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Area51 Airsoft
Case Histories

 

Experiences shopping online

 

Over the last few years I've placed many hundreds of orders for goods and services over the Internet, and the vast majority of these transactions have been completely smooth. When the process does go wrong, though, it tends to go wrong quite spectacularly, and each time usually brings some new quirk and problem to be dealt with. Never has the phrase "caveat emptor" been more applicable than in these days of online shopping.

 

 

Ghastly Beyond Belief
Companies that have really succeeded in disappointing me - click the heading for full details.

 

Area51 Airsoft

UK-based custom airsoft supplier: http://www.area51airsoft.com

So bad for a while that they earned their own page... But it all worked out well in the end!

 

UN Company

Hong Kong-based supplier of airsoft replicas and accessories: http://www.uncompany.com

Sold me something that they didn't have, then stiffed me over the refund.

 

RedWolf Airsoft

Another Hong Kong supplier of airsoft replicas: http://www.redwolfairsoft.com

Supplied damaged goods, and were extremely reluctant to admit any responsibility.

 

Viper Footwear

UK supplier of boots and shoes: http://www.vipershoes.com

Debited my credit card, and then apparently disappeared from the face of the earth!

 

Bluesnake.Com

UK front for the EU-based Bizarre sex shop chain: http://www.bluesnake.com/

Took the money, and ran...

 

e-Xcessories

US and Hong Kong box-shifter with a tiny UK presence: http://www.e-xcessories.com

Only revealed that their UK branch doesn't sell big hardware after letting me order a printer.

 

 

 

The Fantasy Stock Control League
For companies who specifically show items as "in stock" when they're not actually available at all, and who are happy to receive an order and accept payment before revealing this fact...

 

APC Clothing - a classic example of the genre... In spite of what seems to be an accurate representation of the stock levels of each individual item in their range, in fact a number of the items I have ordered, on a number of occasions, have been either temporarily or permanently unavailable. Unfortunately this is depressingly common, and is one of my major annoyances when shopping online - many companies appear to have a back-end stock database updating their catalogue in real-time, but it is often an illusion...

[Note: I wrote the above in January 2004, after several annoying experiences with the company in question, and so was surprised and impressed to receive an email this week, more than three years later, from a company representative who was keen to help if he could. Obviously, after all this time there was nothing that could be done, but it's good to find a firm that appears to care enough to follow up feedback like this. Based on this, I would certainly give APC another try if I ever needed anything from them.   - May 2007]

 

Hewlett Packard's online store - I ordered an infra-red adaptor for the DeskJet 350 printer, only to be told a few days later that actually it was no longer even in production! To their credit, the item has since been removed from their online catalogue, but this really isn't the sort of mistake one expects from a company like HP.

 

WiredZone - having placed an order for a RAID card for the Infinity3 motherboard, over the next few weeks I received daily automated messages to the effect that the item was not available. In the end I had to phone them to cancel the order before the messages stopped! Note that their web site is "temporarily unavailable", at present, so they may not be in business any more...

 

Airsoft Dynamics - the vast majority of the orders I've placed with them over the last year or so have been incomplete due to certain parts of my order being unavailable. This is really rather annoying, but it has to be said that these have usually been rather less common items, though, and that the rest of their customer service is perfectly acceptable.

 

Amazon UK - normally the absolute pinnacle of smooth, efficient online shopping, but when things go wrong it can be very frustrating. I've learned from experience that any item shown with a lead time of more than a month will probably turn out to be unavailable - but you can wait a very long time, with estimated delivery dates being extended continually every few weeks, until this fact finally becomes clear...

 

Scan Computers - another company with a convincing, reassuring online stock level indicator - which has turned out to be bear no resemblance at all to reality on the last two occasions that I have placed an order. It is very frustrating when an anxious enquiry about a delayed order prompts the admission that the items in question are actually out of stock, and yet the indicator is still firmly insisting that they are ready and available for shipping.

 

 

 

The "Just Plain Don't Care" Awards
New lows in customer service achieved...

 

While I was trying to source a motherboard for Infinity3 in October 2003, I emailed around a dozen UK suppliers of SuperMicro hardware asking if they could supply the model I wanted. Somewhat to my surprise, only two of them actually replied, and I must admit that I find this completely bizarre... I assume that the others couldn't obtain the model I wanted, but it would only have taken thirty seconds to reply "sorry, it's not available" as one of their competitors did, and so avoid giving them impression that they just don't care... Are some firms so flush with customers that they can afford to turn away trade like this? Among the no-shows were Amazon International, The PC Store, Micro Direct, TMC Technology, PC Upgrade and Light Computer Systems. They obviously don't understand how easily online shoppers can vote with their feet, and I just won't even bother considering them, next time. Fortunately another UK firm, Hamiltone Ltd, not only answered my enquiry, but closed the deal and shipped the board with an absolute minimum of fuss - thus earning an entry on the A List section below, instead!

 

Delta Business Services, AKA Tape Storage Online - I ordered a pack of tape barcode labels earlier this year, and a few days later was phoned by a friendly and apologetic man who told me that there would be a lead time of around a week. Several weeks passed, and when I tried to contact them to enquire about the order status I ran into a blank wall... Phone messages were not returned, emails went unanswered, enquiry forms filled in on their web site were apparently ignored - nothing at all! I haven't heard anything from them since, and have now given up on the order completely and found the labels elsewhere!

 

MDS Batteries - following a delayed delivery which I queried, their terse email response to me started with the comment "I feel it is hardly our problem...", which struck me as exactly the opposite of how I would like a company to consider their relationship with an unhappy customer. The fault was really not their own, it emerged, instead being a mistake by the courier company, but that attitude really annoyed me and my reply was a touch scathing...

 

 

The A List
Just to prove that it's not all bad, out there - these companies have gone to the other extreme, either by bending over backwards to be of assistance, or simply by processing a transaction smoothly, rapidly, and competently. All of these companies are highly recommended.

The J-List

 

All things Japanese - and not only shipped amazingly quickly, but also carefully labelled to minimise the chance of unwelcome attention from UK Customs. Now that's what I like to see!

 

Kustom PCs

Supplier of computer components and  accessories, and manufacturer of my customised Infinity case. Every dealing I've had with this company has been smooth and painless, and as far as I'm concerned they're one of the absolute leaders in the UK homebrew computer industry.

Cirrus

One of the original manufacturers of leather flying jackets, and an real pleasure to deal with. They're not very fond of email, it seems, as every message I sent was replied to via telephone instead, but they were timely, helpful, and extremely flexible. Great products, too!

RS (Radio Spares)

One of the classic institutions in the UK electronics industry, and have made the transition to online ordering as well as any company I've seen. Their web site is full of useful features and helpful information, and their range really is second to none - and when they say "next day delivery", that's exactly what they mean!

The Surplus Store

An excellent range of military hardware, survival gear, air weapons, bows, army surplus equipment, you name it... Extremely helpful, too - I placed an order on Friday evening, and following a glitch in the process they phoned me on Saturday to double-check the details, and the order arrived first-thing on Monday morning. I really can't see how they could have been any faster or more efficient!

Hamiltone Ltd  

When other UK suppliers had let me down over the motherboard I needed, Hamiltone responded quickly, shipped promptly, and in general were exactly how I would want an online supplier to behave. With so many utterly indifferent retailers out there, they really stand out from the pack.