We're a chess set online retailer. With the stakes so high in terms of profit - what to do when competitors get more and more nasty? What if they threaten to send the boys round? Publish a little online defamation? Register confusingly similar domain names? Steal photography and other content to use in selling their similar products?
The maturing of the web has allowed hundreds of thousands of opportunities to people across every industry who previously couldn't afford to get a physical store. And thousands of IT consultants have managed to join the two skills (technical and business) they have to jump into the shark infested waters of online commerce. This example of chess set retailing is real and current. The victim is a successful niche chess set company who suddenly appeared on the web by utilizing SEO skills, techie ability and a love of chess. After a year of trading, one of the chess competition noticed and started with threats and intimidation. But this has happened across many industries previously dominated by other web sites. What's the best course of action and reaction?
The first thing we feel is pride in the work done. The victimizer has been in chess set retailing for 12 years, we have been active for just one. A fellow retailer has flattered us by recognising a loss of income from our attempts at online marketing of chess sets. Hell, we're good! - what other industries might we impact? Of course, the reality is that we all build upon the ideas of others. we see an idea and think of some improvement. Inertia then becomes our enemy - continuous improvement is required. So enough with the feeling of being flattered and keep on with the innovation.
Naming the defauding site may have the effect of publicising the business to our detriment. Indeed the unethical web site selling inferior chess sets did refer to us directly, but probably realised that it was just sending people over to us. We want to focus on our business with a long term objective, so need to take action such that we don't lose focus. This is one knee-jerk reaction that won't necessarily help with the problem, but neither is ignoring the problem the best course either.
We seem to be occupying the aggressor somewhat. Well, that's something too. Whilst he's focusing his energies on us, he's distracting himself from his own company. Nike found this years ago. ‘Hold your friends close and your enemies closer’ only goes so far. Nike innovated from the gut - they came up with their own designs that no other ‘competitor watching’ could have inspired. Whilst our chess competitor is sticking pins in our voodoo doll, he can't innovate on chess set design and better chess suppliers with clarity of mind. More market share for us then.
Our chess retailing aggressor clearly has a poorer business model than us if he has to resort to this kind of behaviour. Why doesn't he work on his own business and compete in an ethical way rather than the threatening and abusive emails he regularly sends? If he believes we are taking his chess sets market - then why not work on improving his such that customers see a better business? Is this really so difficult? Perhaps he should be working another type of business. Or working for continuous improvement. Harassing the competition in some mafia style suggests a bullying manner that would be better channelled elsewhere.
‘Theft’ of intellectual property rights (chess photography, chess product names, chess product descriptions. . . )- whether yielding any advantage or not - is just that - theft. The plain fact is that such illegal use of property rights may well confuse customers and lead to the wrong conclusion - that the cheaper chess set product is the same as the original site - what a great find? In the world of chess sets, most families will be truly defrauded as they unknowingly have a defective or inferior product at the expense of our company. They are unlikely to compare the product with another and so may never know the quality chess set they could have had. Sometimes, therefore, legal action is required in order to establish the bounds of unethical behaviour. Action can be threatened against the site hosts and against the aggressor company itself. Often a lawyer's letter may suffice, but may be seen as ‘bluff’. So real court action may be required to bring the matter to a conclusion. Taking this course of action amidst physical threats is something demanding courage, especially when the chess aggressor's last name has a distinctly Sicilian ring to it. But the only other option may be to be bullied. As in the school playground, bullies have to be stood up to even when a bloody nose is the result.
It has to be remembered that bad publicity is still publicity. Mentioning the aggressor may only serve to send potential customers scurrying over to the site to see his side of events, and his chess sets. We did wonder whether to post the emails sent to us on the site - but the use of bad language is so bad that many filters would block our site. We have resorted to posting a notice of inferior chess set copies being available with language that communicates our ethical stance on such matters. Each overlapping product has a notice attached. This is by no means ideal - but it's better than nothing. (Suggestions welcome. . . )
The new world is here. Online retailing and competition is a fact of life. Competition is good for consumers and good for business improvement. But as in the schoolground and in the High Street/Mall there are aggressive unethical bullies online too. Actions can be taken to offset the aggression, evasive tactics can be used with some success, but the end game may involve taking hooligans to the law to stop the murky activities affecting the sanity of our lives and helping us have societies with admirable qualities we all look up to.
Author: Baron Turner of ChessBaron UK, USA, France, Canada - Chess Pieces, Chess Sets, Chess Boards