That time my website was cloned by some morons...
On the 11th May 2020, around the height of the first lockdown I was idly scrolling away on Instagram one afternoon, when I spotted one of my card suppliers had "liked" a post from an online company I hadn’t heard of before. Ever the nosey one (I always like to check out new indies on the block) I tapped through to this company’s IG page and followed the link to their website. And that’s when I stepped through the looking glass and into a wholly strange, but eerily familiar world, because what I found myself looking at was a near exact copy of my own website.
Someone had copied my entire website including our bespoke handwritten card service page (see image 1), all our terms and conditions pages, bespoke code that we’d created on our product pages, and they’d approached and were stocking many of the designers that we were currently stocking.
Even more bizarrely, in what I can only imagine was their haste to get a website up and running as quickly as possible, they’d even copied our “contact us” page COMPLETE with our own email address (see image 2)!! They were, in all but name, passing themselves off as a duplicate Curious Pancake.
I was completely stunned.
Who would have the barefaced gall to do something like this?
I originally thought it must be an overseas company that had pulled off this brazen copy, you hear of many artists and illustrators being ripped off by copycats, who launch their stolen designs on websites like café press and make as much money as possible before being discovered and (in the positive outcomes) being pressured to take the work down again. I’d though that this might be a similar set up for website copying?! However, a very small amount of digging around online revealed that this was a UK-based company. A husband-and-wife team who already had another business and were therefore shockingly easy to find on Companies House!
From their Facebook page I could see that they’d asked their friends to leave fake positive reviews for their copycat business on Facebook, Google and Free Index (I found this out because they all had open Facebook accounts at the time and the friendship connections between the people reviewing their orders and the couple were there for all to see!) Feeling like a modern-day Sherlock (albeit a seething one rather than a cool, calm and collected one...), I fired off an email to the couple, along with screenshots of all the pages they’d stolen and gave them two weeks to take it all down.
Heart beating like crazy, I sat back and waited for their response. And waited. And waited.
Near the end of the two-week time limit, I received an email, the gist of which was that “oops”, they’d been caught, no offence was intended, and their excuse for stealing was because their outdoors business had all but dried-up during lockdown and they therefore needed to set up a new business as soon as possible. No apology was forthcoming, but they said they’d slipped through the government’s net of support and consequently I was supposed to not mind the fact that they’d copied and hoovered up all the parts of my business that I had grown and developed over the last nine years to use and make money for themselves.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, things were slowly tweaked on their website so that direct comparisons were no longer immediately obvious, although they kept the bespoke code that we had designed, and they have continued, to this day, to (not so) surreptitiously copy everything we've ever done.
The fact that someone can just come along and copy your website and be so barefaced about it, and then say to their customers “please support the indies!” acting like they are one of my community is perhaps the worst feeling that I’m left with from all of this. The small business community is so supportive and to have these charlatans out there piggybacking on the hard work of others leaves a very bad taste in my mouth.
Although I now keep an eye on these knobheads, it didn’t feel right that this company’s sad copy of my website was still out there. I hated to think that people might think we were in some way affiliated! Ugh.
My website’s look and feel suddenly felt very tarnished. So we started thinking. There were a few things that we really didn’t like about our eCommerce provider at the time, who we’d been with since 2011. After many hours of research and side by side comparisons we took the huge decision that summer to leave our old eCommerce provider and jump ship to the shiny shores of Shopify. New website, new eCommerce provider, new us!!
We hired the services of a local web company who worked very hard with us to provide the site you see today, and boy am I glad we made the move, not only because it meant we got away from the copy twats cats, but in leaving we joined an eCommerce platform that feels so much more vibrant, interesting and, crucially, easy to use for the store owner. I’m so relieved that I no longer have to rely on my other half to customise my homepage for me!
Despite the upheaval, and despite the millions of grey hairs that migrating our website to a new platform during my busiest business year ever gave me, it was all totally worth it. I took on my first employee in November, and I was so glad that it was the Shopify back-end of things I was teaching her to work with, rather than the admin console of my old eCommerce provider. Even though I had been using the old system since 2011, I still never quite knew where everything was in the admin section with my old provider, whereas Shopify’s admin system is largely very intuitive.
I’ll reign it in with the Shopify love for now, suffice it to say, in the end, the thieving scumbag business did me a favour, as I don’t think I would have made the leap to a new platform so quickly had it not been for their insane duplication of my website.
As for how I feel about them now? I still can’t understand someone who willingly founds a business on the hard work of someone else, but I’m quite positive this company is no threat to me in the long run. It takes years to build up a business, one that people trust, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.
So, head forward, face into the sun and here I am striding into 2021 like… what’s the worst that could happen?! 😂😭😧
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