Seattle Merchant Flexes for Foreign Trade
On August 16th John Marshall, co-owner of Seattle’s Episcopal Bookstore received a note from a potential customer in Taiwan who had a problem. The Rev. David Alexander, a staff member at Tainan Theological College in Tainan City, had wandered into the EpiscopalBookstore.com website hoping to find good prices on interesting items, and hit what he considered to be a jackpot in the On-Sale section of the site. He selected five books and, with the click of a mouse, transferred them into his shopping cart. Complications came at checkout.
As is common in cyber-commerce, both billing and shipping addresses were required. The website was well engineered for international orders except for one thing. When it came time for Rev. Alexander to select the country, his only option was “Taiwan, Province of China”. That didn’t sit right with him, so the transaction stalled.
Rev. Alexander is a member of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, a group that has, for decades, stood for the independent recognition of Taiwan as an entity separate from China. The church often points out to the world that Taiwan was removed from Chinese sovereignty in 1895 and fell under control of the Nationalist Chinese following the Second World War. It continues under that government today. The government of the People’s Republic of China, which came into existence in 1949, has never held control over Taiwan. The assertion that Taiwan is one of China’s many provinces is considered insulting by most people in Taiwan, including Rev. Alexander.
In the past, when cyber-shopping and encountering the provincial option for billing and shipping, Rev. Alexander has stopped. This time, though, because he really wanted the books and because the prices at Episcopal Bookstore were considerably lower than ordering them from an alternative shop, so he wrote.
Mr. Marshall, in Seattle, did some research and responded. He discovered oth that the U.S. Postal Service lists Taiwan as a separate country and that the commercial postage and shipping label application that his business uses lists Taiwan separately as a country. This was the first time it had been brought to his attention that the Episcopal Bookstore’s own website did not list it separately. He promised to have the site changed. A joyful correspondence followed between Seattle and Taiwan resulting in the order being placed a week later.
Vendors using web-sites depend on pre-packaged software to facilitate things. Much of that software reflects either a political agenda or a lack of concern for the sensitivities of people in places like Taiwan. A kind person (and astute businessman) from Seattle has made a friend, and secured a customer, overseas.