Saturday, April 4, 2009

You sent the wrong #@%!# color!


UPDATED December 6, 2014:  I sell very little on eBay any more.  Mostly I list destash and a handful of things.  But some of the complaints people came up with when I was a powerseller--and their extreme over-reaction to issues--really stunned me.  This is one of those stories.  But first, a few words about why the color you see online might be different from what you get in the mail.



One big misconception about the internet is that the color you see on the screen is the color it is in real life. That is virtually impossible to guarantee on the internet OR on television, for several reasons.
  • You can put two computer monitors or TV sets side by side--same brand, same model, same year, same everything--and see a product displayed in different colors on each screen. No two monitors can be exactly alike in how they portray color, ever. If you are shopping for something RED and the shade of red matters little to you, this is probably not a problem. But for some buyers (and sellers) this issue is a huge problem. And what are the odds that buyer and seller are even using the same brand of monitor, anyway?
  • Aside from make/model of monitor or laptop screen, the seller can also ADJUST his/her settings so that colors look accurate to him/her... yet customers, who are using all different types of electronics with all different settings, cannot adjust their settings in exactly the same way because that is impossible to do. It's not the seller's fault or the buyer's fault. This is just reality.
  • Now add LIGHTING to the equation. Your favorite fabric seller may have taken her photographs of that supposedly bright red fleece with a Nikon, a Sony (my previous camera, a Sony, distorted certain shades of red), a high-end megapixel, an iPhone, a digicam, maybe even a still camera.  They might be shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, indoors in bright light, indoors under poor light, indoors with an eerie flash that makes everyone's eyes red...or maybe at the bottom of the Grand Canyon at dusk while riding a mule. I'm sorry, but no two photos will show the same bright red and that's assuming it IS a bright red according to all who look at the fabric. Which brings me to the next point...


  • PERCEPTION varies widely. Your seller may tell you those shoes you saw online are denim blue, but how do we know what they mean by denim blue? To you, denim blue may be deep indigo or stonewashed or a faded blue. What does denim blue mean to the seller? You do not know. You can ask. But even if they say, "Dark blue," what does dark blue mean? What you call dark blue may not be the same as what anyone else on the planet calls dark blue.
  • DISCREPANCIES:  What if the color shown in the photo looks lime green and the seller describes it in text as olive green? Which one should you believe? Photo or description? If you trust the description instead of the photo and the product arrives looking lime green, then what? Accuse the seller of lying?
  • DEFINITION: What if the seller says the color is orange-red and the photo does indeed look orange-red (to you)... but the seller also says, "It's not nearly as orange as shown," what are you supposed to believe? Is the seller wrong? Is the photo wrong? Is your monitor adjusted poorly? Is the seller's monitor set poorly? Or is the seller's definition of red-orange different than yours? Are we talking about bright red-orange or more of a rust red-orange?

  • VISION ABNORMALITIES: What if the buyer or seller has cataracts, doesn't know it, and perceives colors differently than most people?
  • RIGHT v. LEFT EYE. What if the buyer or seller's left eye sees color differently than the right eye? It is my understanding that everyone's left eye does, indeed, see differently from his/her right eye. 
  • CLOSE-UP, LIFE SIZE, DISTANCE:  What if the close-up of the product looks different than a view of the product from four feet away? It almost certainly will.  The color of a product will vary depending on the distance between the camera and the product, especially considering lighting, type of camera, etc. plus whether or not the product has a pattern to it.  I recently got a comment from a buyer who said the close-up of my yarn was deceiving.  Well, a far-away photo would also be deceiving once you inspected it closely. So I have begun showing both a close-up AND a faraway shot of my yarns. Sounds like a good solution, doesn't it? But now I have customers asking me, well, which photo is right? Both of them!  Sometimes they do not want to hear that, because they like the close-up more than the faraway shot.  Now what can I tell them? "After you knit the sweater, stand right up next to people and do not let them walk away so that all they ever see is the yarn in close-up." I predict that people who try that will eventually get arrested for standing way too close to the wrong person.
Color accuracy on the internet is not generally a problem for people who buy and sell books, CDs or anything in which the color is going to be predictable, uniform or irrelevant. People want to know that the DVD is new or in mint condition. They won't care if the DVD case is a slightly different color than expected.

But color is a HUGE problem for anyone selling or buying fabric, yarn, almost any type of fashion or jewelry that isn't black (few people disagree over black), handbags, cosmetics, artwork, home decor and more. I get many questions about my yarn and I answer to the best of my ability. Over 99% of my customers are either happy with the color or realistic enough to deal with it.

For the other less than 1%, nothing I do will ever be enough.

Okay, now for an interesting story.


Last year, I received a ranting email from an eBay customer.  When I say "ranting," I mean, she really ripped me a new one over a tube of very inexpensive lipstick.  She said the lipstick I sent her was red, not pink.  She wanted pink. The photo in the listing had shown a deep pink lipstick with a photo flash on it that gave the impression it was dark pink except in that one spot. Most people could tell it was photo flash and the customer even mentioned the photo flash as part of my "evil marketing scheme."  That's a direct quote. I am not making up this story.  And the NAME of the lipstick color included the word fuchsia. And that name came from the manufacturer, not me. Most people who see the lipstick or a photo of the lipstick agree that it is, indeed, a deep pink, magenta or fuchsia. Every customer who has ordered this fuchsia lipstick has been happy with it ... until now. This woman screamed that it was red. What would you say to someone in this scenario? "Sorry, ma'am, but you must have cataracts."  Or how about this: "Return the lipstick for a full refund and I will sell it to someone else who will never suspect that you opened the tube and applied it to your germ-free lips." Eeeeeewwwww!  I think not.  What I wanted to say was, "Ma'am, your email has convinced me that selling anything on eBay is a sheer waste of my time and talent.  Furthermore, it goes against my Life Goals.  That's it. I'm done.  Finito.  You have single-handedly put Life's an Expedition out of business. Take this guilt with you to your grave."  Well, as it turns out, I stopped selling lipstick on eBay after that.  I donated the rest of my stock to female soldiers deployed overseas.

If you buy or sell merchandise in which color description or photography is a large factor, I have very little advice to give you, but having sold a gazillion things thus far, I am offering the benefit of my experience and the few solutions I have ever been able to think of:

SELLERS: Be prepared to offer a refund policy. This is not a good solution for every seller, because if your product cannot be resold--i.e.: opened lipstick--you may get so many returns, you will go out of business. It is also not a good solution if accepting returns causes other issues.  I am leery of accepting yarn returns because I don't know if the customer used some of it. Or smoked a pack of cigarettes and blew smoke rings through the center of the wound ball.  Or used the ball of yarn to play "catch" with Bowser the Wonder Dog.  If I did accept returns, what am I to do if the returned yarn reeks of expensive perfume? Charge less for it? Charge more for it?

For sellers of clothing, you might make sure there is a sales tag that cannot be removed and reattached without it being obvious. Tell the buyer they must return the garment unworn with the tag still attached. That way, if they wear it, they either must wear it WITH the tag dangling from it or try to reattach it.   Consider attaching the tag over the part of a shirt where their nipple would be.  That would probably discourage them from wearing it with the tag. Just sayin'.  And when that garment arrives covered in cat hair, you had best have a ready answer for your customer who is impatiently drumming her fingers waiting for that refund.

If you offer a no-questions-asked guarantee, you will likely have to raise the cost of your merchandise to compensate for returns. Sadly, your satisfied customers will have to pay more for the privilege of having your return policy. The bargain hunters will not like that. I do not know what to advise you.

BUYERS: My solutions for you are not nearly as good as the advice I gave sellers. For that, I apologize. I am truly searching for solutions because I am faced with this dilemma every day. Here is all I could come up with:

  • Shop with sellers who take the clearest photos AND write the most detailed description ...and then, for crying out loud, read and study both of them. A high percentage of my buyers look at the photos without reading the entire description. How do I know this? By the questions they ask.  Repeatedly, I receive questions whose answers are stated clearly in the listing. Most of these buyers are trustworthy and honest enough to admit that they did not read the listing carefully and they will not leave nasty feedback when they get something other than what they expected. I love you guys for your understanding, but please, just read the listing and you will be disappointed less often.
  • Continue shopping with the sellers whose goods you have purchased and have been happy with.
  • On eBay, shop with sellers whose DESCRIPTION star rating is high. That means that most people found their listings to be accurate.
  • Try to be realistic. If you want a pair of shoes that exactly match a skirt, you are taking a risk. Do not trash the seller for a photo or description that seems a little off. It may be your computer monitor or your vision that is a little off. Remember the woman who bought fuchsia lipstick from me and swears it is red? I'm sorry, but everyone else said that sucker was PINK. It's hard to hear the truth, but the erroneous perception may, indeed, be yours if we put it to a vote.


-- dj runnels (c) 2008-2009
Owner of Life's an Expedition

Etsy stuff that I make.
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