Customers Never Cease to Amaze Me

This weekend we’re running a 20% off coupon code on Detailed Image. Coupled with our free shipping on orders over $150 for the rest of the year, it’s a pretty enticing pre-holiday sale.

Apparently it’s not quite good enough for one customer.

Said customer decided that he was going to outsmart our system by buying a gift certificate at 20% off and then turn around and use the gift certificate to then place his actual order for 20% off, effectively double-dipping and getting 36% off (20% off of 20% off). Since we do not allow discounts on gift certificates, this customer did a big run around and placed two orders just to get the exact same discount he would’ve gotten to begin with.

Now, had we messed up and accidentally let it slip through, we probably just would have allowed it and then put in a feature not to allow it in the future. Or maybe we would have contacted him and held the order until we received payment for the remainder of the order. It doesn’t really matter either way. That’s not what bothers me.

What I just can’t understand is why people go to such troubles to try to rip off companies. I don’t understand why someone would even try to do this.  I mean hell, we’re already giving 20% off and free shipping. You damn well know that if you get away with it it’s because of some technicality on our part. We clearly did not advertise that intended use.

Is it the few bucks you’re saving? Is it the feeling of getting over on someone? If you like our products so much, why wouldn’t you want to support us so we can stay in business?  Would you want someone to do this to you?

Golden-rule stuff aside, is it even worth all of the brain power to come up with the scheme, and then the extra time executing it, just to save a few dollars?

Update 12/8/09 from the comments below:

Just a little update to all of this.  We had someone who we caught really trying to scam us today (not just save a few bucks, but manipulate the site to get unlimited stuff for free).  I’m not going to go into the details because this is something that is pretty intelligent and could probably fool a lot of e-commerce systems (don’t want to give people ideas…)

We were able to study his browsing history on our site and determine that for months he was trying everything he could to find a loophole.  Once he finally found one, we had quite a bit of evidence to lay the hammer down and ban his account.  He violated several points of our ToS.  We refunded him the little money he spent with us and did not ship him any goods….and then of course fixed the loophole.

Obviously these people are out there and they’ll stop at nothing to get cheap or free stuff.  It’s sad to me, but it’s reality. If you run an e-commerce store, the best advice I can give is to have several people looking at every single order with a critical eye.  Especially during the busy times.  And especially for international customers (this one was international, as was our large chargeback case).  All four of us are busy, but we all try to at least scan every order that comes through.  You’d be amazed at what we catch sometimes.

21 comments on Customers Never Cease to Amaze Me

  1. Dale Ting says:

    Adam, IMO I wouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth (is that the right cliche?). I don’t think what your customer tried to do was all that unethical; if that was something you allowed, then it’s their right to try to take advantage of it. If this would cause you to lose money, then you don’t allow it (as you don’t). Some people are just very price sensitive and will do anything for a deal (check out black Friday at Wal Mart).

    That said, I do wish the public would understand how capitalism works, and you need to be willing to pay for value. It comes back to you; if you pay for value, then the people who provide you that value make money, and they stay in business to continue to provide you that value. There’s a local BBQ place that I love; I try to go there and tell everyone about it so they stay in business because they’re REALLY good. There are some places I almost want to tell the owner to raise their prices.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Black Friday makes no sense to me either, but that’s a whole other topic…

      The price sensitivity in a high-end market like auto detailing also makes no sense to me…going out of your way to save $10 when you’re spending money on car cleaning products for your $60k car just doesn’t add up in my mind.

      But yea, your last paragraph, that’s what I was trying to get at.

  2. Nev says:

    I don’t know man….that sounds like something I’d try 🙂

  3. Rob says:

    I don’t know how I feel about this. TBH I’d probably try it – I’m all for saving money wherever possible. As a customer I’d want the best value-for-money possible but at the same time I’d probably assume that you were still able to make money on the deal.

    As for what you’ve said about holding the order until the remainder is paid, in the UK that would be illegal – the payment is the contract, regardless of the advertised price. If the card has been charged it’s their property. I don’t know about in the US though!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Interesting. We probably just would have let it slide and then fixed it next time. But if we see an order we don’t like, we often contact the customer and hold it until we get more information (trying to prevent chargebacks) or flat out refund them if we don’t like what we see. I don’t think that’s illegal…especially considering in this case it would have been because of a website glitch and not something we wanted to allow. We do state that “discount codes do not apply to this item” right on the top of the page.

      Depending on the product selection and shipping location, we may or may not make money on the order if he was able to put it through.

      Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion. My partners and I want people to take advantage of our sales. When George and I saw this one come through, we both thought the same thing. It’s just not how we do business. We hope our customers treat us with the same respect we treat them.

  4. Rob says:

    Adam – I’d be really careful doing the refunds until you’re absolutely certain of the law and/or you mention it in your current T&Cs. Certainly in the UK you’d be on unstable ground legally if you’ve already charged the card. If you haven’t yet charged the card then that’s a whole different matter and it’s not a problem to cancel an order or end a transaction prematurely.

    As for the customer trying to save money, I don’t really see the problem – you decided it wasn’t something you wanted to allow, built a system that didn’t allow it and it wasn’t allowed. Where’s the issue? As for someone wanting to get the best deal, surely that’s no different than you negotiating down your suppliers? Does this mean you’re trying to “rip off” your suppliers or service providers? No, it just means we all like to get the best price possible. You should just smile at his ingenious attempt and be glad that your system worked properly.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      It’s really not THAT big of deal. But I don’t agree with your analogy. We offered 20% off, not 36%. Someone tried to backdoor their way into 36% off. We didn’t offer or agree to give them 36%, like our supplier would have had we negotiated a lower rate with them.

      • Adam McFarland says:

        Also, what he was trying to do is prohibited in the Promo Restrictions page that we reference and link to any time we mention any sale. So from my point of view if it’s something that we say we specifically don’t allow, both in our terms and on the gift certificate page, the customer was trying to game our system and get a discount that he wasn’t entitled to and that sort of bothers me. But overall not a huge deal, certainly nothing compared to the fraudulent chargebacks.

  5. Regular Reader says:

    Cease*

  6. Rob says:

    Yeah, that is out of line if it’s specifically exluded in the promo restrictions page you reference – I guess just be glad you anticipated it and your system worked!

    Surely the guy would have noticed that the gift certificate didn’t have discount applied when he went to check out? If he didn’t, that’s odd because it’s so obviously planned…

    Another thing to take away from this is that you’re clearly attracting at least one price-concious customer which leads me to belive you’re the low-cost leader for that product. Shout about it!

    • Adam McFarland says:

      You are totally correct. For better or worse one of the ways we’ve taken market share is by becoming the low cost leader on a lot of products. Between that and the fact that we run more sales than our competitors (and more mini sales like our daily special or on Twitter/Facebook), we do attract a very price conscious consumer sometimes.

      Which makes me think of an interesting question – is there an e-commerce industry online that isn’t driven primarily on price? Meaning, is there a market leader that charges considerably higher but makes up for it in some other way?

  7. Rob says:

    That is an interesting question. I know of a few and they’re mostly just the online presence of bricks-and-mortar establishments that have built themselves a strong, trusted brand. There are still certain people who feel unsafe when shopping online and if they can associate an online store with a real-world presence they’re happier to part with the dough, some of these companies know this and charge accordingly.

    Another example are premium online shops (such as http://www.kikidm.com – possibly NSFW) which sells the same products (sex toys) as many other retailers but does so in a such a way as to appeal to the high-end market and possibly those who wouldn’t be comfortable with a “normal” sex toy e-commerce store.

  8. nethy says:

    I think I remember some famous bug at amazon where a customer could enter a negative number of units, amazon would refund him the amount & their inventory systems would await delivery.

  9. Anthony says:

    I think what it really comes down to is that some people love getting a deal. I’m one of them, quite honestly. It doesn’t if you have an expensive car, or an expensive lifestyle. Many times, the smartest, richest people are only that way because they were conditioned to seek the best possible deal, all the time (spending/investing smart vs. working hard).

    Someone mentioned Black Friday. That’s a great example. People will use normal coupons in conjunction with an already heavily discounted doorbuster. Even though it’s questionable and probably explicitly not allowed on the coupon, many retailers will just bite the bullet and allow purchases like that to go through. You can thank big retailers for allowing things like this to happen, and conditioning consumers that it’s OK.

    I think the big problem here is that when a business is online, it’s hard to tell if they’re a multinational, billion-dollar business, or a mom-and-pop shop with a few employees. When a new-ish customer goes to detailedimage.com, at least around the holiday/discount season, all they probably have in mind is getting what they want, cheap. They don’t feel like they’re ripping you off. For all they know, you’re a huge organization, you’re a low-price leader, and they’re doing what they do everywhere else, which is taking advantage of a pretty standard loophole (must of us do it on our taxes, why not elsewhere, right?)

    Lastly, although this practice was debatably unethical, it’s not necessarily viewed by everyone as such. I find that the stores/sites I get (unethical) good deals from are also the same places I end up frequenting even when I can’t manage to get any kind of deal at all. And mind you, 95% of the time, it’s a pretty standard, non-discounted purchase. So who’s the real winner?

  10. Anthony says:

    Oh, one more, really important point:

    It’s just too damn easy and anonymous. That’s why.

    The same reason people download music illegally instead of paying for it on iTunes, Amazon, etc. It’s just as easy, but it costs less/nothing. It’s blatantly unethical, but it is proof that the online universe just makes these things too easy and too anonymous. After all, most people wouldn’t steal CDs from a bricks-and-mortar store.

    So, if a large percentage of people are willing to blatantly break not only ethics, but laws, to steal music online, it should be absolutely no surprise that they’re willing to legally exploit a loophole at a random ecommerce site.

  11. Adam McFarland says:

    Just a little update to all of this. We had someone who we caught really trying to scam us today (not just save a few bucks, but manipulate the site to get unlimited stuff for free). I’m not going to go into the details because this is something that is pretty intelligent and could probably fool a lot of e-commerce systems (don’t want to give people ideas…)

    We were able to study his browsing history on our site and determine that for months he was trying everything he could to find a loophole. Once he finally found one, we had quite a bit of evidence to lay the hammer down and ban his account. He violated several points of our ToS. We refunded him the little money he spent with us and did not ship him any goods….and then of course fixed the loophole.

    Obviously these people are out there and they’ll stop at nothing to get cheap or free stuff. It’s sad to me, but it’s reality. If you run an e-commerce store, the best advice I can give is to have several people looking at every single order with a critical eye. Especially during the busy times. And especially for international customers (this one was international, as was our large chargeback case). All four of us are busy, but we all try to at least scan every order that comes through. You’d be amazed at what we catch sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Commenting Rules

I'm honored that you found this post interesting enough to leave a comment. Before posting, I have a few ground rules:

  • Please keep your comments as relevant to the post as possible.
  • No personal attacks or any other nastiness.
  • Your first comment is subject to my approval.

Thanks!