Monday, 25 June 2012

Daddy issues

It is a truth universally acknowledged that dads are a bit hard to buy for. So when I spotted something I knew my dad would like in a junk-mail catalogue, a week or two before Father’s Day, I was very pleased indeed.

The catalogue was from Culture Vulture Direct and came stuffed in the envelope with a gift I’d ordered from a different company. Culture Vulture Direct (not to be confused with the Leeds-based Culture Vulture) sells vaguely arty, cultural-sounding gifts. In the “Surrealism” section of the catalogue I saw the Hopside Down Glass, a beer glass with an inverted beer bottle inside it. It’s stretching the definition of surrealism a bit, but it’s a clever visual joke and it involves beer, so I immediately thought of my dad.

I could have ordered it by post, but I thought it would be easier and quicker to buy from the Culture Vulture Direct website. Here’s where I encountered my first problem: searching the site for the phrase “hopside down glass” didn’t bring up the item I wanted. (Did you mean “her tan glass?”) Ditto “hopside-down glass” and “beer glass”. I started to wonder if the item had been discontinued between my receiving the catalogue and trying to buy the item. I tried the Glassware subsection of the Home & Garden category. Still no joy. I tried searching for the item number as given in the catalogue. No luck whatsoever.

So I left the site and Googled “hopside-down glass”. There were lots of results, with Amazon predictably at the top. But I don’t want to buy from nasty tax-avoiding Amazon! I want to buy from a small independent British business! I want to buy from Culture Vulture Direct, because they gave me the idea of buying this thing in the first place!

Then, in my desperation, I hit on the idea of Googling the name of the site plus the name of the item. So I searched for “ hopside down glass” and finally reached a page where I could see the item. Well, I couldn’t actually see it because the page was missing an image. But I knew what it looked like from the catalogue. So I just ordered it.

I received the order confirmation shortly afterwards. The delivery information says “Your order should arrive within 7 days.” It was the morning of Saturday 9th June and I was reasonably confident that it would arrive before I left to visit my parents the following Friday evening. The 7-days thing must be the absolute maximum, right? I arranged for it to be delivered to my husband’s workplace because I was away for part of the following week. Then I forgot about it.

When I returned home on Thursday evening and found the glass hadn’t arrived, I got a bit worried. Technically “7 days” would allow for it to arrive on the Saturday, which would be too late for my purposes because I would already be in Cardiff with my parents. So I crossed fingers and toes it would arrive on the Friday. It didn’t.

Father’s Day rolled around on the Sunday and I had nothing to give my dad but excuses. OK, so I’d bought a small back-up present. But it wasn’t much, given that this gift was supposed to be from my two sisters as well.

My order still hadn’t arrived the following Monday. That’s stretching the concept of “7 days” more than a nice beer glass stretches the concept of surrealism. On Tuesday 19th, I emailed them asking where my order was and saying I was very disappointed, because it had been intended as a Father’s Day gift.

They replied a day later saying sorry and asking for my name and address and order number. I supplied these. A day after that they replied saying that my order was effectively non-existent:
Dear Kate,
Thank you for your email.
Unfortunately due to a system error this order has not imported from the website onto our system that we use to process orders.
This means that we do not have a record of the order and because of this your card has not been charged. This also means that we are unable to process this order as we do not have any of the order details available. If you would still like to receive this item a new order will have to be placed.
But what about the order confirmation email I got, the one that lulled me into a false sense of security because I took it as, er, confirmation that my order had been received?
Please discard the order confirmation email that was received, as these are automatically generated once the order is completed.
I would like to apologise for any disappointment that has been caused on this occasion and should you require any further assistance please do not hesitate to contact me.
It’s nice to get an apology, but Culture Vulture Direct aren’t offering any compensation for my failed order, any compensation for my wasted time or any help with re-ordering.

I supplied them with my name, address and the item I wanted twice: once when I placed the original order and again when I was trying to help them track down the non-existent order. But if I really want to buy it from them, I have to supply this information for a third time, along with my credit card details and delivery instructions, with absolutely no guarantee that it won’t all get lost again. Why on earth should I do that when there are so many other websites selling exactly the same item? I already feel as if I’ve expended way too much unnecessary effort on trying to buy from Culture Vulture Direct rather than the competition. They’re also not offering to look into the “system error” that lost my order once and could (as far as I know) lose it again with zero warning and the false security of an automatically generated order confirmation.

I’m the kind of person who’s easily mollified by a goodwill gesture. If they’d offered to waive payment, or even waive postage, or send me some kind of free gift with my new order, or look into what caused the problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again, I would be happy. In fact, I would be talking publicly about how good this business is at handling complaints. But the strong impression I’m getting is that Culture Vulture Direct really doesn’t care about my order. The hoops I had to jump through just to buy the item in the first place should have been a warning sign, but I was stupid enough to give them the benefit of the doubt. Now I have to conclude: if they cared at all about my business, they would have made everything so much easier.

Update (June 26th 2012): after I contacted Culture Vulture Direct asking to be removed from their mailing list on the grounds that I will never buy from them again, a minion replied to me saying: "It actually appears that you ordered using an older obsolete version of our website which you should not have been able to access." Right, but the fact remains that I did access it and order from it, and there was nothing to tell me that I shouldn't. If I was psychic surely I would have been ordering one of their floaty scarves instead of a beer glass. They have also offered free express delivery on my next order, as belated compensation for the Father's Day foul-up, despite the fact that I've already told them (in two separate communications) that I will never use their site again. They've also advised me to find the site in future by using the correct URL rather than googling it.

Second update (September 10th 2012): I've just received another catalogue from Culture Vulture Direct. That's after I explicitly asked them not to send me any further marketing communications. So they're sending me a catalogue after I've asked them not to... but they couldn't send me the actual item I tried to buy, or take my money. Great business model, guys.