framing slips within the packaging of my A4 and A3 prints in the hope that once the customer sees that a print can be framed quickly and cheaply they will more readily come back for more.

Do you keep a data base and/or send a newsletter?

This is probably going against every other bit of advice regarding running an ecommerce business.  I know you are supposed to keep a data base and bombard your customers with offers/weekly newsletters etc. but personally I find that really annoying!    I hate receiving spammy stuff from businesses and don’t want to know about their latest products/schemes or anything else to do with their business.   I’m sounding very grumpy here and maybe you are into that kind of thing,  but it is not for me.

I am uber grateful for every order that I receive and along with acknowledgement of their order and any tracking details, my customers get a “thank you for your custom – much appreciated”.     That’s it, I  then leave them alone. So this one is very much in your court. You may think keeping a data base and sending latest product information is for you or you may, like me, dislike that kind of intrusion.

Despite all your best efforts you can’t please everyone all of the time….

What to do about negative comments on your website/social media

The most important word here is “transparency”.  It says a lot for your business if you are happy to accept criticism and deal with things out in the open.   If someone leaves a negative message on your social media page you can turn this to your advantage.    It is best to acknowledge the remark and if it is a complaint that requires further investigation, explain what you are going to do.   You can always use humour……when I invited folk to comment on a thistle canvas, one guy wrote “I’ve seen better!”   Personally I thought that was hilarious and the exchange between him and myself became good hearted banter, all out in the open for everyone to enjoy.       Don’t, whatever you do, contact the complainant and ask that the negative comment be removed.   Believe me, hundreds of people will have already read it and will be very suspicious if the comment suddenly disappears.    You will destroy any trust in your or your business in an instant.

Well, hopefully your feedback this week will all have been good……Bye for now