Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ditching the brick and mortar and for the web

Yesterday, I received a comment from a customer and I decided it would make a good topic for a post.

Today, I stopped into the store with plans to buy lobsters and have them shipped. I was disappointed when I was told that they couldn't process my order in the store and that I needed to go to the website instead. 

This is an issue with which we have struggled. Gurnet Trading Co. has been shipping lobsters pretty much since we first opened, more than 10 years ago. It has not been a huge part of our business, a few shipments here and there with an increase in volume around the holidays.

Before we moved the shipping online it was a convoluted process. We would have to haul out a thick book of shipping tables and matrices. Using the estimated shipping weight and the ship to zip code we would figure out a base shipping rate and then make sure all the applicable surcharges were added and applied correctly. The process would routinely take more than 30 minutes to fill out all the appropriate paperwork and get an accurate shipping estimate.

Many of our cashiers (particularly in the summer) are high school and college students working during their vacations. Given the complicated and expensive nature of shipping it has not made sense to train seasonal and temporary employees how to process a shipping order. Shipping has therefore been handled by three people; our owner and our two most seasoned team leaders. As Gurnet Trading has grown, our owner has spent less time in the store and more time directing operations from behind the scenes. With so few people available and capable of processing a shipping order, it was a matter of luck as to whether or not there would be someone in the store to help you place an order.

To add to an already difficult process, the store has limited spaced and can be very busy place. It is not uncommon to have a line of customers stretching to the door. Within that line there will be people who want to buy lobsters out of the lobster tank, there will be people who want haddock out of the fish case, there will be people who want a fried clam dinner, and there might be someone who wants to ship lobsters. Often we would have to ask the customer with a shipping request to wait until we had helped the other customers with their faster and easier orders. Selling fresh seafood and cooked products is our primary and business and we have always prioritized service to those customers. A customer wanting to order a five minute lobster roll shouldn't have to wait 30 minutes to order because of a shipping order.

In recent years, business has grown so much and the store has become so busy that processing a shipping order became a huge interference to our primary business. We reached a breaking point where we considered ending shipping all together. In order to continue providing the service of shipping, when I quit my 9-5 job in 2013 to take over Soper Ocean Services we decided that I would also develop a web-store and move our shipping process online.

Today, I manage the web-store; answer online inquiries and process all shipping orders. There have been some definite pros and cons to my taking over the shipping and moving the process to the internet.


  • I am off-site so I am not eating up valuable real estate in the store.  
  • I am a single point of contact to provide unified and consistent responses.
  • I am off-site so I don't get caught up and distracted by the hubbub of the store.
  • Working from home allows me to respond to customer inquiries outside of normal business hours.
  • I have low overhead costs. I am only paid for my time spend working on the website or interacting with customers. An in-store shipping manager would have to be paid full time and work regular hours in the store, regardless of whether or not there were any shipments.
  • Being online, the shipping estimator is fast and accurate.
  • Being online a customer can place an order anytime of day.

  • Being off-site means that the website does not always have the most up to date pricing or status. There is usually lag between price changes and specials.
  • Being off-site also means that I am not available in-person  to help customers.
  • My day job has me working on a mud covered barge from April to November. While I can answer general questions from the wheelhouse on my barge, I can't process an order. Our customer's have to wait until I get off the barge in the afternoon for more complicated answers and quotes. 
  • Having a website moves more of the responsibilities and effort onto the customers. Which means if they are having trouble or have questions they have to make an additional effort to contact me.


If you come into the store and want to place a shipping order, we have an IPAD set up that is linked to our website. Our team members can help walk you through the process. I also try to keep a stack of my business cards next to the IPAD, to encourage people to contact me. While my business cards only have the web address and my email address (gurnetlobsters@gmail.com) on them, the store will also give out my personal phone number for those who do not have computer access or need additional help. 

I always make an effort to answer emails or respond to voice mails within a few hours or at least by the end of the day. I can usually respond to emails faster than voice mail, because of cellphone reception problems on the water.

It's certainly not perfect and we do have some problems, but in the end we work hard to take care of you and provide the best service we can. We are always open to recommendations and always want to hear about any troubles you have had with our service.  


Here are a few tips to help us improve our service:

  • Email me at gurnetlobsters@gmail.com
  • Be specific with your comments. The more detailed and specific you are the more we can do to improve future experiences. 
  • Who? Was there a specific employee who provided good service? One who provided poor service? Or was unable to help you? Did the team member seem knowledgeable? 
  • What? What happened? Be specific. Did the website produce an error code? Were instructions confusing? Did you have problems during checkout? Did you have trouble navigating the site?
  • When? What was the date and time of the event you wish to comment on?
  • Where? Is it a website issue or store issue?