Thursday, May 28, 2015

Caveat emptor -- Ruminating on Internet Buying

Doug: Recently I had a purchasing experience that I'd rate marginal at best. In the midst of my dissatisfaction I complained to Karen, who in turn told me of some past troubles of her own. So we thought, what the heck? -- let's bring this over to our readers for some praises and pans of your own!

Doug: Below you can find my controlled rant that I decided to post on two ratings sites. I do read such sites most of the time to gain information about products and/or companies, but in this case did not do my homework ahead of time. But I wanted to be sure that future shoppers would have access to my experience. Here it is:
I used the Internet to shop for IDW's John Romita Amazing Spider-Man Artifact Edition. Two Cats Comic Book Store in San Francisco by far had the best price I could locate. In fact, they were over 20% better than the dealer with whom I usually place orders for books of that price/value. I placed my order via the Two Cats website early on May 1 2015, a Friday. My PayPal account showed a deduction later that same day. However, the next communication I had from Two Cats was on May 7 when in checking my account on their website it showed the order was "In Preparation". I phoned the store directly on May 12 to inquire about the situation -- eight business days after my order. I was told by the female clerk that "it takes time to get orders ready". My thought was, if it takes that long perhaps Two Cats should not offer Internet sales.

The next day, May 13, my account showed that the book had shipped. However, I never received an email in confirmation, no tracking number, etc. I had asked the clerk the previous day how the package would be shipped -- she stammered around and finally concluded that it must be through the U.S. Postal Service. Needless to say, I had no confidence that a) the package had truly been shipped, and b) it would arrive safely (the latter statement is no reflection on the USPS, who I've used 100s of times for eBay business).

The book arrived today, May 19 -- 18 days after my order. To say I am disgruntled at the time it took to receive such a costly book would be an understatement. When I have purchased Artist Editions from other dealers, they have come in large boxes with several cubic feet of static-free packing peanuts cradling the books' outer boxes. Not so here. My book was in it's storage box, and then a makeshift box of corrugated cardboard was wrapped around that. That's it -- no liner, no cushioning, nothing. Obviously the book's storage box is dinged up on all four corners. The book itself is fine, although I'm not convinced that part of the delay was due to the employees perusing it over a week-and-a-half's time. Let's just say the spine didn't creak when I first opened the book.

So while other reviews for Two Cats seem positive in terms of the in-store experience, I will not place any future orders via the web, regardless of the price. In retrospect, I'd rather have paid retail price for my book but gotten it in 3-4 days. Live and learn, I guess.

Doug: I've included some photos of the packaging so that you can see how flimsy it was, as well as damage to the inner box. What makes me mad about that is that the inner box was designed for long-term product storage -- that it's cushioned on the edges is perfect, as these books are huge and heavy! But I've been able to give the book a thorough look-over (as has my eldest son, in wide-eyed amazement), and it's come through the shaky passage in great shape. As I've said previously, I cannot recommend these books from IDW enough -- they are a peek straight into the creative process of comics history. Just wonderful!

Doug: So while I would not steer you toward Two Cats Comics, I would sure like to sing the praises of a few other Internet vendors with whom I've had nothing but success stories to tell. The guys and gals at In Stock Trades are fabulous beyond belief, both in pricing and in shipping speed. After Amazon (and recently to be honest, before), they have been a steady go-to for the trades and hardcovers I purchase. Remember -- it was In Stock Trades from whom I purchased by first four Artist Editions. The care they took in packaging the books is detailed above, and you can see the photos on the link just above.

Doug: Other dealers who have been solid are Cheap Graphic Novels -- check out their Bargain Bin (I have!) and Tales of Wonder. I've snagged some great deals from both of these companies. I'll also give a shout-out to Edo Bosnar for tipping me off to the folks at The Book Depository in the UK, who will ship those lovely little digests of Marvel love for free. Those things are just great!


Humanbelly said...

Both my work and my life have me getting a fair amount of sometimes-unorthodox items shipped to me, and I have to say that while there's been the occasional less-than-promised product itself (ex: I purchased the Broadway Cast album of EVITA through Amazon FOUR DIFFERENT TIMES, and each time only received the 2nd disc of the two-disc set-! Finally gave up and got it at a local used CD place.), by far the biggest problem I've had has been with the handling of the shipping companies. And of those, UPS has been almost comic in its level of failure. A gaming computer purchased on ebay-- dropped so many times that it had torn through its box in two places; new glass-globe lighting fixtures via Amazon, in sturdy packaging w/ "This End Up" clearly labelled-- waiting on my porch upside down with one container SMASHED COMPLETELY FLAT (and no note of explanation), the globe & fixture within pulverized into tiny shards; a desperately-needed 5-gallon container of an elasomeric industrial coating that we paid an exorbitant expedited shipping fee for that had a "catastrophic handling failure" at our local distribution center-- which we were never contacted about; an on & on & on. What's ironic is that my next door neighbor is a UPS driver, and he himself is just about the nicest, most conscientious & professional fellow you'll ever meet. I wish he'd deliver OUR stuff!
To tell the truth, I think the good ol' United States Postal Service still offers the most dependable shipping service you can get for that price. There are still hiccups, but I've also been pleasantly surprised by the very, very helpful "real" folks that I've dealt with in the few instances where there was a problem.


Doug said...

The only bad experience I've had in my eBaying in regard to the USPS was in retrospect my fault. I shipped my copy of Avengers #2 to a buyer and it arrived accordion-style. I could just tell by looking that the package had been on a conveyor and had not made a turn correctly -- something coming behind it scrunched it up pretty good.

It might have been the first or second item I'd prepared a book/books for shipment, and there's no way I reinforced the mailing envelope enough. The buyer ended up keeping it (I believe I refunded whatever S&H costs he'd paid), but it was a quick lesson learned for me. I take great care now, which adds to the tediousness of the whole operation. But give the buyer what they think they've purchased -- and in a timely fashion!


Edo Bosnar said...

I'm pretty dependent on online outlets for most of the comics-related stuff I want, and by and large I've had only good experiences as far as packaging and shipping times are concerned, regardless of whether I ordered from large, well-established dealers like Amazon or Book Depository (they great, ain't they, Doug?), small dealers who offer their wares on marketplace sites like AbeBooks, or eBay sellers. In the case of the latter, I've found that the individual sellers ("regular folks" like Doug, as opposed to large book/comics dealers who offer thousands of items) tend to be very conscientious about packing things securely.

Humanbelly said...

HBGirl would say that this falls uncomfortably near to the Creepy Realm, but kind of a neat thing with receiving ebay items from "regular folks" is that the packing/packaging itself often offers a tiny glimpse into the lives of people who live far away. Pages from local newspapers, advertising circulars, re-used cardboard or posterboard from local businesses-- it always reminds me of how our regional differences aren't as marked as our regional, uhm, samenesses.

Oh! HBSon & I used to purchase a goodly number of musical instruments via ebay-- largely with very good luck. There was one instance where we won a baritone horn (euphonium) that had just been cleaned up and "re-conditioned"-- but when it arrived, it simply would not put out any decent sound at all. The seller was incredibly gracious and immediately refunded the whole price-- and told us to just keep the instrument in case we could get it fixed. Took it to the shop, and there proved to be an empty little valve-oil bottled jammed 'waaaay deep into the tubing. Tech popped it out w/ an air compressor-- and it is now my own baritone horn (we have an occasional family trio). All told, I ended up with a functional, enjoyable brass instrument for $15. (The seller was pleased, and still declined any further remuneration).


Dr. Oyola said...

I am a little confused by the description/pictures.

So there is a kind of slipcase that came with the book that had its corner crushed? b/c from the pic all I see is that the outer cardboard box is a little scrunched.

The length of shipping time is just ridiculous though. . .

The worst experience I had was looking desperately for any out of print book I needed for my dissertation, but not being able to find one for literally less than $125 (used), but finally found one for $60 - and I bit the bullet - when it arrived it was the the German edition! If it had been in Spanish, French or Italian I might have kept it as I can muddle through in two out three of those (and am fluent in Spanish). Needless to say, I returned it.

Edo Bosnar said...

Heh, as for the delivery time, because I always choose the very cheapest shipping option on offer, 18 days, i.e., about 3 weeks, is what I consider normal (if I order something from the US or Canada). Sometimes I wait over a month for something to arrive. Anything that arrives quicker than that (o.k., stuff from Amazon or Lone Star/ usually takes no more than 2 weeks), and I'm absolutely elated.

Doug said...

Osvaldo --

IDW ships their Artist/Artifact Editions in a nice cardboard box. The box opens like a book, and once open you see that there is padding around three sides of the book. It's not a slipcase, but does make for nice storage. I think the scrunching you refer to is indeed the crushed corners of this box that ships from the publisher. I guarantee you that the merchant did not receive it this way from their distributor.

The company from whom I made my purchase used a single sheet of corrugated cardboard (it's in one of the photos -- has tape wrapped around it several times) and fashioned it around the book's storage box. So there was only a one-ply sheet of cardboard between my boxed book and the evil powers seeking to thwart it's arriving to me in mint condition.

Hope that clears it up!


david_b said...

I've had over 1500 eBay transactions now and have been on it for the last 14yrs, with hardly any issues. You do run into an occasional 'nasty person', actually had one a few weeks ago.

On a whim, I decided to invest in some vintage Kenner SW vehicles, just a couple. Trying to find a decent vintage landspeeder was/is still a chore. Nothing from the '90s, just a clean pre-1983 landspeeder. I won one from this one guy, along with its so-so Kenner box. When it arrived, the internal wheel-lifting mechanism was all busted. I told the guy the problem and that I'd give him decent feedback if he accepted my return without question, typically that works.

Nada, no returns, and complained that he posted a dozen pics, which were primarily of the so-so box.

So naturally I opened a case with eBay, claiming the issue and that even if you took fifty pics of, say, a watch.., if it doesn't work, there's **really** no point to all the pictures, is there..? So I finally had eBay go after the guy and I got my cash back. Didn't like spending $65 for a toy that was busted, even if it came with a so-so Kenner box.

Again that's a odd rarity. Typically I've had outstanding deals on-line, no complaints at all.

Graham said...

I've had mostly good experiences with internet purchases. I mostly order CDs and books. I haven't used eBay for quite a while, but I bought many used and new CDs from buyers there, along with a few books and graphic novels. I did get a complete set of the Marvel B&W Doc Savage series. Everything I ever bought there was as described when I got it and usually arrived in a pretty timely manner. I only got stiffed one time and it was for only about $5. I gave them a bad rating and moved on.

Some of the packaging, mostly on the CDs, was very creative. I remember getting one CD from a New Orleans seller that was packaged in the reverse side of a piece of cardboard stapled together that originally was part of a case of Bud Light. The seller only charged me about $1.50 for shipping and everything was in good condition.

Today, I mostly buy from Amazon sellers and have had few problems. If there was a shipping issue, it was because they came from overseas. Main thing with my purchases is that I don't spend a lot of money on any of them, so if they do come in less than stellar condition, I'm not out a lot of money and hassle.

Steve said...

I live in San Francisco and have never heard of the store you mentioned. They might be very small and not used to shipping and handling books like the one you purchased.

I can only echo the praise you have for InStockTrades. They have always shipped my books quickly and securely. I have never had a damaged book from them. They have always been very responsive to any of my inquiries. And once they even offered me a nice additional discount when the version of a trade I wanted with a variant cover was sold out and they only had copies of the regular cover version to send me.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I think my experience with online shopping has been mostly positive, with a few exceptions. Unfortunately, it's those exceptions which tend to sour one's view of shopping this way. For example, about 2 years ago just before Christmas I ordered a replacement battery for my laptop ... which never arrived. Luckily for me, my order came with a tracking number; would you believe my battery got shipped to Argentina by mistake! I finally did get it, but somehow I'll try not to order stuff close to Christmastime in the future.

- Mike 'looking for a Hercules doll, er, action figure' from Trinidad & Tobago.

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