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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The fine art of apportioning blame

Being, as I am, possessed of a highly-developed sense of fair play, I am quick to anger when I see individuals being blamed for something which is not their fault.

I am, for example, only too well aware of how cold, miserable and frustrating it is to stand at a bus stop for forty minutes in the middle of winter when the scheduled bus has not arrived. But I do not believe that the driver of the next bus deserves to be viciously harangued on his arrival. Neither do I think there is a great deal to be gained by demanding details from him of what happened to the bus which was never seen. As he has been driving his own bus for the last several hours, I suspect he will have been unable to continue the direct lines of communication with the depot which, in his non-working hours, he no doubt maintains assiduously.

Likwise, I have never succumbed to the temptation of blaming any of Liverpool's legion of taxi-drivers for delays to my journey resulting from the city council's abject failure to keep sufficient roads open whilst tarting the place up for the 2008 European Capital of Culture celebrations. Instead, I have sympathised with them over the impact of the road-closures on their livelihood, and have tipped them to the best of my capacity.

Imagine then, my wrath, on seeing the following feedback left for this delightful jeweller on a site which isn't Etsy. (I stress that it was a different site because it is one on which the buyer is asked to give the seller a star rating out of 5. And the buyer who left this particular gem docked the seller a star.)

"beautiful product, and that is what matters, but i did not
realise i would have a £13 customs charge as it entered the UK which may have
changed my decision.. "

Mmm. Petulant, much?

In what alternate universe is the fact that goods imported into the UK are subject to duties and taxes the fault of one artisan in the US?

I can accept that someone might be sufficiently unworldly on the subject of importation procedures that the Customs charge has come as a very nasty surprise. I can even, at a push, accept that someone might be sufficiently aggrieved to mention it in passing in their feedback on the item they have purchased. But to reduce the seller's average star rating for something that could not, even by the wildest stretch of a particularly fevered imagination, be deemed to be her fault is simply not acceptable.

The Editor


Blogger Ruth said...

Lady Bracknell
I so appreciate you writing this post - it is good that we check back in with ourselves before blaming others. As an online seller, I am often blamed for slow postal service - and as you quoted with this situation - for customs charges. I think with customs charges, people want me to lie in the mailing - and risk my business etc so that they don't pay customs. I can understand it - I really can - but it doesn't mean it is something I can do.

Yes, selling online and internationally is not the same as buying in a shop where the seller can control just about everything - I think we just need to change our expectations and acknowledge that it is a different process and the seller has to give up some of the control of the transaction....and the buyer needs to recognise this. But on the up side - a world of choices is now at our fingertips.

I feel so supported that this issue roused you enough to blog about it. Thank you for that. It means alot to me. It is good that we ask for ratings and good to get feedback - both positive and negative - but maybe we can take Lady Bracknell's advice more often and rate what the person is in control of - not beyond their control.

I also think that maybe I need to make changes so that the buyer isn't disappointed by things outside of my control - maybe work on changing their expectations to being more realistic. So this is a wake up call for me too.

Thanks again. Love your blog. I'm linking you to mine.

Take care - and keep flying!

4:46 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Yes, I gather from other sellers of my acquaintance that they have been put under pressure from their overseas customers to describe purchases as gifts on the Customs form.

I find that quite shocking.

Not because of the potential loss of a few shillings to the Treasury, but because it indicates that they are thinking only about saving money and have never even stopped to consider the impact such behaviour could have on the seller's business.

Anyone from the UK who buys from outside the EU must expect to be caught for the import VAT from time to time.

Anyone who buys by mail order from anywhere must expect the occasional package to get delayed in the post and must understand that the seller is not responsible for that.

This is not to say that I will accept bad service: I had to write a very stiff email last weekend to a UK company which had billed me full price for a sale item. But I can distinguish between those things which are the seller's responsibility, and those which are outside his or her control.

Possibly the admin bods of such sites as Etsy and DaWanda need to make the reality of buying from overseas clearer to those who sign up to them. I cannot see that it should be the responsibility of individual sellers to check that their customers understand the law in their own countries.

8:35 pm  
Blogger Raesha D said...

You won one of my giveaways over at www.raeshadrz.blogspot.com!! Congrats!

10:34 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Oo, how exciting... :-)

Blog giveaways rock.

11:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, for some people, the apportionment of blame is simple - often they have a note, a letter or some other such item (maybe even a mug) in which another kind soul takes full responsibility for all eventualities - such as something saying 'It's ******'s fault. Always'. I think everyone should get one!!

5:57 pm  
Blogger Mary said...

Good point, well made.

It is also not the seller's fault that a 50p item weighing several kilos costs more to post than an incredibly expensive item weighing only a few grams.

Or that boxes and bubblewrap are not free for the asking and that this cost is sometimes reflected in the "postage and packaging" charge.

6:57 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

Mr Larkin! Always nice to see you stopping by :-)

But why hide behind a mask of anonymity...?

9:37 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...


Further good points which I omitted to make - thank you for adding them.

9:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lady Bracknell, I think your blog post raises excellent points.

However, I think sellers could still help somewhat if they had a note on their website somewhere to the effect that customers in other countries should note that they (the business) are not responsible for whatever customs fees might be charged by the country in which the customer resides and encouraging customers to familiarize themselves with their own country's custom laws and standard custom fees before purchasing items from abroad.

If a seller does a great deal of business with customers from a specific country then they could perhaps supply information on what has been charged in the past, with a disclaimer to the effect that this information may go out of date and customers should investigate current regulations. Customers from less-common countries can be left to fend for themselves, with a note that with 200 countries around the world, and a very tiny (or non-existent) staff it is physically impossible for the seller to keep track of all the varying regulations regarding customs from country to country.

In other words, sellers can't control the customs fees, and maybe can't realistically keep track of what all of them would be, but can at least help manage customer expectations. So even if they are still shocked by the final sticker tag, then at least they won't be able to say that they had no warning.

6:33 pm  
Blogger Lady Bracknell said...

It would seem prudent for sellers to state what should be the obvious fact that they are not responsible for any import fees in the country of receipt, if only because the evidence of feedback of the type received by Ruth at Birdland indicates that some buyers perceive the imposition of import duties to be a personal insult.

But I strongly disagree with the suggestion that they should research what those duties will cost their overseas customers, and maintain a list of average prices.

As implied in my original post, my belief is that it is the resonsibility of the buyer to familiarise him or herself with the "hidden" costs of buying from overseas before taking the plunge.

Anyone making purchases from a website clearly has sufficient access to the Internet to research what their own country will charge when taxable goods are imported across its borders.

The sellers of whom I speak do not run bricks and mortar businesses. They don't have admin staff. They don't, in the main, even have their own websites. They are artisans who love what they do and who take advantage of the facilities offered by websites such as Etsy to offer their work to a wider marketplace than they could otherwise have achieved. It is not reasonable to expect them to be experts in international customs duties.

I, for one, would much rather they had the time to continue with their creating than expect them to undertake research which I can easily do myself. I can look up Customs tariffs: I can't create the things I buy from artisans.

8:14 pm  

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