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How Do You Run Your Ecommerce Website While You're Away On Vacation

     
7:09 am on Sep 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Does anyone have suggestions on how to run an ecommerce site while away on vacation? I maintain by myself, three sites that take orders online for different products. Upon a successful credit card settlement I contact my suppliers online and have them ship products out to my customers. I have no helpers or laptop to do this while away. My destination's Internet access is questionable.

I have some ideas I am thinking of trying before I take off for two weeks:

1. Post a message on the home page or a pop-up that the site will not be accepting orders for two weeks.
2. Post on my site I will be away for two weeks but my site can still accept orders, however shipments will be delayed until I get back.
3. Post on my site the shipping time is now 4 weeks and switch it back to the regular 2 weeks when I get back.
4. Show one of the above messages only after a visitor clicks on checkout on the shopping cart.
5. Don't mention anything.

Either option I take, I fear lost of customers or some hacker may take advantage of the fact that the site's owner is not around to notice mischievous activity.

Any of your ideas are welcomed.

Akogo

10:51 pm on Sept 22, 2002 (gmt 0)

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FWIW, I suggest choosing between option 2 and 3. Don't tell them you're going away, but let them know that until MM/DD/YY your shipping services will be delayed -- but orders can still be placed.

I *suppose* that if you don't say anything, it's not the end of the world, either... not sure how long your vacation is, though. In any event, have fun on your vacation! :-)

1:35 am on Sept 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Personally I would find someone that I trust to keep the business up and running. Depending on how profitable it is for you, you could either split the profit with your helper, or pay them on an hourly basis.

One thing I would never do is close down for two weeks.

1:33 pm on Sept 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

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First, eljefe's advice is the best solution. Combine it with something like 'delivery may take longer than the usual 2 weeks' so you can hire that person on an 2 days/week basis or the like.

Secondly, try to implement a shopping cart software that automates the processes that you have to do manually today. Although it might cost a lot, it saves much time that you can spend otherwise (next shopping-website or whatever). Also you won't need a stand-in for your next vacation.
Have a nice one!

2:11 pm on Sept 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

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2 weeks ! ;)

Seriously, though it all depends on your order volumes and whether you are earning your bread and butter from the sites or whether it's just a source of additional income.

Option 3 seems fine to me.

You can also consider setting up a follow-up autoresponder which sends an email after the checkout process that your order will reach you in 4 weeks (be sure to mention that this is for all orders in this month only, however, avoid mentioning that you are on vacation for 2 weeks)

btw, have a nice vacation :)

2:29 pm on Sept 23, 2002 (gmt 0)

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One of my clients, who has a small e-commerce site, used option 2 very successfully. He put a notice on the site stating that the company was on vaction for a certain period of time, that the site was still accepting orders and that any orders received would be shipped on a specific date. There was no decrease in the number of orders over that period of time, and the delay in shipments did not appear to cause any problems.
2:38 am on Sept 25, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I would say it very much depends on what you sell and whether you try to portray a proffessional image or more a part time sort of business.

If proffessional then I would say you will possibly lose business because the internet is 24/7 and people are becoming less and less patient.

I was in a similar situation to you a few years back and I had to make a decision on how it would work. I decided posting that I was away was unproffesional (as large and proffessional companies do not close shop just because one person goes on holiday), delays may even cause a similar reaction depending on what you sell.

I decided what my priorities were and decided that the website business was one of them along with the holiday. So the business would have to come on holiday with me, and I would have to plan accordingly.

So I decided to travel to somewhere I knew I could have internet access readily available in my hotel room, and logged on every few hours. Down to the beach, back to the room.

It was not ideal but I did not lose business and I sort of had a holiday while the people I was with had a great time, just that I kept disapearing and getting a little stressed over different things.

Of course if your business is doing well and you do not want to do room/beach then you should ask a friend to look after your site while you are away, and start thinking about hiring staff so in the future so you do not have this problem.

If your business is serious and you want to build it up then sacrifices have to be made, it can be tough but that is all there is to it.

2:06 am on Nov 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I ALWAYS lose orders when I post I'll be gone - a certain percentage of webcustomers are instant gratification types who won't be back. So I don't post when I'm going away anymore. A week or less I say nothing. Over a week I post something vague like "some orders may be slightly delayed".
Then when I get home I send delayed notices to all the older orders so they won't complain. I have found people to be very patient with reasonable delays after the ordering, but put off by the possibility before ordering.
2:22 am on Nov 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I think you should post that there will be a delay, call it inventory/restocking if you need to. Maybe mail them a thank you for your patience post card after the fact. Showing that your human is always a nice touch and it reminds them to come back.
2:43 am on Nov 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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If you can't afford or trust someone for help, I like option 2. If you sell mass merchandise, I could see you losing sales. But if you have a niche product or lower prices, I don't see it affecting your sales. In the past, I have stated our web store is closed for "inventory and business assessment".

For longer vacation, I enlist help. We set up a mail rule to forward all mail to myself and the helper. Items were pre-packed when possible. Shipments are sent every day. Technical support and/or order issues were handled whenever I could visit an Internet cafe. Even if you can not resolve an issue until you get back, buyers appreciate you communicating that to them while you are away. As long as you are not deep in the jungles of Thailand, you can find an Internet cafe with a little snooping around the train station or airport.

4:41 am on Nov 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Using an internet cafe has been mentioned as an option.

Maybe I'm too paranoid about security, but FWIW, I wouldn't want to log into any business accounts from a computer in an internet cafe -- especially in a foreign country.

More than a zero percent chance of a keystroke logger being installed on the computer I was using that would enable someone to steal passwords to my business/web accounts is too much risk for me to use such a public use computer.

Same with other "public/kiosk" type computers available to the general public for internet use -- including ones in a library.

The only way I would feel comforatable logging in over a public computer would be if I did so by mouse clicking on the letters of a keyboard displayed on the login screen, where the server displaying the keyboard on the login screen then translated my mouseclicks into characters making up my ID and password to authenticate me.

I would make sure it scambled the location of keys on the keyboard each time the keyboard was displayed on the logon screen, too! That would alleviate much of my worries -- but I would still be careful what characters I typed while logged on. Basically, I wouldn't want to type anything on an internet cafe keyboard I wouldn't mind sending on a postcard.

I like the idea of a laptop with SSH MUCH better!

Just a thought,

Louis

5:23 am on Nov 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Its' funny that this should come up. I was just thinking about this thread when I was logging on.

It came to mind because I'll be leaving in 2 days for almost two weeks.

I ended up deciding not to make a posting on my sites and instead enlisting the help of a trustworthy friend to package and ship the orders while I used a borrowed laptop, newly loaded with everything I could think of I might need(want) during my vacation to handle everything else.

My wife isn't happy about it but even she agreed that it was a good idea.

5:49 am on Nov 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I'm surprized that there is still some interest in this topic. What I actually did before I left was placed this in my shipping policy page:


Please allow two to three weeks for your order to arrive. If you are placing an order from September 28th to October 11th, please allow four to five weeks for your order to arrive. We are short-staffed during this two-week period, but will process your order as soon as possible.

I also put this in a outgoing email whenever someone tried to email. The problem with this is that you'll get email bounced back if it is a bad sender address from junk mail.

I still received some orders while I was away. I checked a couple of times using the business center of the hotels I was staying in to log in to my email account. I stayed away from cafes.

While I was in China, I decided to use those digital photos I took and put them up on a website. Perhaps one day it'll bring in some revenue from products related to China and travel.

In all, try to forget about your business if you can and just enjoy your vacation. I sure did!

2:51 pm on Nov 20, 2002 (gmt 0)

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I should add, we sell books, a very limited line. My last long (3 wee) trip I went by car, and knew I'd be visiting friends at various points who had inet, so I took two cases of books with me, a bunch of invoice/label forms, and a disk with all my business software/files on it. and shipped books every few days until I ran out about 2 weeks into the trip.

I was processing orders at one point in my daughters college dorm!

A hassle but considering that the price my books is pretty high, and that I figure about 40% of the impluse buyers don't come back, I probably made more than enough to pay for the trip, that I wouldn't have made otherwise.

BTW, one problem a lot of us have that makes it hard to get someone else to cover for us is sketchy order fullfilment systems - between my weird database and obsolete CC software it would take a week just to train someone else to run it, and then something unexpected would probably come up that would stop them dead. One way around this, given a laptop, is to do all the paper and CC work remotely, then just send your "shipper" the invoices so all they have to do is put the required item in the box and ship it.

8:13 pm on Jan 1, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Just got back from my vacation and thought I would post my experience about being away from my e-commerce business for the first time since I started.

Three days before we left, I posted a paragraph on the contact and shipping information pages stating that we would be closed for the Christmas holidays from Dec 24th until Jan 2nd, and that orders would not ship during that time. Once we left, I left the same message on our voice mail, and set up an auto responder thanking people for contacting us and letting them know when we would be back.

I was very anxious about leaving because business was really starting to take off for us. I was prepared to lose sales, but was more concerned about helping service customers that already had orders in transit. The hotel did have an internet kiosk and I was able to avoid temptation for the first couple of days but on the third day I caved into my curiosity and logged on "just to see". I popped into WebmasterWorld to see if Google had updated or if any juicy news was breaking but never checked any "work stuff" out. ( I had promised my wife I wouldn't)

Yesterday morning, just before we left for the airport, I snuck away from my wife and logged into to check out the action. My inbox was stuffed full of orders. :o

We arrived home about 7pm last night and rang in the new year by printing orders and answering a ton of email. We had one of our biggest weeks ever with very little in the way of collateral damage. A few people cancelled orders because of the delay, but all in all it seems to have gone off amazingly well! We figure we have about 8 hours worth of packing and shipping work ahead of us, but its a nice problem to have. :)

I would definitely do it again but only during the week of Christmas. It seems to me that it is the only week that you can "close" for the week and have people be understanding about it.

11:09 pm on Jan 2, 2003 (gmt 0)

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We took a one-week cruise this past September. What we did was to make a prominent note that we would be conducting inventory, and that shipment times would be delayed about a week. But, in order to soften the blow, we also provided a coupon where people who did order would get a 10% discount.

We actually did conduct an inventory, but in the Cayman Islands.

The whole thing worked out well for us, and I think for our customers as well.

11:14 pm on Jan 2, 2003 (gmt 0)

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What's a vacation?

Seriously, I go with the Internet Cafe idea combined with a trusted friend to do the manual, real world part. It wasn;t really an internet cafe, but the business center of my hotel. I did a bunch of work over a vacation an hour or so at a time, but then again I had no hard goods to ship.
I don't think I could trust even a savvy computer user with my prized possessions while I was gone. I'd spend days worrying about what I would come back to.

12:00 am on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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Great Posts!
I haven't had a vacation in 5 years, or since my personal web site was launched. I think I will stick to places I can at least have cell access so I could use a laptop to check on things.
It's kind of like having a ball and chain, but compared to what I used to have to do to make a buck it's a piece of cake.
9:22 pm on Jan 3, 2003 (gmt 0)

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it can also depend on the seasonality of your sales.

we sell mainly spring/summer lines. we would never consider having a shutdown during our peak months but luckily we can accommodate a christmas shutdown when sales are slacker.

downside of this is that we cant take so much time off in the summer when the weather is good :(