As I head out today to meet up with a bunch of local fabric enthusiasts (albeit for the most part in dress making form) I’ve been pondering the customer service that we receive at our fabric shops both in store and online.

Now Mandors, where we are meeting today to spend some Itison vouchers we got recently, is an Aladin’s cave of dress-making, home decor and, to a lesser (and very line-limited) extent, quilting fabric.  They employ a large number of staff members to deal with the cutting and pattern finding and phone answering and till ringing-up, and for the most part I can trust that I get at least what I have requested, length wise, usually with at least an additional inch or so just to be on the safe side.  When cut, they fold the fabric fairly neatly and efficiently, and stack it up as they go.  They don’t bat an eyelid as you haul more and more bolts to their table, and are often genuinely curious as to what you’ll be creating.  This would be a good customer experience.

With exclusively online shops, it’s not like you can pitch up and physically add the bolts for cutting, but for the most part I’ve had good customer service from these places, the only true exception being  That was awful – weeks late, half the order missing, and what was there was badly hacked about.  Usually though, the fabric arrives nicely packaged, sometimes in layers of tissue paper as well as a plastic ziploc type bag to save the fabric in the event of the parcel being dropped in transit in a puddle.  Often they include little scraps or samples of other fabrics that they stock, and usually a wee thank you note as well.

Here is an example of a lovely parcel I received a couple of years ago now from Dragonfly Fabrics in the UK (unfortunately since then I’ve tended to tear into my fabric parcels too quickly to record the beautiful packaging!)

These days quite a few of the online shops that I order from have gone to a bricks and mortar shop as well, but they still seem to retain that level of customer service that they had before they ‘made it big’, and have managed to pass on to their additional staff the ethics that they started with.

Why have I been pondering this so much?  Well that’s because this is just a sample of one of 3 fabrics that arrived in a parcel this week from Remnant House in Harrogate (apologies for the phone pic, I wanted to get it refolded and put away, it was giving me a nervous twitch!):

That is 3m of Klona cotton that has been generally scrunched and chucked in the vague direction of the ‘envelope’.  They never fold it neatly, they never pack it carefully to protect it from the elements, and it is always just shoved directly into a Parcelforce polythene bag (that has that lovely petrochemical smell to it).  Now Parcelforce does require the bag for their transport purposes, but most other companies that use them put in some additional packaging inside, be it a box or a ziploc type bag.

Remnant House is a bricks and mortar shop that went online, rather than the other way round as far as I can gather.  I have been buying Klona from them as they are the cheapest stockists of it, and I actually like the sizing on the fabric which leaves it effectively starched, saving me from having to do it!  It’s also about 8″ wider than its Kona cousin.  What I don’t like is that over the past few years their service has got worse and worse.  This time is the last straw, as apart from the terrible ‘folding’, the fabric arrived ripped off the bolt rather than cut (although their cutting has always been fairly dire too), which of course strains the fabric near the rip, and leaves it stretched, ruffled and unusable for a good inch or two.

When a rather more generous friend of mine, who also received an appalling parcel from them this week, e-mailed them to complain, sending a photo of both her own and my parcel contents, the reply she received implied that quite frankly they had far too many orders to fulfil quickly to be bothered with the niceties of actually presenting things well.  It quite pointedly did not contain anything along the lines of an apology, just a vague, thank you for bringing this to our attention, and that the sender would keep an eye on the folding.  Please note that it generally arrives far more slowly than ordering from other shops too, so the ‘getting it out ASAP’ implication rather made my jaw drop!

So here’s my question for you.  Have I been spoiled rotten by my nice local shop and my hard working online suppliers in the past, or should I actually expect to receive things in a usable manner?   In the future I think I shall pay the £1.50/m extra that Klona is elsewhere, as obviously that pays for nicer staff with a better work ethic.