Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Problem:

We have all done it. We buy something from a catalog or from a TV infomercial or a website and the item we thought we were buying doesn’t look anything like we thought it would.

With the holidays coming up and more people looking to save money and scouting out deals of buying the perfect gift, this dilemma is only going to come up more often.

Photography is an amazing thing. It can make something look better than it is. This is why some models and celebrities look so ‘perfect’ on the cover of your favorite magazine. With the right lighting, the right airbrushing, a lot of things can look better than they really are. You know your scrambled eggs and bacon shown on your slick and glossy diner menu are not going to show up at the table looking like the photo. So why do we assume that gifts we order online are going to look magically like they are represented?

And what happens if you buy something and are fooled even if you did all the right things?

The Solution:

Whether you’re ordering flowers, gift baskets, some gadget, cosmetic, food or home item – just remember that size, colors and brightness are not going to be exactly as the picture. The key is reading the fine print! Double check the dimensions, weight, size/ounces. Read about the materials of construction – is that a plastic case or a leather one? Is that toy car for your child safe or something dangerous in disguise? Is that a nice wool rug or a polyester blend one to look like wool? Are the flowers that you are ordering in-season or will the florist substitute based on the time of year? Are the gift basket items trial/sample size or full size?

The more you know before you order, the less likely you are to get disappointed and even more so, your gift recipient. While it is tempting to utilize technology for convenience, sometimes faxing an order or ordering online can’t help you clearly identify the item you are ordering. If there is an 800 number or a phone number where you can talk to a live person – do so. Ask questions. After all, this is a purchase you are making. You work hard for your money and want to be sure you are actually getting what you are ordering.

Ask the sales person on the phone if they have seen the item themselves or if they have tried it or ordered it. Sometimes they are only limited to what they are seeing on the computer screen in front of them.

Ask about returns, money-back-guarantees or exchanges, while you are inquiring about weight and shipping issues related to the product you are ordering.

The more informed you are, you can make more intelligent purchases.

Take good notes. State facts. Keep track of dates (when you purchased and for how much) and whether or not you spoke with someone on the phone before you ordered or as you were ordering. It helps if you remember dates, times, people's names - anything you can to to help the company identify where the problem is should you have one. You'll be glad you did this later if you run into a problem.

Now if you have done all of the above and say you ordered flowers or some other item which ships directly to your recipient and you don’t get to see it. Ask your recipient to take a photo and send it to you. If you see something you are disappointed with because it is not what you intended to send them (i.e. you paid for roses, but they received daisies or you ordered a really nice bed blanket but it showed up as just a small throw) – take action! This is bait and switch or the item was misrepresented.

Take the photo of the item and place it against the item you purchased it off of and write a letter to the company management or head of customer service. Make a phone call and voice your complaint – see what the company is willing to do to rectify the situation and make it up to you as a consumer in order to keep your business. If they value you as a consumer and the mistake was made somewhere in the warehouse or something and the company is on the up and up… you will be taken care of promptly, hopefully with an apology, credit and a re-shipment or discount or something in return for your trouble. Most reputable companies WILL work with you. But unfortunately, you have to do the work to get the situation fixed.

If the matter is serious and you’ve spent a large amount of money, take it up with the Better Business Bureau. You can also take it up with a consumer reporter with your local news station or newspaper and share your experience so others don’t fall victim to the same situation as you. A lot of the time the business will come forth to make the situation right in order to avoid the negative publicity.

Above all, make wise choices. Convenience today sometimes comes at a price. You have to do your homework and sometimes the time it takes to do this takes up more time than it would take if you went to the store and hand-picked something yourself and shipped it. At least you’ll know what you are getting and in the end all parties involved will be satisfied.


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