How to follow up on a purchase and not be a jerk?
March 14, 2017 7:13 AM   Subscribe

I commissioned a small art piece from someone who I do not know in person but with whom I share friends and with whom I also interact with frequently on social media. In January, the piece was complete. I sent the payment balance immediately but I have not yet received the art.

I have asked her about whether she has mailed it twice with no response at all-- once over Facebook (mid February) and once over email (5 days ago). She has not responded either time.

She's a great person, and she has had some tough things on her plate this past year and I should stress I am not in any hurry to receive the work. I really like her, and I don't want to nag. But I'm a still little worried by her non-response. It feels unlike her to just ignore the question. I'm also a little worried that she may have mailed it and it is lost in the post and this is why she does not want to answer.

How would you best handle? Should I just wait another month before I ask again? Should I ask our mutual friend the best way to proceed or is that weird and rude? I'm a little bit flummoxed by the silence.
posted by frumiousb to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm also a little worried that she may have mailed it and it is lost in the post and this is why she does not want to answer.

If this were the case, she would be telling you that she mailed it.

I have a thing where if something I'm responsible for is late, I get absolutely paralyzed whenever I try to do it. I ghost on people when they ask about it too. I'm 90 percent certain that this is what's happening to her. Leave it alone for a month, maybe two, then hit her up again.
posted by Etrigan at 7:24 AM on March 14 [14 favorites]

If you share a close friend, can you have that person ask about it when they see her next? Casually, like "Oh, hey Frumiousb said they commissioned a piece from you. That's so cool. What is it?" or something that will maybe shed some light on the situation?
posted by LKWorking at 7:31 AM on March 14

I'm sorry this is happening.

The piece is not finished. Or she sold it to someone else and thought she would make another for you, something happened, etc.. The piece is not lost in the mail. Agreed the artist is paralyzed by guilt, shame, all that.

I'm sorry. Waiting might help the piece turn up, but it is possible this person is having some sort of a breakdown and you may never receive it. If this were a purely business transaction I would know what to do. In this case, and because of the mood I am in this morning, I genuinely recommend you find a way to consider the money a gift to a deserving human being and move on. If you can convey this, great. If you can't let the artist know they can stop stressing and losing sleep, I would understand.

I guess my advice is to let the universe handle it. Make this a good deed. If one day the art shows up, yay! If not, that's OK, too.

I suspect your artist is having a personal crisis. I know you know the answer is kindness if at all possible.
posted by jbenben at 7:35 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]

You say the piece was finished in January. If you are sure about that, then either she is procrastinating about mailing it or something happened to it (sold to someone else, destroyed, damaged). Given that you are in no particular hurry, I would wait a few months and then follow up.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:45 AM on March 14

I'd call a week after the last mail. I mean, as in: grab the phone, talk to her.
posted by Namlit at 7:45 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Whereas most would be threatening legal action by now, you are approaching this with compassionate equanimity, which I find admirable. As to the most optimal approach, perhaps first give her more time, though not necessarily a month. In a couple weeks, say, touch base again via the method that would best -and verifiably - reach her. All you need say is what you eloquently outlined above. I, for one, would never be offended for receiving a reminder that gentle. By the same token, perhaps giving your words a skosh of an edge might bring about a speedier response - you have attempted twice already, after all. Only you can know how far to press, at this point in time.

Ultimately, the onus is on her. If your third cordial attempt yields continued radio silence, you are more than within your bounds to contact the mutual friend you mentioned, and inquire whether said person has had contact with the artist of late. Failing results beyond that, more stringent measures may be in order. What form that takes, is your call alone.

Hope everything works out!
posted by Amor Bellator at 7:49 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Let's say she is paralyzed and mortified because the piece is no longer available (sold to someone else? damaged accidentally? destroyed in a fit of self-doubt?). That can put her in a spiral of shame and avoidance. For those of us whose minds are dangerous neighborhoods to be in, there can be all sort of negative self-talk surrounding something like this. It will also color her interactions with your mutual friends ("oh she knows frumiousb, crap I still haven't delivered that piece...")

I feel like leaving it open-ended is ultimately not helpful to her because a promise unfulfilled can weigh heavily on the conscience.

If you'd like to help her bring closure to this, perhaps offer a few other ways for her to discharge this obligation - another piece, a smaller piece, what have you. Maybe arrange through a mutual friend to swing by her studio with some coffee, have a casual "visiting the artist" chat, pick out a piece that's already finished, and call it good.

When you do get a chance to talk to her, by phone or in person, offer a few face-saving outs for her like "omg did the post office loses things all the time", or "you know things go missing all the times in the intertubes, maybe that email/payment never got to you", or "stupid me, did I fat-finger your email address when I sent that"... and give her a chance to recover graciously.
posted by metaseeker at 8:24 AM on March 14 [9 favorites]

How much did you pay for the piece? I think that is relevant
posted by uans at 8:32 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]

"I am really looking forward to receiving X. Is there anything else you need from me at this point?"
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:53 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]

I'd write and say you need it by x, otherwise you have to cancel and have your money back. Give the impression there's a real deadline like a birthday.

People here are being very kindly with your money, but artists who behave like this poison the water for other people who would love to have commissions.
posted by Segundus at 9:34 AM on March 14 [33 favorites]

When you deal with fellow-fans (my inference), you have to assume that you will end up with unprofessional flakes with some frequency. Then the social context gets leveraged against you. You don't have to be mean, but if someone is taking your money to do something, it is absolutely appropriate to treat it as a professional transaction. I would confirm with mutual friend that, as far as she knows, no catastrophe has befallen the artist. (Obviously, if she was just diagnosed with cancer or lost a family member, you may want to approach this differently.) Then tell artist that you need the piece by [x date] or you will have to [do a charge-back/whatever is appropriate to the payment mechanism]. Whatever she's dealing with, she has your money, and that's not right. The outer limits on some charge-back periods is approaching, so don't wait too long.

It's not that I'm not familiar with the whole failure/shame/paralysis cycle, and it may be what's happening here, but, if you're going to be taking people's money, you can't be doing that anymore. If you can't figure out a way to cope, you have to stop taking commissions and you have to give refunds. Otherwise, you are stealing from people, and, worse, exploiting a friendly social context to do so. No one is obliged to tolerate that.
posted by praemunire at 9:49 AM on March 14 [22 favorites]

I don't know if the work is being shipped internationally, but I have a dear friend who lives in France and I live in the US, and it takes really bizarre amounts of time for gifts to arrive between us.

Asking your friend will perhaps give you an intermediate read on the next step to take.

Also, the item will probably arrive today since you jinxed it with this AskMe post. Fingers crossed.
posted by effluvia at 10:30 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]

Take your "she's a great person" paragraph, change the "she"s to "you"s and send it to her via the medium over which she took your money (FB or email.)

I understand what people are saying here but it's jerker to blow someone off than to inquire about a business transaction.

I get the shame spiral thing too and it makes my work a horrible place sometimes, but I know the problem is that I owe someone a response, not that they are asking. Nobody owes me eggshells treatment just because I can't get my shit together sometimes.
posted by kapers at 11:25 AM on March 14 [7 favorites]

A lot of people here are being very kind, which is admirable. And I do not think you should be a jerk to this person. But she has taken your money and not delivered the item for which you paid.

This IS a business transaction. Just because the item that was purchased is art doesn't negate that. I absolutely think you should be kind and flexible, but at the same time, if you never receive this piece of art, you're entitled to get your money back.

I'd ask the mutual friend what's up. The answer might be, "oh, she just got out of a coma," in which case: Cool your jets. The answer might also be, "oh, she's a total flake about email, but her follow-through is good," in which case, I'd also cool my jets. Or the answer might be, "ugh, you have to nag her for this stuff," in which case, now you know. I suspect the person who knows her will have better advice for how to deal with her specific personality than we will!
posted by Countess Sandwich at 11:43 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]

I think this will depend on how much you're spending, personally. If you're paying well below the average price for custom or high quality art, then please continue being as nice and understanding as you can be. Because if that's the case she's not trying to scam you, she may not have the cash needed to ship the package. Or she's damaged it and hasn't had the time to make another. Keep reaching out, maybe through the mutual friend, and only ask for a refund once it's clear that she's ignoring you and not just busy or scatterbrained.

But if you're paying a premium(say in a upper hundreds of dollars) then it's time to get more serious. If you're paying a fair to high price for someone's work, they should be treating you properly in hopes you may be a repeat customer. When I get a large commission it always comes with a contract stating both my and my clients obligations. Mine are open communication, updates on the progress, and when payment is sent and I ship the piece out, I give a tracking number and always send it in an insured package. She should be at the very least talking to you, and if she hasn't sent the package yet ask her to get tracking on it when she does. If she refuses to communicate, contact your mutual friend and then(if you paid through paypal or transfer) look to getting a refund. If you paid a lot of money for this then I'd say she has about 2 weeks to get her shit together before you should be serious about getting your money back. She can't charge professional prices if she can't offer professional service(or at least proper communication).
posted by InkDrinker at 12:28 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

It is completely appropriate of you to wonder what is up. That said, this can be a normal internet-person response for a variety of reasons ranging from fuckups to life stuff going on to mental health issues. Think what you would like to get out of this...

- your art piece
- your money back
- a status update
- the assurance that this artist is okay

And then work from there towards that. I usually up the frequency of my contact in these situations but keep it low key "Hey there, would like a mailing date from you. Get back to me when you can. Thanks." and just repeat it a few times over a few weeks. So not "Did you mail it" but "Please tell me the date you mailed this" Presume good faith, but keep at it. If it gets past that I might contact someone to see if there's a better way to get in touch. Some people are crap on the phone but great over text. Or great on facebook but crap on Twitter. Make sure you're communicating in the most useful way possible for them. Send a few public nudges on social media if they continue to be active but are not engaging with you.

If you still get just a blank wall after a few weeks of good faith trying (and making sure through other people that this person is not in the hospital or something), I'd make some decisions that either you're going to ask for a refund (or chargeback or whatever you can do based on how you paid and how much) or write it off. Above all I would not keep this an ongoing concern where you're sort of getting crumbs of information but no actual shipping dates/deadlines/responses that you can do anything with.
posted by jessamyn at 2:02 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]

Thanks! The reference price is in the low mid hundreds of dollars, which hurts if I lose it, but doesn't kill me.
posted by frumiousb at 2:50 PM on March 14

Oh, and yes-- she's shipping from the US to me in Hong Kong.
posted by frumiousb at 2:54 PM on March 14

I think you're being very compassionate. I also think she's taking advantage of this compassion. As others have said, the fact that she's an artist does not give her special snowflake dispensation to disappear on you. This is a business transaction. She's now had three occasions to let you know what's happening (once when the piece was commissioned and she told you when to expect it and the two times after that you've contacted her) and has chosen not to. I would send her an email saying that you hope everything is ok for her, but you can't wait any longer and the money is now earmarked for something else. You're disappointed that you didn't get it as you were looking forward to it and will be doing a chargeback in xx days. Kindly, Frumiousb.
posted by Jubey at 3:44 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]

Oh man international mail AND a commissioned piece! This is so tricky! I think that there are layers: 1) the piece probably isn't done, or isn't turning out the way they wanted because 2) being creative is very hard to do on demand and the pressure feels way more intense than just doing shit because you want to 3) mailing shit internationally is so fucking annoying--the paperwork, the waiting in line, the packaging, especially 4) the packaging of something priceless and 5) she may have spent the money already.

I would send one more email (or whatever way she was last reachable), and say "hey I understand if something came up and you're not able to complete the piece. It's totally fine and I'm not mad (just disappointed..ha!), but I will need a refund. Let me know if you want to PayPal/Venmo it. Hope you're okay!" Give her a week. If you don't hear anything, cancel the check or do the chargeback or whatever it takes to get the money back.

This is a lame situation, I'm sorry!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:56 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to update that the painting arrived last week, just as I was about to employ one of the tips. It's beautiful, and the artist apologised for the delay.
posted by frumiousb at 7:51 PM on March 26 [4 favorites]

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