Gilded Serpent presents...
Are You Helping or Hurting Our Vendors?
received two e-mails that called my attention to an issue
that many people in the belly-dance community really don't
think about: are we encouraging our vendors to continue bringing
the costumes, jewelry, music, videos, and accessories we
love, or are we treating them so badly that we're driving
some of them out of business? Here they are:
a vendor, and it costs me a lot of time, money, and hassle
when someone returns something. In the 10 years I have
been doing this I can happily say I have never had a return
for quality issues. Not that I have had a lot of returns,
but when I do it's always because the buyer never bothered
to think a little before making the purchase and didn't
get the right size. It's always a size issue. I can't take
any blame for this because I offer no pressure to buy whatsoever—I
just answer email, and any questions in detail they might
have. I give measurements on my items on the website. So
it's just such a hassle, a waste of time and money when
this happens, and it's frustrating, because I put so much
effort into my work, but some of these buyers really don't
think before they buy."
noticed you live in the same metropolitan area as I do.
Is there a retail store anywhere in the area that I can
go to for my costume shopping? I prefer to try things on
before I buy, instead of mail-order, because I like to
see how they look." [Sadly, I had to tell this person
that the only open-to-the-public retail shop in our area
recently closed because they had too much trouble with
shoplifting. Now they sell only via mail-order.]
many people, it seems, abuse the vendors who bring us the
wonderful costumes, jewelry, music, and other supplies
that enable our art form to exist. Some of the people who
do it probably don't even realize that's what they're doing.
How about you? Do you consider the impact your own buying
behavior has on the vendors you buy from?
vendors differ in many ways from mainstream mall merchants
or mail-order companies. Our vendors tend to be small businesses,
often owned an operated by a single individual or maybe an
alliance of just 2 or 3 people. These people often work long,
long hours—during the day, they deal with us. At night, they're
on the phone with their suppliers in India and the Middle
East. Their personal money is what keeps their businesses
alive. Compare that to the huge mail-order companies like
Land’s End, who cheerfully promise that your satisfaction
is guaranteed or they'll refund your money, no questions
asked. At such companies, there are armies of people who
fill orders, answer questions, process returns, and calculate
the taxes they owe.
Of course you have the right to expect that the merchandise you are purchasing
is adequate quality. If you purchase a video, you have the right to expect
that it will actually play when you put it into your VCR. But you don't have
the right to complain if you find it boring—most vendors don't refund your
money for videos if you simply don't like them. If you purchase a garment,
you have the right to expect that it will be the size and color you specified
when you ordered it. But if you specified red when you ordered it, and then
later decided you really don't want red, it's not fair to expect the vendor
to accept the return. Sell it to a classmate instead.
can't expect our belly-dance vendors to provide the
same guarantees that enormous retailers can provide,
because they're too small to be able to do that. When
we do business with them, we need to take responsibility
for buying only what we intend to keep.
buy something from belly-dance vendors and then return it,
you create a large amount of work for these companies. Here
are some of the things they have to do:
need to verify exactly what price you did pay, so that
they can refund you the correct amount.
- If you
paid by check, they need to determine whether your check
has cleared the bank, to ensure that their payments have
indeed been finalized. If you paid by credit card, they
need to deal with the credit card company to refund your
money, and that usually costs them some kind of fee.
need to update their accounting records, to recover the
sales tax they may have paid to the government for your
merchandise, and ensure that their income tax records don't
show income on the returned purchase.
lose money on the postage and packaging materials they
paid to ship the original item to you, because you'll expect
your postage to be refunded as well as the price of the
need to update their inventory records with information
that they have returned the item to stock, to keep track
of what they have available.
need to update their catalogs to indicate to other customers
that the item you returned has become available to purchase
again. This particularly applies to vendors who deal in
tribal-style jewelry, antique clothing, and other one-of-a-kind
items. If they discarded the original photograph after
you bought the item, then they need to take another one,
and rewrite descriptive text for it. If they pay someone
to run their website catalog, it costs them something to
re-list the item.
That's a lot of work, and after doing all that, the poor
vendors are left showing a loss as the outcome of doing business
with you. If they have to deal with too many customers just
like you, they’ll be driven out of business and the entire
belly-dance community will lose a resource.
are some simple things you can do to minimize how much merchandise
you need to return to vendors. When you're shopping, please
try to follow these guidelines:
the accurate size. If you're purchasing something
that comes in different sizes, take measurements so you
can specify the correct size. Don't guess simply because
you're too lazy to spend 5 minutes with a measuring tape.
Don't lie and tell her the size you wish you were just
because you're too insecure to admit that you don't like
the current size and shape of your body. Don't tell her
the size you were 5 years ago—measure yourself to find
out what size you are today. If you don't have a measuring
tape, buy or borrow one.
about the vendor's return policy. Find out what
the return policy is for the item you are looking at.
If the vendor says he/she doesn't accept returns for
people who have simply changed their minds, then stop
and think about how seriously you want this item. If
you're not sure, don't buy it.
your receipt. If you do decide to buy the item,
keep the receipt until you're absolutely certain you
will keep it. It's your proof that you indeed bought
the item from this vendor, and it's also documentation
of what price you paid for it. Don't expect the vendor
to accept the return without it.
color samples. When
you attend an event with vendors, take costume items
or fabric swatches with you so that you can evaluate
whether the color of the item you're thinking about buying
will go with the items you plan to wear it with. For
mail-order items, consider sending the vendor a swatch
of the color you're trying to match and ask her to tell
you how close he/she thinks the match is with the merchandise.
If he/she hand-makes costume
items, ask whether he/she can send you a small swatch
so that you can compare it against the items you would
wear it with yourself. Remember that the colors displayed
on websites aren't the most reliable indicator of true
careful when buying music. Before you buy music,
make sure you know what you're buying. Ask the vendor
to play excerpts for you over the phone so you can determine
whether you like the song itself as well as that artist's
version of it. Carry portable tape and CD players with
you to dance events and ask vendors whether they have
an opened copy that you can listen to before you buy.
careful when buying videos. It's harder to shop
for a video. Reviews in belly dance magazines often can't
be trusted because they're frequently written by friends
of the artist who produced the videos, and naturally
they're full of praise. Seek several opinions before
you purchase the item. Several belly-dance websites post
product reviews. You can also join some of the various
online discussion groups out there to ask for people's
opinions on the videos you are considering. Ask both
about production quality (lighting, sound, focus, camera
angles) and content (useful, organized, applicable to
your particular needs). If no one you know has seen the
video, and if very few people on the web can give you
intelligent comments about it, maybe you should wait
until you can learn more about it before ordering it
words, before you actually purchase an item, take responsibility
for determining whether it's what you really want or not.
Only you can decide whether the item is right for you, and
you do have the responsibility to do some fact-finding first.
Don't expect the vendor to pay for your indecisiveness and
If you have ever taken something from a belly dance vendor without paying for
it, you deserve to be caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
You also deserve to be thrown in jail for the maximum penalty. People who shoplift
are thieves, plain and simple. They're no better than robbers who break into
people's homes and steal their valuables. When you steal merchandise from a
belly-dance vendor, you are stealing from an individual person who works hard
to bring you the items you love, not a huge faceless corporation. You are taking
money away from that individual's ability to feed his/her children, pay his/her
heating bill, and save for his/her retirement. Shame on you!
you know someone else who shoplifts, please take that person
aside and explain that his/her actions are truly hurting
someone. Our vendors often struggle financially, especially
during times like now, when many people are unemployed and
unable to spend money on fun things like belly-dance supplies.
shoplifters drive a vendor out of business, the entire
belly-dance community is harmed, because we have one
less place to buy our supplies.
There are many other ways that people abuse vendors. Maybe they'll special-order
a custom item, then decide they don't want it once it arrives, leaving the
vendor stuck with trying to sell that item to someone else. They order videos,
make an illegal personal copy, then return the original for a refund, making
up some story that they didn't like it and therefore don't want to pay for
it. Or maybe they'll damage an item when they try it on, then refuse to pay
the vendor for the damage they caused. I could go on, but I think you get the
Yes, I acknowledge that there are some bad vendors out there. Some are basically
decent people who just aren't very competent—they do intend to send your merchandise,
but they might take a long time to do it, send something different from what
you ordered, or lose the item you returned when they send you the wrong thing,
etc. Others are normally good vendors, but they have fallen on hard times such
as death in the family, illness, or divorce, causing an abrupt change in their
ability to provide good service. Still others truly are unethical—they send
you poor-quality merchandise, make promises they don't keep, and refuse to
refund your money when the merchandise has a genuine flaw, such as a scratched
CD that doesn't play properly.
very few bad vendors exist. The vast majority of vendors
that I've dealt with in over 20 years of belly dancing have
sent me exactly what I ordered, kept the promises they've
made, and been reliable sources for the merchandise I want.
In the small number of cases where I've had a bad experience,
it was usually a vendor who genuinely intended to do the
right thing but who was either poorly organized or going
through a temporary difficult period such as illness. I've
been lucky to never have been cheated by an unethical vendor.
Try to be fair, honest, and ethical in your dealings with vendors. Take responsibility
for making well-informed buying decisions, and gather all appropriate facts
such as product reviews, accurate measurements, or fabric swatches before you
place your order. If you know of others who cheat vendors, try to pressure
them to see that they are harming a hard-working individual through their actions.
Remember, if we don't nurture our vendors, they'll go out of business, and
the dance community will lose valuable resources. Please try to do your part
to encourage and support them.
a comment? Send
us a letter!
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
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