Buy online @ your own risk?

Jan 4th, 20127 Comments

Over recent years buying online has become a popular alternative to wandering down to the local shops. Not only do you often see substantial discounts and have goods delivered to your front-door, but you also save on shoe-leather and valuable travelling time. There  is of course a downside for shops, but what the hell, buying online is the future … isn’t it?

Last Christmas I ordered a Netbook online through an online reseller, turned out to be faulty (DOA) so I sent it back and tried again. Second attempt hadn’t arrived by the time Christmas eve arrived, after paying for guaranteed delivery, so I wandered down to the shops and purchased a unit over-the counter, not the unit I wanted for the price I wanted, but a more powerful unit on special offer, so I was reasonably happy. When the mail-order unit did arrive (in the new year) I refused delivery and eventually refunds turned up. As I didn’t have too much trouble getting refunds and suppliers were fairly quick about it, I didn’t think much of it – “snow happens”.

October this year I came to purchase a more substantial machine and once again I turned to an online supplier, as I’ve been supremely unimpressed with my experience I’m tempted not to mention them by name – but it was Amazon (marketplace). The unit was delivered faulty, the supplier sent a courier, accepted the return and accepted the fault. (there were actually two physical faults which made the unit unserviceable) So far so good. They insisted on repairing the unit by returning it to the manufacturer, but were unable to give a timescale. I requested a refund – no answer. I requested a refund from Amazon, who requested a refund from them – no answer. I then spent quite some time jumping through hoops, filing an A-Z claim with Amazon and getting no response other than “Oh did we say 1-2 weeks, we meant 3-4 weeks and even then …”. Eventually I referred the issue to trading standards who told me to request a charge-back via my credit-card company, something Barclays sorted within a 48 hours.

So, “what happened to Amazon, they used to be reliable!” aside, if you’re ordering stuff you “need” (in this case computers) and can’t afford to wait 3 months for a refund, is online shopping the way to go?  For books and CD’s sure, for a start it’s more difficult to deliver a faulty unit, but now that shops have regained some sanity with regards to comparative pricing .vs. the Internet , could it be that shops might make a come-back?

As an advocate of working on-line it seems to be an odd conclusion for me to reach, but in context it does seem that shops once again do have some major plus points.

If I buy it in a shop, someone tells me face-to-face what it’s going to do (or not), someone’s going to hand it to me over the counter and I’m in a position to test it on the spot and hand it back if it’s faulty. If it develops a subsequent fault, I can drive down to the shop and hand it back. It all sounds stupidly simple and familiar, indeed the use of the word “drive” would have been on my list of previous reasons to buy on-line …

Consider the following however, your kit ordered on-line might not turn up (within the described time-frame), it may not actually be what you ordered, it may be faulty and for one of many reasons you may want to send it back. Heck, we’ve all seen the YouTube video of a FedEX kit delivery  , literally anything could happen. Now consider you want a refund and you send the kit back, they might not get it, they might say they didn’t get it, it might have been damaged in transit, they might not accept that the defect was their fault and if you purchased from Amazon, you may find yourself dealing with the issue via an Indian call centre, who will be very sorry about your problems, but may be unable to do anything useful or ever get back to you. (and whoever it is, a refund could easily take quite a long time!)

So is buying stuff of value on-line “safe”?  Ask me a couple of years ago and my response would’ve been an “of course – it’s pretty run of the mill these days” … but now, based on experiences over the last 12 months coupled with shops adjusting their prices to compete with on-line sellers, maybe not such a clear-cut answer.

If you do buy on-line, make absolutely sure you use a credit card and not a debit card.

Then, if you ever need a refund, all you need to do it return the goods (by recorded delivery) ask the vendor for a refund, wait 48 hours and if they don’t provide one, simply contact your credit card company and request a charge-back. They will want some documentary evidence (email) to back up the claim but it’s way easier than you might think. If you’re tempted to use a vendor based guarantee system, be warned they may not be too quick and indeed sometimes, they may not even work (!)

I’ve just chased Amazon again and pointed out that feedback on my claim is now overdue by 6 weeks – let’s see if I get the promised email this time (!)

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7 Responses to “Buy online @ your own risk?”

  1. avatar mark says:

    I’ve never actually used Amazon (marketplace), and so far have been lucky with stuff from Ebay, but I’m always worried about exactly the issues you’ve raised when ordering online.

    The only occasions I’ve had to return anything, was a faulty Nintendo DS sold through (not *by* luckily they refunded me as soon as they got the item back (sent back by recorded delivery so they couldn’t say they didn’t get it) .. and a few items I’ve had to return to, who so far have been unbelievably helpful, sometimes not even asking for the item to be returned before issuing a replacement or refund.
    (this is not meant as an endorsement of or, just my personal experience)

    Ebuyer have earned my trust .. every other time I buy online, I’m worried until the item turns up working, and still worry until the guarantee is up.

    As you say, there’s (usually) no longer the huge savings to be had by buying online, so why risk it.

  2. avatar madpenguin says:

    My impression is that the closer to the manufacturer you get the more reliable the returns and refund policy. Maybe Amazon market place is just too far removed? Or maybe as a whole using Indian call centres just makes it a second class supplier? I buy a lot online (maybe £20k-£40k pa) and certainly most suppliers do a good job, but when the over-the-counter price approaches the on-line price, and when PC-World now stock so much kit, it’s certainly making me think twice, simply because dealing with an on-line issue can be “so” time consuming …

  3. avatar Toonman says:

    Suprised about your endorsment for Ebuyer as it usually gets slated.

    The issues of on line buying interest me as I soon to set up an online business.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    BTW. Ordered the new Scroll excell andriod pad at the end of November, still has not arrived. Just rang the company who are very apologetic and are sending me a Memory card free as a ‘sorry’ with the Scroll next week. 🙂

  4. avatar mark says:

    The “closer to the manufacturer” statement make a lot of sense as there’s not a chain of people/companies involved.

    That was NOT an endorsement of Ebuyer, just my personal experience of dealing with them, which *may* be biased in my favour as I’ve been dealing with them:-
    a) As a business rather than an individual.
    b) Since they first appeared.
    c) I’ve bought a LOT of stuff from them over the years (though not in the same league as MP’s annual budget :)).
    As with most things .. your mileage may vary.

    I also agree that the online prices are no longer significantly lower (Ebuyer included), which was what originally made the risk worthwhile .. and that if online suppliers don’t get their “issue resolution” act together, it may all come crashing down around their ears.

  5. avatar Toonman says:

    “(though not in the same league as MP’s annual budget 🙂 ).

    Yes, Iv’e heard about MP’s budget, is it the same as an MP’s budget????? 🙂

    Yes, I see that you are not endorsing Ebuyer.

  6. avatar madpenguin says:

    Mmm, not planning on spending much this year (!)

  7. avatar mark says:

    Hmm .. I can see the use of “MP” may not be overly clever in some circumstances 🙂

    I can’t believe I didn’t spot that myself.

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