I had a disappointing experience with an online retailer recently, who just so happens to be a direct competitor of my business. It was a chance encounter really, a customer accidentally returned items from another online shop to our office. The packaging looked off, however I told the girls to search for the senders name in our database to see if she was a customer of ours as well.

Low and behold, she was. We could have just returned the item to sender, however I saw a golden opportunity to turn this online shopper --who had obviously betrayed us-- into a lifelong customer. I don't know if you know this about me but I am a detective at heart, so I decided to play a little game of super sleuth and call up the competition to inform them that one of their customers had accidentally mailed us their return.

I was immediately transferred to the manager because "she would be the one to handle this." I tell her what happened, and she says to me, "Maybe you can get in touch with the customer and ask her what she wants you to do."

I was actually taken aback by this, because I honestly thought she was just going to email us a label to help get it to it's final destination. So I replied, "I'm sorry, did you just ask me to get in touch with your customer and resolve this for you?" She kind of laughs and says, "Well, we don't pay for our customers return shipping so I would just return it to sender. That's what we do because we get returns for other brands all the time."

How to Analyze Your Competitors

Wow, I didn't really realize the return game was the Wild West and things were just getting delivered to the wrong companies all the time. So, we go back and forth a bit and she says to me, "Alright, so let me talk to our team and I will get back to you about this." I felt like this was turning into a bigger deal than it really needed to be, but c'est la vie.

Now, comes the fun part. Since we actually did have the customers information, we sent her a really nice email and let her know that we had mistakenly received her return that was meant for our competition. Also, we informed her that we notified them and they were less than helpful, and told us to simply return the package to her, which would have caused her to miss her window of opportunity for a refund per their return policy.

We also offered her two solutions, we could ship the item back to her, or we could mail the item on to it's intended destination. They might not offer free return shipping --but we do-- and we aren't above helping someone out.

She replies slightly embarrassed of course, however very thankful for the assistance and with a newfound distaste for our competition. Remember how the manager told me she would get back to me with a solution? Well, she never did.

Benefits of Competition in Business

So, a few days goes by and low and behold, a second return comes in with eerily familiar packaging. Another accidental return meant for the same competitor is sent to us by another customer who's just ordered from us a few days prior. We were thrilled to have another opportunity to offer our stellar customer service, and also reveled in the fact that our competition was handling their returns so poorly that even their own customers didn't know where to ship them to. We can be a little petty, but it's all in good fun.

Milton Berle once said, "If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." I like to say that you should always keep an eye out for opportunities such as this, and make the most of them. You never know when you might be able to turn a first time customer into a lifelong supporter simply by going a little bit above and beyond. Give it a try.