Buying cigars online is the more common means for purchasing premium cigars, rather than buying them at your neighborhood brick & mortar tobacco store. Some cigar smokers buy exclusively online for price, selection, and convenience, while others prefer the experience of a store where they can see the product “in-person.” Then there are those who buy their cigars both online and at their local tobacconist. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages to both. Continue reading
If you’re like a lot of cigar smokers who buy their cigars online, you’ve probably spoken with Customer Service at some point. It could have been about a return, an offer, new cigars or accessories, shipping, out of stock items, or to place an order because you’d rather talk to a human being than a video monitor. Sometimes the call is to make CS aware that the website copy about an item is erroneous. (Ouch!)
Whatever the reason for calling, even though the Famous Smoke Shop website has helpful answers to commonly asked questions, the Customer Service Department is the frontline, and in many cases, the “face” of the company. How the agent “appears” to the customer can often be the difference between losing or keeping a customer for life.
One of the things Famous Smoke Shop is best known for, maybe even more so in some ways than our competitive prices on cigars, is customer service. The primary reason for this is that Famous Smoke Shop customer service sets the bar higher than any other industry competitor. That’s why consumer shop & compare sites like BizRate.com have awarded Famous “Gold” status for customer service excellence.
“Our most important goal is to make sure the customer is 100% satisfied with their experience from beginning to end,” says Famous Call Center Manager, Cory Reinhard. “If a customer has any issues anywhere in the chain of an order, I insist on being notified so I can make it right.”
Bad experiences from website issues, order or product problems, general complaints, or shipping issues happen. Therefore, the faster the customer’s problem is handled and rectified the more satisfied the customer will be. Most important is patience and politeness. Nothing turns a frown upside down faster than an agent who’s courteous. Of course, there are some customers who just want to pick a fight no matter what the agent says.
“In a business where we are at the mercy of our vendors’ products and timelines, we need to make sure we stand out,” says Reinhard. “If a customer wants us to check the items they’ve ordered, I personally inspect them and place a signed business card with inspection date in the package to give the customer the proof that it is something I would personally smoke or use without question.”
Returns are common with any online business and can often be overwhelming. The advantage to Famous’s return policy is quick turnaround and offering replacement products or credits to customers “hassle free.” Within minutes a return shipping label is generated and e-mailed (or mailed) to the customer to expedite the process. In certain situations replacement products are sent to customers to avoid “down time.” If a customer feels they have to go to another site to purchase their items just to tide them over, it can be a death knell.
Famous also provides a variety of shipping options; from free shipping promotions to overnight service, everything in-between, and even international orders are fulfilled with ease.
As for me, when I have to speak with a customer service person from a company for something I’ve purchased, it’s because of Famous’s excellence in customer service that I hold the agent to a higher standard. Sure, low prices on cigars are great, but if you can’t get good customer service when you need it, you’re wasting your time and your money.
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Want more proof? See this press release.
OPERATOR: Hello, Cigar Order Hotline. How may I help you?
CALLER: I recently ordered a couple of boxes of cigars from both Famous Smoke Shop and CigarAuctioneer, and I noticed that neither order shipped with any type of humidifying device. I’m new to the world of cigars, but of course I only want to smoke fresh cigars and I’ve heard that cigars can dry out in a couple of hours, let alone the week or so it takes to ship to me in California. So why shouldn’t I worry? Or should I?
OPERATOR: When you say “humidifying device,” are you referring to the humidipaks that some online cigar stores add to their packaging?
OPERATOR: First, let me say that Famous Smoke Shop does more to ensure your cigars are properly packed than any other retailer in the industry. Plus, more manufacturers have been including Boveda humidipaks in their factory boxes. Arturo Fuente was the first company to do this, so depending on what cigars are in your order, they may already have a humidipak.
Now, here’s really why you shouldn’t worry: Unless you leave them under a heat lamp, it takes more than a few hours for premium cigars to dry out. Actually, you’d be surprised how resilient cigars can be. I spoke to a customer recently who said he found a cigar in a tuxedo he’d worn to a wedding almost a year ago and the cigar was fine. Note that under normal conditions, cigars will stay fresh in their factory boxes for up to a month. But if I may ask you a question: Were the cigars fresh and supple when you opened the boxes?
OPERATOR: Then you really don’t have anything to worry about, now do you?
CALLER: I suppose not.
OPERATOR: I would also suggest after your cigars arrive that you move them into your humidor and let them rest for about 3 days to settle. Whether they were a little too dry or too damp when they arrived it will help. You may find they will smoke and taste better, too. Enjoy all those fresh cigars!
An educated consumer is our best customer.” That’s the motto for SYMS, the nationwide clothing store chain. Fortunately, the internet allows consumers to price check at warp speed, making that motto even more relevant for just about everything we buy, and that includes premium cigars.
So how do you find the best buys in premium cigars? Surely there’s no lack of online discount cigar websites. And although the most popular online cigar stores have a pretty loyal following, the majority of cigar smokers seem to go wherever they can find the lowest price for their favorite cigars. (“Sorry I cheated on you baby, but I still love you more than anyone else.”)
With regard to the big guns like Famous Smoke Shop, et. al., the difference in price can be as little as $1. I actually had a customer who would buy Partagas at a competitor’s site because they were a buck cheaper. However, on my suggestion he would try new cigars, sometimes more expensive, but more often less expensive than his beloved Partagas. So trust, though primarily a loyalty factor, also plays a role when it comes to good buys; that is, as long as the person making the suggestion is trying to save you some cash.
Trust ties into one of the most important factors when shopping for cigars online or off – customer service – which begs the question: Would you rather buy from an unknown entity just to save a couple of bucks, or buy from a company who’s going to help you out of a jam when you really need it?
Unless they phone-in their cigar orders, most online customers don’t usually have to deal with customer service until there’s a problem. So, Rule #1 is: Try to find an online cigar store that not only has fair prices, but also provides excellent customer service.
Now let’s take a look at some of the ways you can actually find good quality cigars online and keep your budget in the black.
Look for less expensive alternatives to your current favorites. Experimentation is part of the fun of smoking premium cigars. By trying something comparable to cigars you already enjoy, you may discover some cigars you like just as much or even more. Famous Smoke Shop has a Value Priced Alternatives page on the site featuring exclusive cigar brands. The upside is most of them are made by the premier manufacturers, too. Alternatives don’t have to be “house brands,” but beware of online cigar stores that compare apples-to-apples.
Start with a 5-Pack. This is especially important when trying new or alternative cigars. There’s no point in shooting your load on an entire box (or bundle) of an unknown entity. This is especially important when buying house brands.
Another good reason for buying 5-packs is, when you want to have some pricier cigars in your collection, but the box price is cost-prohibitive. Even if the pack equates to $10 a cigar, it’s better than spending roughly $200 for 20.
Read the copy. The better online cigar stores have descriptions for the cigars they stock. Read it carefully so you know what you’re getting. Do the cigars have the right strength, wrappers, flavor properties, etc. you’re looking for? Does the item come with free shipping or other offers? Missing details can be the difference between a return customer and one who will flame a store on the boards for not being on the up-and-up.
Look for deals & offers. As noted above, you can get a lot of bang for your buck if you find cigars that come with free shipping, free cigars, accessories, or deeply-discounted promotions. Even if the box is being sold at full weight, a free 5-pack or sampler goes a long way. Famous also has two pages on the site specifically dedicated to such offers: A page on which all the brands come with free shipping on box orders, and a page on which all of the brands include “Free Stuff.”
Name brand hits and collections. If you’re a strict name brand buyer, Famous has a Best Of page offering samplers from practically every major cigar brand in the industry at reasonable prices. It’s a great way to discover the line extensions most brands have to offer, again, without committing to a box.
So, what if you’ve already found some great new cigars in a particular size, but you’re curious about how the other sizes taste? There is a difference, and a solution! It’s called a “Test Flight” – a sampler of one specific brand containing all (or mostly all) of the sizes & shapes in that edition, usually at a nice price point.
Experienced cigar smokers have figured out all kinds of ways to get good deals. It just comes with the territory over time; sort of like how a hitter trains himself to discern between a curve ball and a slider. Unless you have unlimited cash supplies and price is no object, hopefully some of the above will help you keep a little more money in your wallet.
Cigar Monster is not exactly “fond” of change, so we were surprised when he DEMANDED a new feature on his website. We were even MORE surprised that he immediately liked our suggestion.
Name Your Price is pretty much what it sounds like – sporadically throughout the day, we’ll place items on the Monster and allow you to Name Your Price. After the items are placed in your cart, simply proceed through checkout. If you offer is accepted, the purchase is processed and shipped as normal. If your offer is NOT accepted, it’s back to the drawing board.
The benefit is two-fold.
- You’ll get even greater discounts, and
- You’ll see a FAR bigger selection of cigars to choose from
Note that Name Your Price will never appear during the Mash-Up, so it’s up to you to check the website as often as possible, or following CigarMonster on Twitter. Note also that thresholds change daily, so even if your bid is rejected on one day, it just might be accepted the next time you see it.