I’m not exactly what you’d call a fashionista, the ebbs and flows of what’s current often pass me by, but I do have my own style which I usually refresh on a yearly basis. More recently this has tended towards my work attire, mostly because I spend a great deal more time in it than I did previously. However the act of shopping for clothes is one I like to avoid as I find it tiresome, especially when trying to find the right sizes to fit my not-so-normal dimensions. Thus I’ve recently turned towards custom services and tailoring in order to get what I want in the sizes that fit me but, if I’m honest, the online world still seems to be light years behind that which I can get from the more traditional fashion outlets.
For instance one of the most frustrating pieces of clothing for me to buy is business shirts. Usually they fall short in one of my three key categories (length, sleeve length and fit in the mid section) so I figured that getting some custom made would be a great way to go. So I decided that I’d last out for a couple shirts from 2 online retailers, Original Stitch and Shirts My Way, to see if I could get something that would tick all 3 categories. I was also going to do a review of them against each other to see which one of the retailers provided the better fit and would thus become my defacto supplier of shirts for the foreseeable future. However upon receiving both shirts I was greeted with the unfortunate reality: they both sucked.
They seemed to get some of the things right, like the neck size and overall shirt length, however they both seemed to be made to fit someone who weighed about 40kg more than I do with the mid section being like a tent. Both of them also had ridiculously billowy sleeves, making my arms appear to be twice as wide as they should be. I kind of expected something like this to happen with Original Stitch, since their measurements aren’t exactly comprehensive, but Shirts My Way also suffered from the same issues even though I followed their guidelines exactly. Comparing this to the things I’ve had fitted or tailored in the past I was extremely disappointed as I was expecting as good or better service.
The problem could be partially solved by technology as 3D scanning could provide extremely accurate sizing that online stores could then incorporate in order to ensure you got the right fit the first time around. In fact I’d argue that there should be some kind of open standard for this, allowing all the various companies to develop their brand of solutions for it that would be interoperable between different clothing companies. That is something of a pipe dream, I know, but I can’t be the only person who has had this kind of frustration trying to get the right fits from online retailers.
I guess for now I should just stick with the tried and true methods for getting the clothing that I want as the online experience, whilst infinitely more convenient, ultimately delivers a lacklustre product. I’m hopeful that change is coming although it’s going to take time for it to become widespread and I’m sure that there won’t be any standards across the industry for a long time after that. Maybe one day I’ll be able to order the right fits from the comfort of my own home but, unfortunately, that day is not today.
I’m not a terribly picky consumer. I mean there are particular shops and sellers I’ll favor for particular products (I get nearly all of my PC equipment from PC Case Gear, for instance) but if I’m looking for an one off item I’ll usually go wherever I can find the best price from a reputable seller. If I don’t get a recommendation from a friend this usually has me shopping through sellers on eBay or through price aggregation sites and for the most part I’ve never been lead wrong with this. My most recent experience, one that involves the Australian retailer Kogan, wasn’t a particularly bad experience but I feel that there’s some things people need to know about them before they buy something through this online only retailer.
So the item I was looking for was a Canon 60D to upgrade my ageing 400D that’s served me well for the past 5 years. I did the usual snoop through Ebay and some other sites and found it could be had for around $900, shipping included. After doing a bit more searching I found it available from Kogan for a paltry $849 (and it has since dropped another $20) and even when combined with the shipping it came out on top. The rest of the items I was looking at (namely a Canon EF 24-105 F/4L lens, Canon Speedlite 403EX II and a 32GB SD card) were also all available from there for a pretty good price. All up I think I got all the kit for about $150 less than I would have gotten it through eBay which is pretty amazing considering that I’ve struggled to find cheaper prices before.
I hit a hurdle with them when they requested a land line phone number they could call so they could verify the credit card information used in the transaction. I have a land line number but it’s not hooked up to anything (the only phone I’ve got seems to be broken as it doesn’t ring when I call it) as its just used for the Internet connection. I offered to forward this to my mobile if they needed it but they instead just called me on my mobile directly. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of people getting asked for land lines to verify things (I gave a reference for a friend and they insisted on being given one) so I don’t know if they can do some kind of verification on the back end that that number belongs to me or something, but even if they did then the same tech should work for mobiles as well. Anyway it was a small snag and it was just unfortunate that it meant my order didn’t get processed until the following Monday, no big deal.
Now since I ordered everything together I expected it all to come as one package but that’s not the case with Kogan. I received my 4 items in 4 separate deliveries through 2 different shipping companies. Now I’m lucky and my wife was at home because she is studying for exams but at any other time I wouldn’t have been there to pick up all these different items. This wouldn’t have been too bad if they all arrived on the same day but the delivery time from first received to last spans just over a week and a half with the last item arriving yesterday (I placed the order on the 01/06/2012). Considering that I’ve ordered similar items from Hong Kong, the 400D being one of them, and have managed to receive them all at the same time I found this piecemeal mailing approach rather annoying as I bought all the items to be used together and it wasn’t until yesterday that I had the completed package.
Looking at Kogan’s website you’d be forgiven for thinking that all their products were Australian versions until you get to the fine print at the bottom of the page. I’m not going to blame Kogan for this, they’re quite clear about the fact that anything that doesn’t carry the Kogan name will come from their HK branch, but it certainly does give the impression to the contrary. I’d like to think of myself as an observant person and I didn’t pick up on the fact that it would be coming from HK until I saw where it was being delivered from. This isn’t a bad thing per se, just something you should be aware of when you’re comparing them to similar sellers on eBay and the like.
Realistically had they shipped everything in one lot, even if it was a little late, I don’t think I’d be feeling as sour about my Kogan experience as I do now. I bought the items figuring that shipping wouldn’t take more than a week as I had an upcoming trip that the camera was intended for. Thankfully the trip was cancelled so I wasn’t left with half of the items that I wanted to take with me, but it could have just as easily gone the other way. I can probably see myself going back there for single items, possibly an extra battery for said camera, but for anything else I think I’ll be going elsewhere. This isn’t to say that you should though, but do take these points into consideration before making your purchase.
UPDATE: You should read my latest post on Kogan here as they’ve really improved the whole experience since I wrote this almost a year ago.
My very first ever job was working for the Australian electronics chain called Dick Smith Electronics which I started at the tender age of 14. I got the job in a very serendipitous encounter as after being told that I was no longer allowed to spend my parent’s money (blowing a good $600 on a new computer) we had spent a day driving around to all the various first job places and handing in applications. For one reason or another I wanted to head over to DSE to look or buy something and the sign out the front said they were taking applications. My mother, managing to bypass the incredible amount of teenage angst and my then self defeatist attitude, encouraged me to apply. A couple months later saw me starting my first day of a job that would last 6 years making me the longest serving member at my shop, outliving 5 bosses and countless workmates.
In my time there I had my share of great and not-so-great encounters with various customers. After the first year or so of being a under-confident teenager working in a grown up world I started to come into my own as a technology obsessed geek who knew far too much about all the products in his store. It worked well for the store I was in as we would of attract those people looking for the forms of esoterica that we sold, mostly electronic components. I did my best to learn enough to get by when people asked for certain components and eventually became quite knowledgeable thanks to learning by immersion. That still didn’t stop some people for getting frustrated at me for not knowing something and this is where I started to take offense.
I thought I was pretty damn good at my job, especially after being there for 3 years. Customer complaints about my service were few and far between with only a single formal complaint ever being lodged. I also developed a reputation for being “that electronics guy at the Fyshwick store” who other stores would send problem customers to in order to get their problems solved. Sure there were times when I didn’t know something but realistically I was a teenager working in an electronics chain and I could hardly be expected to be an electronics engineer ready to solve every problem. That didn’t stop some customers from blowing their tops at me for not knowing a certain specification or refusing to design a circuit for them and that led me to develop a simple rule that I’ve applied in every shopping expedition I’ve been on.
It’s simply “be good to your salesperson”.
Working in retail is a pretty laborious job. You’re standing for a good portion of the day, have to deal with all sorts of people with varying levels of understanding of what they want and are expected to be an expert on everything in the store. Sure it’s by no means hard especially if you’ve got a modicum of interesting in the things you’re selling but as with any public facing position it seems like there’s a subset of society that’s out to make your life a living hell. Especially when you try to enforce a company policy that doesn’t seem all that fair but our hands are tied. We’re there to provide a service to you and most of us are good people trying to do a job. You don’t make that any easier if you come in with an attitude.
So whenever I’m out to buy something I’m usually pretty nice to the people serving me. You’d be surprised how far a little kindness can go with these people, especially if you’re coming in at a busy time of the year. The more the salesperson likes you the more likely you are to get a good deal too, as we don’t feel as bad giving discounts to genuinely nice people. Of course I also have a pretty strict rule of if they’re an ass to me I immediately walk away from the store as there’s no point favouring those who won’t return a little common courtesy.
If you’re involved in any form of sales, whether on the selling or receiving end, it pays to be an honest and genuine person with those on the other side of the fence. If you don’t think the retail stores don’t know enough to help you out then stick to online stores since you’ll get a better price, won’t have to deal with other people and won’t bother those poor staff who don’t know as much as you. However if you’re looking for a little bit of product knowledge and maybe want to have a play with a product before buying it remember, be good to those serving you and I’m sure they’ll respond in kind.