Deciding to order cichlids online

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Image from http://www.clker.com/.

Ordering fish online for the first time? Why buy cichlids online? Two words – selection and availability. There are many reputable online cichlid retailers, and I have ordered from some of them. However, purchasing online isn’t for everyone. Below are a few things you might want to consider before deciding to make an online purchase.

  • Budget – how much are you willing to spend per fish, including the shipping cost? That $6 cichlid the site is offering can become a $20 fish by the time shipping is factored in. Economy of scale will tell you that the more fish you order, the less the per-fish cost will be. If you’re only looking to purchase one or two fish, it won’t be cost effective. However, if you want a species badly enough and are willing to spend to get it, then it may be your only avenue.
  • Shipping – this is really the primary obstacle for most people. Shipping comes in several flavors (e.g., next day ground, two-three day ground, same day air, next day air). Air is obviously the most expensive, but it’s also the quickest, which means the fish are bagged for a minimal amount to time and they’re handled less. Personally, I prefer same day air and not door-to-door, meaning I pick up the freight at the airport. Where you live will largely determine the best shipping method. Not all air carriers service all airports, and not all shippers use all air carriers, so you’ll need to factor that in.
  • Domestic vs. wild – do you want wild caught species or a tank bread? Many online retailers stock wild caught species. These are often represented by a F0 designation on the site. They’re more expensive, but many cichlid breeders prefer wild stock over tank bread. F1 typically means the fish is the offspring of wild caught parents. I do not purchase wild caught cichlids. The reasons why are a post for another day.
  • Website – what does the website look like? Don’t get fooled by pretty pictures on the site. If the seller has a website, look it over real good. Does the seller have a Facebook site? Check it out too. IMO, the quality of the site speaks volumes. If a seller cares enough to have a professional website, as opposed to a hastily and poorly coded site, then it probably takes equal pride in its livestock. Does the site accept credit cards? Is the site set up for secure online transactions (i.e., does it use a secure connection?). Does the site provide full contact information (i.e., phone number, e-mail address, physical address). Be wary of sites that use only a contact form or only have a P.O. box for an address. How thorough are the instructions for the shipping process?
  • References – find out as much as you can about the seller. Some online retailers are mom-pop operations. Some are completely full service, which means it’s their primary business and how they make a living. Either type can provide good, healthy cichlids. But check around and talk to fellow cichlidophiles. Look for reviews about the seller. Don’t let bad reviews solely dictate your decision, but you should definitely consider the nature of them (are they related to customer service, the quality of the fish, etc.).
  • Customer service – contact the seller with some questions before ordering. If you send an e-mail or call and leave a message, how quickly is the response? Were your questions answered to your satisfaction? What kind of guarantee does the site offer? It’s uncommon to receive dead fish on arrival (DOA) from good sellers, but it does happen, especially with ground shipments. It can also happen with air shipments, but not as often. If you do receive dead fish, what is the sellers policy?

If you take your time and take all of the above into consideration, you’ll make a more informed decision both on whether to order fish online and who to order from. Good luck!

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