As the esteemed blogger Scaryduck (I am not worthy, etc) recently observed, St Ebeneezer's Day - "the first day that Christmas displays appear in shops and public houses" - has well and truly occurred.
Speaking from the trenches of mail-order dispatch of classical music, I can confirm that the rush has started. The volume of orders is increasing, and the orders being placed have more than a sprinkling of titles like "Concertos and Cantatas for Christmas", not to mention Bach's Christmas Oratorio (available on CD, SACD and DVD from just about any record label you care to name).
I'm guessing that quite a few of the people who read this blog are likely to do at least part of their shopping online, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to make a few generic requests and give a few pointers, on behalf of all those dispatchers for small businesses out there who remember last Christmas and are fearing this one.
... actually, thinking about it, this may work better as a series. Other readers on the frontline should feel free to make additions in the comments.
So onwards, with Part One - Placing Your Order.
Fill out the form properly.
It's not really a difficult form. Put your postcode in the postcode box and your address in the address boxes. If you don't know your address and postcode, go and ask a responsible adult.
For each new line, use a new line of the address box - don't just type in twenty spaces, or half a dozen full stops. You can click in each box, or you can use the TAB key to scroll through them. While you're at it, why not let the shift key enter your life? It's not just there to make the keyboard look nice.
"As Above" is not an address. Nor is "as previous order," as I can't actually see your previous orders unless I stop everything and start rootling around in the database. And please, for pity's sake, don't think you're being clever by asterisking out the first few letters of each line of your name and address "for security". We need your proper address in order to send you the things you have ordered. The postman will not take packages to "** ***ley Road", okay?
You should also know that it's not "the computer" that fixes these things so that you get your goods. It's me, putting my Stalker hat on with the help of Google in a way that would probably have you feeling quite uncomfortable if you knew about it. You may also like to remember that all the time I spend correcting your address, I'm not shipping orders - you're holding up the queue!
We're not asking for the fun of it, nor are we likely to sell your data. If we've said that we won't pass your details on, then we really won't. It's one of those big business/small business things. A big business is only ever about the money. A small business, on the other hand, is personal, and all of its employees are going to be trying to provide the sort of service we would like to recieve from others. So we won't pass your phone number to other companies owned by the same multinational conglomerate, or "relevant third parties", and we won't flood your inbox with spam. We're asking for fast contact details because if there's a problem with your order, we'd prefer to be able to let you know as soon as possible, and give you a chance to change your order, rather than waiting for you to contact us several weeks later because your goods have not arrived.
Your credit card 'security code' is NOT your PIN.
Your security code is the last three digits of the little number on the back of your card, where you put your signature. It's not a difficult thing to find. You never type your PIN online. If you type in your PIN where you should have put your security code, all that happens is that your credit card gets flagged - security code not matched - and you may have to wait longer while we check to find out whether you're (a) incapable of reading simple instructions or (b) a fraudster trying to use a dodgy credit card, and let's be honest, neither of those are good really, are they?
Most small businesses will do their best to meet any requests you make, it's part of what makes us different to Amazon and Tesco. Perhaps something is a gift and you want to be sure it's sent to the recipient without the price on it - no problem. Maybe you are on holiday and want to delay posting to make sure your package won't arrive while you're away - easy. Maybe you want your order shipped in as many lots as it takes to make sure that each parcel is no bigger than the pannier on your bike - we can do that. But please, please, let us know early on. Preferably before you place your order. If we know your requests before the order comes in, then we can do our best to meet them. We won't be able to get the package back off the Post Office if you only put in your request after the order is dispatched.
Still to come: Costs and charges, Royal Mail, and Other Issues.
And now, by request of a friend of mine, a short commercial break for a friendly online mail order business. Adults only, I cannot stress this strongly enough, adults only may wish to look at Temptations for all their adult toy needs. Temptations is run by a couple of entrepreneurs with a long-standing interest in adult toys, aiming to provide the sort of service levels they would prefer to recieve when shopping online for such items. Please don't click that link if you're under 16 or easily offended.
Under-16s, and those who are not in the market for the kind of wares Temptations stock, may prefer to visit the 100% family-friendly appropriate-for-everyone Web Of Wool to spend their money.
Edit 20:17 07/09/08 broken link fixed.