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Case Histories

 

 

UN Company - September 2003

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

I've dealt with this firm before, and on the whole they've provided an adequate service. They have a quirk, though, in that they're prepared to issue formal quotes for items that they don't actually have in stock, and this is where the problem lies. As with most of the Far Eastern airsoft suppliers, you fill in an online order form and then they reply with a quotation including overseas shipping - if you're happy with the total, you send funds via PayPal and the deal is done. Unfortunately, this is where the UN Company's little quirk has cost me a significant amount of money, as it is only after they receive the funds that they check to make sure that they can actually supply the items in question! Now, this has happened a couple of times before and they've always been quite willing to offer a refund, crediting my PayPal account with the full amount as soon as I cancelled the order. It's been annoying, certainly, as I do expect a formal quotation for goods to imply that the goods can actually be provided, but it's only toy guns and really not the end of the world...

This time, however, to my surprise and annoyance the amount refunded to my account was around $13 less than the amount I had paid, and some investigation showed that this is an apparently undocumented feature of PayPal's policy - if a transaction is cancelled within 24 hours the full amount is refunded automatically, but if it takes any longer then the amount is recalculated based on the current exchange rate! On this occasion the weekend had intervened, and by the time the UN Company finally issued the refund the exchange rate had changed quite significantly - hence my $13 shortfall.

Now, my take on this is that the UN Company are responsible for refunding me the whole amount that I paid them, whatever tricks PayPal would like to do with the exchange rates - as it stands, I've lost the not inconsiderable sum of $13 for the privilege of being told that they can't actually sell me items that they'd already offered to supply, and I don't find that at all satisfactory! Their take on the matter is rather different, though - as far as they're concerned a refund was issued, and the fact that they waited long enough for PayPal to withhold a portion of it is not their problem.

I disagree, of course - the whole problem arises from their practice of issuing quotes and accepting payments without actually checking to make sure of the availability of the items they're quoting for! This is where the whole process can potentially fail, and I really don't think it's an ethical way to do business. It's not a huge amount of money, I admit, but it's not peanuts and anyway my principles have been decidedly ruffled. To be fair, they did offer a 10% discount on my next order - but I simply can't take the risk! The airsoft replicas I fall in love with always seem to be the more uncommon and quirky models, and this is the third time in six months or so that the UN Company has let me down after I've already paid... In order to recover my $13 I'd have to spend at least another $130 with them, and with no guarantee of availability a further failed transaction could actually cost me even more money!

 

RedWolf Airsoft - February to April 2004

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

I ordered a revolver from this company in February, but although the transaction went through smoothly, when the replica arrived it was in a very scruffy state - it had obviously had an orange painted muzzle at some point, and the paint had been removed very clumsily. Not only were there still considerable areas of paint in the hard-to-reach places of the foresight assembly etc, but in places the black surface finish of the replica has been scraped away completely revealing the grey plastic below. This was clearly not damage from transit, but instead presumably the result of an attempt to restore a replica painted for the US market to its original state.

It is a great pity that RedWolf didn't think to check the replica before dispatch, as then all the subsequent difficulty would have been avoided - a quick visual inspection would seem to be a wise move for any overseas transaction, given the difficulty of returning faulty goods, and in this case it wasn't a subtle mechanical error but instead something that someone merely opening the box would have spotted immediately...

After some cajoling by email they agreed to replace the replica, but insisted on the entire item being returned to them rather than just the damaged barrel. Obviously, I was concerned about recouping my postage costs (a not inconsiderable 27) and also whether I would be charged a second payment of tax and import duty - around 38. In order to avoid the latter, I was asked to enclose a copy of the original shipping label showing duty paid, which I did, and was promised that the packaging would be clearly marked to indicate that the contents were a replacement item on which duty had already been paid. However, when the replacement model finally arrived (after considerable delays in the postal system somewhere in the word!) it emerged that they hadn't done this at all, and indeed had actually ticked the box indicating that all charges and duty would be paid by the addressee! A number of email messages completely failed to convince them of their liability for the second payment of duty etc, so I will have to attempt to recover it from Customs and Excise - a daunting proposition to say the least. It also took a number of increasingly irate email messages before they would offer even a credit note to compensate for my postage charges - and as I'm really not inclined to deal with the company again that is somewhat moot and so I've made a significant loss on this purchase overall.

It has to be said that this is one of the accepted drawbacks of dealing with the Far Eastern airsoft suppliers - if things do go wrong, they're very unlikely to admit responsibility, and given the geographical and legal separation it will be extremely unlikely that anything can be done to change their minds. Caveat emptor, definitely...

 

Viper Shoes AKA Viper Clothing & Footwear - January to March 2004

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

I ordered a pair of cowboy boots right at the start of the year, and after around three weeks without any contact from the company I started to get a little concerned. By this time I could see that my credit card had been debited (on the day after the transaction) and decided to try to contact them to confirm that the order was being processed. I attempted to speak to them by telephone on many occasions, at different times of day, but the phone just rang and rang... I sent several email messages to each of the three addresses shown on their web site, and also to the company that designed the web site for them, and although the email was apparently delivered correctly (in that I never received any bounce messages) I received absolutely no replies. I also wrote actual letters to them twice - and, again, had no reply at all.

In the end I tracked down a physical address in Kendal, Cumbria (not without some difficulty, as the web site was rather obscure in that respect!), and contacted the local Trading Standards office. They were equally concerned and extremely helpful, and after several weeks of investigation they finally managed to speak to a representative of the company. I have to say that my money was refunded immediately after this meeting occurred, but the excuses given for the failure to deliver my order or return any of my communication were really not very convincing, and I in general I wasn't at all impressed.

As I write this in mid-May 2004, Viper's main web page is offline for "maintenance" - but various sub-pages are still present under the address of their site designer Lunefield Computer Systems (which I suspect may actually be associated with Viper in other ways, too) and so will appear in search engine results - for example http://www.lcs.clara.net/cowboy/index.htm - these still lead to a live online order form, so approach at your own risk!

Update August 2004: Since posting this entry in May, I've received email from three other frustrated Viper customers who have had identical experiences to mine. I've pointed them to the Trading Standards officer who was so helpful to me, but it's clear that the company is still accepting online orders and debiting credit cards in spite of apparently being unwilling or unable to fulfil at least some of those orders! Definitely not recommended...

For the benefit of any other frustrated customers, here are the contact details that I have for Viper themselves:

10 Blackhall Yard, Stricklandgate, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 4LU - Tel: 01539 733 444

And here are the contact details of the Trading Standards officer who is familiar with the company:

Mrs C.J Tideswell, Client Services Officer - Tel: 01539 773578
Trading Standards, South Area Office
County Offices, Kendal, Cumbria LA9 4RQ - Tel: 01539 773577
trading.standards.kendal@cumbriacc.gov.uk

 

Bluesnake.com - November 2004 to date

UK adult goods and novelties supplier - http://www.bluesnake.com

I should have trusted my intuition, here... While browsing the web I came across a reference to the book "Anticristo", a history of the lewd nun in cinema, which I really wanted to buy for Ros as a christmas present - and the only UK supplier I could find was the adult toy shop Bluesnake.com, apparently a UK front for the EU-based Bizarre adult chain. Something about the site rang alarm bells (the suspiciously quiet forum, with the only a handful of posts during a four week period in the summer of 2004, should have been a strong clue that something was wrong) but I couldn't track down the book elsewhere and so I went ahead in spite of my misgivings.

The web site happily took my order (and debited my credit card the very next day!), and promised to send a user ID with which I could login and check order status, tracking etc - but that never arrived, and after a week or two, with Christmas drawing closer, I started to send email enquiries to the various addresses listed on the site. I didn't receive a single response from any of five different email addresses, and so I started sending faxes, writing letters, and even attempting to phone them. The letters and faxes produced an equal lack of response to the email messages, and the phone either rang and rang, went to an answerphone (no messages I left were ever returned) or, once, started to redirect my call - apparently overseas, from the length of the number I could hear dialling in the background before rapidly I hung up!

At this point a search of the web turned up a number of equally unfavourable reviews of the company at UK shopping comparison site DooYoo - but apart from wishing that I'd checked around a little more before hand, rather than afterwards, pretty much all I could do by then was to leave my own review and chalk it up to experience. Although I paid by credit card, the CC companies don't really care about transactions of less than 50, and even a glossy book wasn't nearly that expensive...

It seems to me that any company who will debit a credit card immediately, but will then fail to reply to several dozen emails, faxes, letters, telephone calls and voicemail messages sent over a period of three months, is not a company that is in business to serve its customers - and as I said in my DooYoo review, how is this behaviour different from deliberate fraud?

 

e-Xcessories - November 2006

Supplier of only small computer hardware - http://www.e-xcessories.com/

This company turned up on a Froogle UK search when I was searching for a printer, and as they looked no worse than any of the other box-shifters in the market an order was duly placed and acknowledged. However, by the middle of the next week I had started to wonder where my printer was, and on checking the order status on their web site I was surprised to see a note appended to my account to say that the item was not in stock and the order had been cancelled. I was particularly annoyed not to have been informed of this immediately via email, instead of having to chase the status myself after waiting several days, and also annoyed that the printer was still very much shown as being in stock - just as it had been when I placed the order. An enquiry about this resulted in a rather surprising response:

"Please also note that at this moment our UK warehouse is not able to store the printers and hence all printers are only for the US market. We shall be having them soon down the line. Meanwhile the products that we carry at this moment for the UK market are 1. Printer toner / Cartridges and consumables, 2. Digital Camera and Accessories, 3. Memory Cards."

Now, there was never any clear indication on the web site that e-Xcessories is anything other than a UK-based company - the front page of their web site has several prominent references to a "UK Sales Hotline" - and there is certainly no suggestion that they can only supply part of their catalogue range to the UK market. "Down the line" is a wonderfully indeterminate timescale, so as usual I'm voting with my feet and won't even consider shopping with them again - and I have already started to leave appropriate reviews at sites such as Reseller Ratings.