Here’s a holiday hangover that’s created a buzz in business news: the flood tide of after-holiday returns to mail-order merchants. As more and more shoppers are ordering stuff via computer, they’re also sending more and more of that stuff back to the merchants. This is creating challenges for merchants and consumers alike, and not everybody is a happy camper. Me, I’m not frowning, but I think it’s always useful for consumers to share notes, even if they’re just general observations. So here’s my contribution to the pool.
Not that I’m a paragon of smart shopping. I must be a mail-order merchant’s dream, because I’m usually too lazy to return anything. The whole concept of getting something in the mail, only to send it back in the mail, leaves me with a sense of futility. That’s a self-defeating trait, though, and I have to get more diligent about this stuff.
In recent memory I’ve only had one bad online shopping experience. This came a matter of weeks ago as I was just getting our holiday shopping rolling. I ordered from a vendor that I had never heard of before, but it had a slick and impressive website and an extremely (suspiciously, I will now admit) low price.
As my cursor hovered over the “BUY” button, my wife hovered over my shoulder looking at the screen, saying “I don’t trust these guys. We should just order this at Amazon.”
Well, me being me, I placed the order, smugly telling my wife that the genius she married just saved $50. Fifty dollars! It’s gonna’ be a green Christmas this year, honey. Do you know how many romantic Happy Meals this savings can buy?
Well, I hope you know, because I sure don’t. When I arrived at the post office to pick up the package, I noticed that the box looked like it fought a losing battle with the Last Command Post. I don’t think the post office damaged it, I surmise that the vendor was buying stuff that was already messed up, slapping a shipping label on the raw box, and selling it to suckers like me.
Anyway, because of the damage I refused acceptance and the box was sent back to the vendor. End of story, right? Oh, no. The vendor wouldn’t refund my money. Calls? No help. Emails? No help, either.
I disputed the charge with my credit card company. After the dispute investigation got rolling, the vendor finally coughed up the refund. Still, this was a lot of hassle that could have been, and should have been, avoided by sticking to a reputable vendor. So I placed an order with Amazon, which is what I should have done to begin with.
I’ll also note the obvious and mention that having a good credit card company in your corner is always a good thing.
Here’s some good advice from a postal clerk I know. She said to have a camera whenever you pick up a package. If there’s any obvious damage to the package, you can document it with a photo before refusing acceptance. Although this wouldn’t have changed the outcome in my particular case, I can see how it could be helpful in similar situations.
Meanwhile, no matter how good a vendor is, and no matter how careful we shoppers are, sometimes there’s a quality hiccup. This has happened only a few times to me over the course of decades, but most of those times happened to fall into the recently-concluded shopping season. Whether this is a trend, or just randomness, I know not. But I’m redoubling my resolve to order only from places that aren’t going to ding me for a return.
I still heed the merits of old fashioned brick and mortar shopping. That’s usually my first choice, at least when it’s practical. On Saipan, I never, ever had a sour experience with a merchant. In fact, some of my favorite stuff, including computers, printers, speakers, were bought locally. Some of my wife’s favorite dresses were, likewise, bought locally.
So if you ever see a lady in a nice dress who is enjoying a romantic dinner with the last of the big spenders, do feel free to say hello. Just keep your hands off our French fries, please.