5 Things to Do When Ecommerce Goes Wrong

Things will go wrong. It is a fact of life for small and mid-sized ecommerce businesses. But it is not the end of the world, and there are things you can do to get back on track personally and professionally.

Every ecommerce business will have problems. Here are a few actual examples.

What Can Go Wrong in Ecommerce

Shipping was calculated incorrectly. A retailer has 28-gallon kitchen garbage cans on its website. The garbage cans are priced at $9.99 each. An individual can weighs just under two pounds and is almost 28 inches long. A customer ordered six, and the retailer’s website estimated the shipping costs based on the weight, so that the customer paid $10.87 for home delivery. But when it came time to ship the cans, they required a large box. The carrier charged by dimensional weight and the actual shipping cost was $128.00. The retailer contacted the customer, offered a $25 gift card, and cancelled the order. The customer was very mad and posted on Facebook that the retailer is cheap and doesn’t stand by its promises.

Packages were smashed. A few years ago, a retailer had a horrible Christmas shipping experience. The retailer had advertised a final shipping date for guaranteed Christmas Eve arrival. Dozens of orders came in on that final day and many of the orders were shipped via U.S. Postal Service’s Priority Mail. Shortly after the mail employee picked up the packages, she was in an accident, most of the packages were smashed. The employee, fortunately, was fine. Beginning late on Christmas Eve, one angry customer after another called, emailed, or posted on Facebook. The U.S. Postal Service did not notify the retailer until after Christmas about the accident or the fact that none of the packages had been shipped.

The very mad customer. Last year, a worker at an ecommerce business started processing an order for a closeout item, only to discover that the product was damaged and not worthy to be shipped to the customer. Although the item had sold for less than the retailer’s cost because it was discontinued, a store representative contacted the manufacturer, which was no longer making the item, and even tried to find one at competitors’ online stores, only to learn that there simply were not any more to be had. The retailer contacted the customer, explained what had happened, and offered a $50 gift card for her trouble. The customer — in response — yelled profanities over the telephone and placed a visceral message on the retailer’s Facebook page. At one point, she even asked the retailer for $1,000 for her trouble.

Automation error. A retailer had been selling particular chain-link panel for years and had a UPC associated with the panel in its database. This retailer used an automatic listing script to post items to the Amazon Marketplace. The script dutifully compared UPCs and added the product to Amazon. But UPCs are not always constant, and the manufacturer had changed this one. As a result the retailer’s single, chain-link panel, which sold for $79.99, was associated with a 10-foot by 15-foot chain-link dog run that sold for almost $400.00. The retailer sold more than a dozen of the “dog runs” — at $79.99 each — in moments on Amazon, creating a customer satisfaction nightmare.

Site is gone. Another small retailer, working with an inexpensive software-as-a-service ecommerce platform, was trying to add a new section to the store website. Without really knowing how it happened, the business owner deleted the entire site. It was down for more than a week before it could be completed recreated.

You could probably add some of your own business experiences to this list. But the question at hand is how to deal with problems more generally and get yourself and your business right back to where it needs to be.

5 Things to Do When Ecommerce Goes Wrong

  • Breathe. Seriously, just stop and breathe. When problems arise, folks can sometimes react without really thinking about what is going on, what ramifications an action might have, or even without empathizing with others. To fix a problem, you want to calm down and think things through.

In his course at, “Becoming a Resilient Person – The Science of Stress Management,” University of Washington Assistant Professor Dr. Clay Cook suggests focusing on your breathing, not changing your breathing, but focusing on it as a way to become calm and mindful.

Once you have focused on your breathing, intentionally focus on your thoughts, emotions, and even sensations. You should now be able to think logically about how you feel, how you are reasoning, or how best to address the current situation.

  • Try to determine what went wrong. Whether you are dealing with a customer service problem, a money problem, an inventory problem, or even a technical problem on your website, immediately try to determine what went wrong.

Often the process of discovering how a problem arose will cool tempers and provide insights regarding how the problem might be solved.

Determine who is impacted, and how. It is also important to identify the risk to your ecommerce business. Some folks even suggest imagining the worst possible outcome from the problem as a way of understanding what is at stake.

  • Take responsibility. Regardless of the role you or your company played in creating the problem, take responsibility for finding a solution.

Taking responsibility may mean that you need to do something to make up for an error. It may mean that you will need to expedite something or change something. It may even mean that you have to tell a customer no.

A good business leader understands that every decision will ultimately cause some set of rewards or consequences, and takes responsibility for them.

  • Come up with a plan. Once you have determined what caused the problem and who is impacted, you are set to take responsibility for finding a solution. Come up with a plan that will, as much as possible, make everything better.

If the problem impacts you directly, think about the solution that will most quickly dull that impact. If the problem impacts someone else, try to examine the problem from that person’s perspective, what would be the best solution from his point of view. If the impacted person is a customer, you might even ask her what sort of solution she would like.

Finally, identify what steps should be taken to rectify the problem.

  • Take action. Problems rarely go away by themselves. Look at the steps in your solution plan and start taking action.
Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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