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Online selling snafu, looking for suggestions


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I am currently using BigCartel as my online store platform. I've been running into a problem. There is a few minutes of delay after a customer puts an item into their cart, and when they finish paying for it. The item isn't marked "sold" until the payment comes through. During those few minutes, it's possible for another customer to purchase the item again.

It happened to one customer last year. I thought "well, that's just a very unusual coincidence." This year it happened to four customers. 

Does anyone know of an online selling platform where the item becomes unavailable as soon as someone puts it into their cart? I'll take any other suggestions for how to avoid this issue in the future (including "stop selling online" haha)

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It's designed this way, so that once someone adds something to their cart, the item isn't stuck in limbo when they abandon their cart.  So if you're having a 1 day sale on your website, and a bunch of people want that awesome big vase that there's only one of... Well, the first person adds it to their cart, it's removed from the store, and then their toddler spills koolaid on the white carpet.  Well, now that item is unavailable to someone who is ready to pay, and when do you consider that item back in stock? After 30 minutes of being in a cart? It gets complicated fast in that scenario.  I think just including a caveat like "items are available for purchase until the order is processed, so act quickly to ensure you are able to get the items you desire", or something like that.

 

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19 minutes ago, JohnnyK said:

Maybe you should make more of what it is that people like enough to order but you run out of... Are you just making one-offs or are these very popular items?

I only sell things online that are leftover from my open studio that takes place right before. Quantities are usually very limited, and I have no interest in selling more things online. 

I understand what @liambesaw is saying too. Lots of online shoppers abandon their carts, so it probably makes more sense overall to have the item still available until payment. 

Maybe I need to build my own store. If the quantities are low, I could do something low-tech.

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17 minutes ago, neilestrick said:

In all the shopping systems I have used there is a place where you can set the quantity available. Does your site have that option?  If someone pays for it, then it's should no longer be available for someone else to buy, even if multiple people have it in their cart.

Yes, and I set the quantity to “1.” The problem is that a second (or third) person can still start their checkout process before the first person finishes paying for it.  It seems like a highly unlikely circumstance, but this year I had to beg for forgiveness from four customers :-(

Edited by GEP
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So 5 people were able to check out at the same time and pay for the same object? Yikes!

I think most software accounts for that, I would actually open a support ticket with bigcartel because that should never ever happen and they should be made aware.

You could always go with Etsy or something for these flash sales.  I am happy with square space, but to be honest have never had enough demand for an item to test this situation

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9 minutes ago, GEP said:

Big Cartel says it’s PayPal’s fault, and they can’t help it,

Ahh does PayPal handle the shopping cart then?  If that's the case then yeah, shikata ga nai.  If you use square for payment processing at shows, I think they may have an online store thing as well.  The problem is a lot of these online store platforms require a monthly payment.

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41 minutes ago, GEP said:

this year I had to beg for forgiveness from four customers :-(

How about putting something along the lines of how you explained it here in your first post "The item isn't marked "sold" until the payment comes through. During those few minutes, it's possible for another customer to purchase the item again." at the top of your page, or even at the top of every page. Own it, explain it before the problem might come up then refer to it if it does.

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3 minutes ago, Min said:

How about putting something along the lines of how you explained it here in your first post "The item isn't marked "sold" until the payment comes through. During those few minutes, it's possible for another customer to purchase the item again." at the top of your page, or even at the top of every page. Own it, explain it before the problem might come up then refer to it if it does.

This is a good idea, warning people in advance.

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I haven’t done a ton of research on this, but a few things lead me to believe it might be a prevalent issue across platforms. If PayPal is doing the processing, that could explain it. I’ve seen East Fork Pottery experience the same issues on their internet sales days too. Here is a screenshot of a friend of mine’s disclaimer that she posts ahead of her online sales, if you need some wording tips. Her situation is maybe more extensive than yours, but some things can be adapted, I think. (Couldn’t copy and paste the text: it was an instagram Stories image.)

 

866FD5F2-1DE5-421C-9F6A-86B25F59D3F0.png

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22 minutes ago, neilestrick said:

It's a major flaw in the system. Big Cartel blaming PayPal is lame. I'm sure you're not the only one to have this problem. They should be able to do something with the software to shut down a sale once another person buys the item.

Whenever I buy a baseball ticket online, as soon as I click "add to cart" I get a countdown timer and a message "you have 15 minutes to pay for your tickets before they are released back to the public." I feel like Big Cartel, or somebody like them, could offer this function. They could call it "high traffic mode" and charge shop owners extra for it. I'd be happy to pay extra in order to avoid the hassle. 

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3 minutes ago, GEP said:

Whenever I buy a baseball ticket online, as soon as I click "add to cart" I get a countdown timer and a message "you have 15 minutes to pay for your tickets before they are released back to the public." I feel like Big Cartel, or somebody like them, could offer this function. They could call it "high traffic mode" and charge shop owners extra for it. I'd be happy to pay extra in order to avoid the hassle. 

Exactly! Seems like a simple solution. You should be able to turn that on whenever you have a sales event.

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8 hours ago, neilestrick said:

blaming PayPal is lame

I must disagree, having just spent several days over two weeks (many, many hours of frustration-not even counting the dropped calls and their horror of an auto-system) trying to get PayPal to unravel and  fix sale-related processing problems. My "store" is thru WIX, and I have no problems with my other cart processor, Square-they are great. After dealing with no less than 3 techs and 2 supervisors I reached the conclusion that while the lower level people tried earnestly to get to the bottom of it, the upper level oversight was deliberately crappy and a bit obstructive. They tried to run me around the rosebush by putting it off on two other entities that were involved (costing more time to communicate/investigate with those entities, who, it turned out, had nothing to do with the malfunctions).  It was absolutely clear that the problem was with PayPal, which either lacked the capacity to dig into a coding issue for a small fish client,  or just didn't intend to.  I believe the latter.

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12 hours ago, GEP said:

Thanks @Callie Beller Diesel. This person has put a lot of thought into this. I’m not sure I want to give my customers such lengthy instructions, but maybe it can’t be helped. 

I’ve seen larger retailers than my friend here, namely East Fork Pottery,  give similar sets of instructions for their online sales. They sell a fair volume online, so I can’t see them not having some sort of hold-in-cart function if it’s readily available. Just the prevalence of these kinds of instructions that I see frequent online sellers give out makes me wonder if that kind of feature might be cost prohibitive below a certain sales threshold. 

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44 minutes ago, LeeU said:

I must disagree, having just spent several days over two weeks (many, many hours of frustration-not even counting the dropped calls and their horror of an auto-system) trying to get PayPal to unravel and  fix sale-related processing problems. My "store" is thru WIX, and I have no problems with my other cart processor, Square-they are great. After dealing with no less than 3 techs and 2 supervisors I reached the conclusion that while the lower level people tried earnestly to get to the bottom of it, the upper level oversight was deliberately crappy and a bit obstructive. They tried to run me around the rosebush by putting it off on two other entities that were involved (costing more time to communicate/investigate with those entities, who, it turned out, had nothing to do with the malfunctions).  It was absolutely clear that the problem was with PayPal, which either lacked the capacity to dig into a coding issue for a small fish client,  or just didn't intend to.  I believe the latter.

PayPal certainly isn't perfect, but I think that tracking the quantity of items available and when they are sold is not PayPal's job in Gep's case. I use PayPal a lot when buying inventory for my kiln repair business. When I go in to the shopping cart to complete a purchase, it typically goes to PayPal, then back to the seller for one more click to complete the sale. At that point the seller's system should know if the item was already sold. 

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Ah, but there's that dirty word, "should."

Paypal is ultimately a plugin. You're relying on two computer programs made by two different companies to communicate with each other efficiently, and they don't always do that well without paid tech support.

The only other payment gateways that I can think of that would be useful on a small scale like this would be either Etsy (which is still technically Paypal, just better integrated than home jobs), or Square on its integration with Weebly. If you're only selling a handful of things once a year, Etsy could be a perfectly viable option. Although I know it's got some branding baggage, it still might be the most cost effective option.

I've only just upgraded my Weebly site to the level that allows a ten item shop 2 weeks ago, in the name of trying to even out some of my annual revenues in between show seasons (looking at you, February!).  I haven't had a chance to flesh it out yet, nor have I announced its existence to my email list, so I can't say what happens if people are trying to buy the same thing at the same time from personal experience. I wil be poking at it tomorrow, because I've had a few people express interest in some small items and I want to get that dealt with.  I'll see if I can get some friends to help me break the system. I will report back.

 

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Basically this is how a pre-authorized PayPal payment works:

Store cart -> log into PayPal -> preauthorize transaction -> return to store cart -> finish filling in forms for shipping etc -> finalize order -> cart sends preauth+purchase to PayPal -> PayPal submits transaction to credit card company -> credit card company provides authorization -> PayPal sends confirmation to website -> website says thank you for your order

There's a lot of places in there where things can go wrong.  A payment processor and software that is a direct credit vendor will be able to do all of this work directly instead of relying on several layers of abstraction.  Things can still go wrong, but they go wrong more often with PayPal because they're not simply a credit card processor.  They are an intermediary with their own banking system that is backed by credit card or bank account.  That means in order for them to function quickly they provide their own payment authorizations even though there may be no funds or whatever on the actual credit account.  It's simpler for the buyer and seller, but with all of the handshaking sometimes things go wrong, and it's SLOW!!!

Thats why I said with PayPal you kind of get what you get.  They don't work with developers, they have a bad reputation of basically saying it's their way or the highway.  At least that's been my experience and the experience of many many developers who have used their payment API in the past.

I think a disclaimer is likely a good idea, or what I really like is the live Instagram sales where you release one item at a time. The first person to comment "mine" DMs you their email address and you send them a square or PayPal invoice.  This way there is no confusion, it's exciting (drop one item each 15 minutes or whatever), and there's still the sense of urgency that promotes competitive buying.  That is, if this is something you do a few times a year.  If it's something you do every month it would probably be tiresome.

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9 hours ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

I'll see if I can get some friends to help me break the system. I will report back.

I’m very interested to see how the Square/Weebly integration is going to work. If you get some results, please report back!

9 hours ago, liambesaw said:

Instagram sales where you release one item at a time. The first person to comment "mine" DMs you their email address and you send them a square or PayPal invoice.

This is an interesting idea. I’m going to mull it over. It seems like a lot of intense babysitting while the sale is ongoing, but once a year it might be doable. I wouldn’t do it on instagram though, Instagram is fun, but I don’t think my customer base is there. 

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21 minutes ago, GEP said:

I’m very interested to see how the Square/Weebly integration is going to work. If you get some results, please report back!

This is an interesting idea. I’m going to mull it over. It seems like a lot of intense babysitting while the sale is ongoing, but once a year it might be doable. I wouldn’t do it on instagram though, Instagram is fun, but I don’t think my customer base is there. 

Mea, I think you said your customer base is on FB.  You could do exactly the same thing with fb.  List items individually, with price and shipping, message me directly, send an invoice through whomever and done.  I did that a little when I first started selling my work.  It may be time to revisit that model.  Just for those few things at the end of the year.  Hmmmm. got me thinking!

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