Sunday, 30 October 2011

The kind of thing that money just can't buy

Sometime around the middle of September, I joined Groupon by mistake - you click on one facebook ad, and then suddenly you're a member, sort of thing. I wasn't terribly happy, but had read some stories and the emails were easily deleted. So I decided to wait for a bit before classifying the emails as junk mail.

And then I needed a watch, and there was a watch to be had on Groupon,
a bright, shiny, plastic watch like a giant boiled sweet, and I wanted it in red because nothing spells impending senility like wearing a giant, plastic, bright red boiled sweet wrapped around your wrist. This watch, from a site called South Lane, was something like £34.00 originally, but I could get it for £12.00 if I bought a Groupon Voucher, and if I paid something like £13.60 for express delivery, I could get it even quicker.

Now a saving isn't a saving if it makes you buy something you wouldn't buy anyway, but I needed a watch. So I dutifully signed up - I can't remember ticking a T&C box but apparently there is one, now, anyway, and received my voucher code by the end of that day. I can't remember the exact day that this was, but I rushed along to the South Lane website and, eagerly and chirpily and merrily and all other sorts of ilys, entered the voucher code; code not accepted.

I tried again and again.  I decided to phone Groupon. "The code doesn't work!" I wailed. Silence. "Hello?" I asked.

Eventually the young lady came back to tell me that the codes hadn't been uploaded yet and that I should wait and try again. Retrospectively, I realise that the lack of care was a harbinger of things to come.  I waited and tried the website again the next day or that evening; no luck. Eventually, I forgot about it. 

A couple of weeks later - on 10th October, to be precise - I remembered the voucher plus code. I went to the website, the voucher code was accepted, and I was sent an acknowledgement email. I replicate that email underneath. Notice how the date of the acknowledgement email is clearly present, at the top.

Order ID: XXXX
Date Added: 10/10/2011
Order Status: Complete

1x Red Lane (Red Lane) 39.00€

Order Totals
Coupon(F3A2DADB7E) -41.99€
Sub-Total 39.00€
Flat Rate 2.99€
Total 0.00€

To view your order click on the link below:

Please reply to this email if you have any questions.

Remember, I'd paid for Express Delivery. OK, so I was buying the watch rather later than I originally intended but I still wanted it NOW! Giant boiled sweetie watch, water resistant to 30 m, what's not to die for?

On the 18th October, with no watch having arrived, I replied to the email as instructed above, with the following. The original email was addended, as shown underneath. Note that the date of the original email is still clear:

Dear South Lane

I have not yet received this watch - I was under the impression that buying it with the express delivery option meant that I would get it quite quickly. I wanted it as a birthday present for myself, and my birthday is tomorrow. What now? Do I need to take this further?


Online Blogger#

On Mon, October 10, 2011 11:27 am, South Lane wrote:
> Order ID: XXXX
> Date Added: 10/10/2011
> Order Status: Complete
> Products
> 1x Red Lane (Red Lane) 39.00€
> Order Totals
> Coupon(F3A2DADB7E) -41.99€
> Sub-Total 39.00€
> Flat Rate 2.99€
> Total 0.00€
> To view your order click on the link below:

> Please reply to this email if you have any questions.

Quite clear, don't you think? Unfortunately, after the automated response, I heard nothing further from South Lane, and to this day, have not heard anything from them. So, there's a company to avoid. 

Now, that's the last time I'm going to print the whole of an email including preceeding emails, but you must imagine each new email getting longer and longer, with all the previous emails underneath.

Having heard nothing from South Lane, I decided to try Groupon. I've paid money to Groupon, and this money has disappeared into nothingness. I'm not going to spend more money hanging on the telephone to South Lane, trying to get someone who will answer; Groupon has taken money from me and they clearly have a contract with South Lane, so I'll ask them for help.

So I sent this email to Groupon on Saturday 21st October. This is actually three days after I first sent the email to South Lane, not two as stated in the email:

Dear Groupon

I ordered this watch from South Lane, using a voucher bought from you,some time ago (ten days). Your advertisement for this order said that delivery would be in seven days. I have not had the watch. I have sent the email beneath to South Lane two days ago, but have had no reply.

I'd like my voucher money back please, or the watch delivered, with the express delivery money given back to me, ASAP - which would mean by the end of next week.

Yours faithfully

Online Blogger

and underneath were the two previous emails, just as shown above. 

I recieved an automated reply, and then, on the Sunday, this email back from Groupon:

Re: [Fwd: Re: South Lane - Order XXXX] (ticket #1047396)
Minion X, Oct-23 17:44 (BST):

Hi Online,

Thank you for your email.

It states on the website that the express delivery is a wait of 7 working days. As you redeemed your voucher on the 18th of October, it is still within the expected delivery time. The 7th working day will be the 27th of October.

If you do not receive your item in this time then please reply to this email.


Minion X

But I had written to SouthLane on the 18th and ordered the watch on the 10th (and it would have been earlier had Groupon actually uploaded the codes timeously) - and seven days for express delivery? Surely that's not right. Still, not going to argue with that, but I was pretty miffed that the Minion X hadn't even taken the time to read my email properly, and had assumed that I was lying, or making a fuss about nothing. It was pretty clear from the addended emails that I had made the order on 10th October.

So I replied, pretty crossly, with this:

Please reread the emails attached.

I redeemed my voucher on *10th* October, which is why I wrote to them on 18th October.

I am not impressed by your reply, in the slightest.

Please make sure that I get the watch by the end of next week, with the extra I have paid for express delivery returned to me, or refund in full.

Thank you

Online Blogger

That seems pretty clear to me. I mean, not only have I not had the watch I've paid for, I've definitely - even by Groupon and SouthLane's strange definition of 'express' - not had the express delivery, and I think I'm actually well within my rights to ask for my money back. I paid the money in good faith. I'm being fucked about. OK, it wasn't a huge amount of money to me, but that's not the point. 

I get no answer from Groupon for a week. South Lane have still not replied after ten days. On Saturday 29th (no watch had turned up in the meantime, and meanwhile, I've just gone off the idea of this bloody, bothersome watch) I received this email from Minion X:

Minion X, Oct-29 12:17 (BST):

Hi Online,

Apologies for the confusion, my system states that the voucher was redeemed on the 18th.

I am in no position to make sure you 'get the watch by the end of next week' as we have no information on orders being processed and have no hand in posting them.

As you have paid extra for express delivery and they have not honoured this, you should contact them regarding a refund on postage as it was paid directly to them.

I urge you to keep trying to contact them

Minion X

Right. This is way past my deadline, anyway - which is why, I suspect, she's replying now. 

Let's have a think about what she's saying here.

First of all, there's that gobsmacking claim (in light of later claims that they don't know anything about what's going on at South Lane) that her system lists the voucher as having been redeemed on the 18th.  The only way that got into her system was when she put it into her system as a result of not reading my first email properly. 

Secondly, she wants me to carry on badgering South Lane for a return of the money I have paid to Groupon via credit/debit card. How, exactly, are South Lane going to return this money? All the financial exchange they've had with me is to check that I have entered the code of a coupon for which I've paid another company - Groupon - good money. 

Furthermore, if Groupon are representing themselves as an agency for bona fide coupons from various businesses, I think that they probably do have some influence over SouthLane via their contract with them. And I think that I have a contract with Groupon, because they're the people I have paid money to. 

Imagine my face.

Very cross.

I replied with this:

Dear Minion.

I paid the money to you. It is Groupon with whom I have the contract.

Groupon has another contract with South Lane. If you are willing to pay me (I will bill at £20.00 an hour) to pursue South Lane in order to make sure that they honour their contract with you by sending me a watch by 13th October (three days after the order was placed), then I am willing to do so.

I am taking advice from my legal friends on how to take this through the small claims court. I will also be making this story public.

Right now, as you have completely failed to honour this contract, I would like all of my money returned, please. If I have to spend any more time chasing you through the courts I will also be billing you for that time when I make the claim.

Yours faithfully

Online Blogger

And yes, throughout the week, various people have been giving me advice on how to take something through the small claims courts; a good starting point is here, for those of you who might be thinking of doing something similar. It's not so much the amount of money involved, it's more the principle of the matter. More on this in a bit. This blog, by the way, is me making the story public; and it's taking me over an hour to write. So I'll be billing them for that time when I go to court.

Anyway, the threat of legal action, or publicity, resulted in a very quick (by Groupon standards) reply. Within a couple of hours, I'd received this from a slightly more important Minion:

SMIMinion, Oct-29 15:17 (BST):

Hi Online,

Thank you for getting back to us.

As stated in our terms and conditions on our website, it is the responsibility of the merchant, and not Groupon, to provide the services or products as advertised in the deal. Thus if you have any queries regarding your order or have not received it,
then as stated by my colleague, you will need to contact the partner directly. Groupon simply offers a platform for other companies to promote their goods and services and therefore we are not involved in the dispatch of any products offered by our partners, and are unable to access their systems to track orders for you. Apologies for the inconvenience.

I have, however, passed your order details on to our partner managers, who talk to the partner on our behalf. The partner managers will investigate the situation, and we'll email you if we have any new information.

If you don't receive an email in the next week or so, or if you have any questions, just let me know by replying to this email. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Weekend Customer Services Manager

Right. OK. Deep breaths.

First of all - as I state right at the top - I can't remember being asked to do ticky-box for terms and conditions, but a friend went in and tested the Groupon website, and apparently they do ask you to agree to terms and conditions at the point of sale. I didn't read the T&C of course - who does? And if I had, I certainly wouldn't have agreed to the conditions which the Slightly More Important Minion is implying above are the standard Groupon conditions.

Because, what Groupon is saying here in effect is that they are not guaranteeing anything at all in exchange for your money. You're just giving them money. You may or you may not get some goods after some time, but if you don't, it's nothing to do with Groupon, who don't have to do anything about it. I think I'll just repeat that in a slightly larger font size, and emboldened:

This is what Groupon claims its terms and conditions mean:

What Groupon is saying here in effect is that they are not guaranteeing you anything at all in exchange for your money. You're just giving them money. You may or you may not get some goods after some time, but if you don't, it's nothing to do with Groupon and they don't have to give you the money back or do anything about it.

Are we all clear on that? Does Groupon seem like such a good deal now?

I most certainly haven't received the 'Express Delivery' for which I paid Groupon with my credit / debit card, and Groupon 'may' see what it can do to help me get the money back. OK, it's only a couple of quid, but, as I say above, that's not the point.

I still haven't heard anything from South Lane, by the way, so they are clearly a very shoddy outfit, but it is Groupon who has the contract with them. I hear that Groupon gets to keep 50% of the money you pay in these too-good-to-be-true money-off deals, incidentally.

Having taken legal advice from those friends of miney who have law training, it seems that Groupon may be on fairly dodgy ground claiming that, as the agent for South Lane, it bears no responsibility. This is why I will probably end up taking this to court. I'd be very interested in comments from other lawyers as to the solidity of the Groupon defense, here.

If Groupon is on solid ground here, and it can abrogate responsibility for when someone for whom they are acting as an agent fails to fulfil the contract, then I think we should all be clear on this. It's a giant confidence trick, and passing money over to Groupon does not guarantee you goods in return.

I will, of course, update this blog with future events, such as an apology or refund from Groupon or South Lane, should such a thing happen.

Oh, and to top it all, the day after I recieved the email outlining the fact that Groupon are not actually responsible for anything they sell you, I get this:

quest #1047396: How would you rate the support you received?

Hi there,

We'd love to hear what you think of our customer service. Please take a moment to answer one simple question by clicking either link below:

How would you rate the support you received?

You can copy the following URL into your browser to rate:


If your query is still not fully resolved, we kindly ask that you reply back to the original email exchanges you have had with us rather than in your feedback comment. This is to help us ensure a speedy resolution.

I expect you can imagine my response to this.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

And we go cruising to entertain ourselves