Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Business Ethics

I expect you've all been a victim of corporate greed at some time or other. Because Martin used to be in the motor industry and I got an inside scoop on prices, I know about 10,000% markups, like the case of the $27.00 screw. This may be an extreme example, but it's far from unique, and a 1000% markup is quite normal these days, a good example is the popcorn at movie theatres.

Generally, when the greed is happening among my competitors, I follow a live and let live attitude. If they want to overcharge, and people want to pay it, let them.

Here's an example for you at "Lucy's Basement Bargains":


6 owls for $9.99

This is not a bargain. I sell them at 10 for $2.95, and in fact I buy them at 5 cents each. Of course, to get that wholesale price you do need to buy hundreds at a time, and most people would not want to, which is why there is a market for retail quantities and prices, but I'm just demonstrating a typical example of why "caveat emptor" is so important.

One reason "Lucy" may well sell them at such a grossly over-inflated price is that she includes the word "Steampunk" in her title. The Steampunk bandwagon is massive, if you hadn't already noticed. So this is a sort of magic word. Quite what is steampunk about an owl, I don't know, but there it is.

You notice she also has "Antique Silver" in the title. In the description she says it is antique silver plated zinc alloy, but "Lucy" is not daft. She knows that:

a) Buyers don't read that far, and
b) Even when they do these terms are meaningless.

It isn't actually plated anything, it's Tibetan Silver, an alloy that contains little or no silver at all. It's a metal I love and won't hear a word against, still, passing it off as something it's not, ain't quite cricket.

Her buyer (so far only one) saw the words antique silver and Steampunk, and the price faded into the sunset.

She also sells these:


These cost 5 cents each, wholesale, too.

Well, power to you Lucy. Well done.

No, I mean it. She's not doing anything illegal. This is standard modern business practice, it is capitalism working the way it's supposed to. She's putting food on her table, the customer is happy, and there's nothing wrong with it.

But personally, I couldn't do it. I shall never be wealthy because I couldn't sleep at night if I was overcharging people.

Ethics in business are a bit of a stumbling block really. Out there, in internet shopping land, are lots of people waving money at the screen, desperate to part with it, to get stuff. More stuff. Lotsa stuff. And I take full advantage of that, which is hard enough to reconcile with my personal ethics. So I keep my prices down, put free gifts in, offer a top-notch service etc, and have an easy conscience.

I have competitors but I try not to be compeitive. Oh, I could be. I don't play much in the way of games or sports, but when I do, I am very competitive indeed.

Maybe it's because I started out at craft shows, which had a community feel to it, but I enjoy talking to and actively helping out fellow sellers. I like to encourage those who are new. I'll offer advice and ideas. I'll warn them of pitfalls. I'll share some (not all!) of my wholesalers. And generally speaking this is how "we" are, those of us who sell crafts and craft supplies. We are a warm, supportive community.

There are exceptions, however.

Shortly after my daughter started selling her chainmail on Etsy, I stumbled upon another chainmail seller who I'll refer to as Grumpypants, because it sums her up nicely. One of the more negative folk I've run into at Etsy. I had seen her whiny posts complaining about lack of sales, but hadn't had anything to say to her. I had opinions, obviously (boring work, overpriced) but one keeps that sort of thing to oneself. The reason I eventually "met" Grumpypants was that she offered me some advice. Not that I asked for any.

No, she took it upon herself to "advise" me that my photos weren't very good.

I know this. I'm not stupid. It's like being told you are tall, or short, or fat, or whatever. WOW! GOSH! Really? No. I need a better camera, and/or more powerful lighting for indoor shots, but most of all I need a better attitude towards photography, which I simply find to be a chore. It's time consuming, frustrating, and I hate it. But I wasn't going to tell her that.

So I simply said "Yes, it's true, unfortunately I am far too busy shipping orders to take new photos!" which shut her up.

But what made it worse, was that her photos aren't any better. If anything, they're worse than mine. Soon, I saw her seeking advice on how to improve them, as she was sure this was the reason for her lack of success, and then she vanished.

There are two things to note from this anecdote, two patterns that she showed.

1. Whiny, negative people don't last long in business.
2. People criticize things they are actively doing themselves.

Yes, that pot calling the kettle black. It is HUGE on Etsy.

Recently a lady decided she'd have a big rant about people selling turquoise that is really only howlite or magnesite. She said sellers doing this were liars, which is a pretty strong accusation.

Quite apart from the fact, however, that it's standard practice to market it as turquoise because that is what buyers enter in the search engine when they are looking for that stone, there is a whole definition confusion with regard to gemstones, which I discussed at my Old Bazaar blog: http://oldbazaar.blogspot.ca/2013/01/whats-in-name.html

But that's neither here nor there, when I went to look at her shop, there were a few...well, let's say hard to identify gemstones on her designs. This was not helped by blurred photos (maybe I should have "advised" her) but I'll offer quite a large sum of money to wager that several of them were not what she claimed them to be. Pot/Kettle.

Then there were her "sterling silver" findings. Now, you can buy very similar charms and beads in several different materials, but not identical. Manufacturers of sterling silver findings do not use the same moulds as the alloy findings. There may be a good technical reason for that, but the fact is, they don't. And I sell Tibetan silver findings, and I am so familiar with the more popular ones that I recognize them as easily as my own children. From a distance. Even blurred. To put it another way, I know damn well that at least some of her "sterling silver" findings are Tibetan silver.

Tibetan silver is a better choice for what she makes, as it doesn't tarnish. Cleaning all the itty bitty bits of her designs if it were sterling would be tedious, and the customer really wouldn't enjoy it, but then they wouldn't be very happy to discover they've paid $35.00 for earrings contructed of parts that cost pennies. If selling howlite as turquoise is lying, then selling an alloy as sterling is blatant fraud.

I'm just assuming her Swarovski crystals are not, either. Of course I could be wrong, but......if these earrings were really made from sterling, genuine Swarovski, and gems as named, then she couldn't make them for $35.00, simple as that.

But I said nothing. Can't actually prove it. None of my business anyway. Caveat Emptor.

Yesterday in a private forum a question arose about copyright infraction. Having been copied blatantly on eBay (my competitor even saw fit to use the same names for the designs that I used) I do understand what it feels like. And there isn't much you can do about it, unless the design has been registered. This is part of life when you create designs. Heat/kitchen.

Anyway, it cropped up because one of our number asked an honest question about making a gift based on a design she had once seen, but couldn't remember where. Another person (who we'll call Duckface, based on her avatar) pretty much accused her of stealing her design. She then went on to call all those who use the ideas of others "lame" and said they were of poor character.

There ensued a discussion about just how original a design can be. It's impossible to say that any idea you ever have is original. But that wasn't the issue here.

The issue was that Duckface has an Etsy store. It's very nice, but original? Um, no.

It includes gemstone tree of life pendants made with wire, a design that has been around for decades. It's extremely popular, very pretty, and there are thousands of people making and selling them. Oh, and if you like them? I can pick them up at $4 wholesale. But let's not go there.

Several of her "original designs" are earrings I sell myself. I've been selling them successfully for years. I suppose I could call them my designs, but that would be silly, as they consist of Tibetan silver charms, and a couple of beads, hung on earwires. It's a very fast, cheap way of making earrings, I can make 100 pairs a day (and make a good profit selling them for $2, too). Nothing wrong with them, they're very popular, but most people don't try to claim they are "unique" or "original".

Her hypocrisy drove my daughter to calling her out on it, noting also that she'd criticized me just a few days ago for jumping on bandwagons. Well, she decided to move on from the group. I wish her well. She's not a bad person, just a silly one.

There's a lot of it about. I see it regularly, these are just two examples. Those who complain loudest about what they consider to be "wrong" are so often found to be guilty of it that it boggles my brain why they draw attention to themselves.

Of course, this is not restricted to craft sellers, or to sellers in general, it's something humans do. How many loud public critics of morality have we seen over the years hoisted by their own petard, the any-gay preachers caught with their gay lover, or the anti-drug campaigners found with a pocket full of cocaine. To err is human, I guess. None of us are perfect. We all do naughty things sometimes. I know I do. But I don't make a big public song and dance about how evil it is while I'm doing it.

People are weird.


  1. Melanie is evil...Melanie is eeeev-eeeel but she makes and sells kickbutt product; she has outstanding customer service and anyone who argues will be invited to:
    1. Step outside
    2. Get up close and personal with my Heavy Metal Goat ;)

    Kidding aside, excellent blog Melanie.

  2. There are so few original ideas out there these days. I admit I make similar product to hundreds of others, but I lend my own personality/preferences to what I make that it's different enough. Really, how many ways can one wrap a crystal? I also don't go out of my way to make the exact same product as 5 other people at the same event.