Monday, December 18, 2006

A Christmas shipping scam

No, that's no misprint: this is not a "shopping" scam. It is a shipping scam, and a pretty clever one at that.

Last Friday, I ordered a gift for Kirby from an online retailer that specializes in children's products. I specified that the item be shipped by ground, even though I recognized that, given the relatively short amount of time until Christmas, the gift might not be delivered in time (which is okay; is a two-year-old really going to realize that the gift was a few days late, after all?).

Instead of processing the order, however, the company sent me an e-mail (which I didn't immediately see because I was out of town Friday and Saturday and therefore away from my inbox) telling me that they "could not guarantee" that the order would be delivered in time for Christmas. They wanted to know if I wanted to pay an extra $40 for expedited, two-day shipping, and they told me that the order was "on hold" until they heard back from me regarding the expedited shipping.

Never mind the fact that I thought I made my desires regarding the manner of shipment evident when I placed my order. Nor mind the fact that, had they not decided to put my order "on hold" and had processed and shipped it as normal, there still might have been a chance that the order would have arrived by Christmas.

But no, this company had something else in mind: by delaying the processing of the order to let me decide if I wanted to pony up an extra $40 for two-day shipping, they essentially ensured that I would have to use two-day shipping in order for it to arrive on time!

I've got to give this online retailer some credit. This is a pretty slick scam, designed to prey on the worst fear of the last minute Christmas-shopping parent: that the presents ordered for the kids wouldn't arrive by Christmas.

This company, after all, could have put a "we cannot guarantee that your order will arrive by Christmas if you choose to ship by ground" disclaimer on their website that people would see as they ordered. But they did not, perhaps because they thought shoppers would accept the risk and decide to ship by ground anyway. Instead, their tactic was to hold received orders while they sent out these concerned-sounding "are you sure you want to ship it by ground?" e-mails (cleverly disguised as standard shipping confirmations that require no response), knowing fully that many customers wouldn't respond to them, if at all, until it was clearly too late for an item shipped via ground to arrive by Christmas.

And if they charge an two-day shipping fee of $40 (which I know to be outrageous, simply because I've done enough two-day shipping via UPS, FedEx or USPS to know how much it really costs) for my one relatively small item, imagine how much they're charging people with large or multiple orders? This is probably a very lucrative scam for this company.

But, as I said above, I wasn't counting on the item arriving by Christmas anyway. And I certainly was not interested in paying the ridiculous $40 surcharge for second-day shipping, especially since it cost more than the item itself. So I could have just responded by saying, "thanks, but just ship it by ground anyway." But I found this this online retailer's attempt to hustle extra money to be rather sleazy and annoying.

So I responded to the company's e-mail. I told them that I felt that their decision to put the order "on hold" was a scam aimed at getting extra money from me. And, because I felt that they were running a scam, I asked them to cancel my order because I simply did not want to do business with them.

The company responded with a lame (and clearly prepared) "we're sorry, it wasn't a scam, we just wanted you to make the choice regarding shipping, etc." message, but they did agree to cancel my order without hassle.

Lori and I then ordered the same product from a different online retailer, one which, so far, hasn't seen fit to place our order "on hold" in order to wring extra money out of us.

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