Ordered X, got Y. Help?
June 3, 2008 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Spent $$ on wooden blocks with "beautiful nine-colour palette." Got seven blah colours. novanatural.com's response: "that's what our supplier gave us." Visa: "That's, uh, a bad situation." Now what?

A month ago I ordered $50 blocks because they looked so nice, and I was happy to spend $35 on shipping for them. The description has been changed on the site, but as per the catalogue, they were supposed to have a "beautiful" "nine-colour palette."

I got seven colours that don't look like the ones in the catalogue, with twice the amount of an unappealing orange. They were shipped loose in the box, and there was some paint transfer that made it look like a toddler had been at them with a marker. Here's a scan of the catalogue page and the actual blocks.

I immediately sent a polite note, and waited ten days for a response blithering about the "handcrafted nature" of the mistake and about "subtly varied shades of each dye hue being taken up. From our point of view, these nuances only add to the beauty of the blocks." I tried again to explain: you advertised X and sent Y. I also pointed out that the "estimated shipping" was $35, the actual shipping was $25, the credit card damage was $35. I said that receiving the missing colours would still make for an unhappy experience but I'd be satisfied.

No; the crap they sent is the crap they got from their supplier, tough. How about a $10 gift certificate?

I asked them to make arrangements for me to ship the blocks back to them at their expense and for them to refund the $85; that was ten days ago, nothing.

Visa's position is that I can return the blocks at my own expense via registered mail and they'll credit my card the $50 purchase price within 30 days. I would then be out more on shipping than the blocks are worth, of course.

I'm amazed by this; I've never had a problem with ordering from novanatural.com before. I couldn't be more disgusted with them now, though. $85 is a lot of money for ugly blocks, and at the end of the day, it's my daughter who's getting shafted, with the ugly blocks still in the box. I pointed out to Nova the obvious play irritation of the double-the-amount-of-one-colour problem...

Do I have any possible recourse? (FWIW, they are in the States, I'm in Canada.) They are not listed with the BBB, unsurprisingly. Ontario consumer protection what-not doesn't seem to offer anything that applies.
posted by kmennie to Shopping (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Try raising the issue with the Consumerist. They do a good job of highlighting crap like this.
posted by unixrat at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2008

Two things:

1) What is the return policy of novanatural?

2) Wouldn't VISA chargeback on the entire bill, rather than just the $50?
posted by rhizome at 11:56 AM on June 3, 2008

Doesn't look like they're listed at http://www.resellerratings.com, so you might want to add them, post your negative experience and include the link in your next correspondence with the company. It may or may not make them change their tune (offer to update your review with any positive outcome), but either way you'll probably cost them at least $85 in lost business, and there's something to be said for the satisfaction that comes from that.
posted by bizwank at 12:05 PM on June 3, 2008

My only suggestion is to be more wary of catalog merchants' photography panache and return policies in future, and be sure to note if expensive shipping costs will be reversed (this seems rarely to be the case).

This kind of variation does seem pretty normal for a small merchant and a natural product - imagine what kind of expensive quality controls they would have to implement to guarantee all wood lots take coloration the same way, and each batch of blocks has a perfect assortment of colors!

You can continue to harangue Novanaturals and publicize this failing of theirs, but I would not expect more from them than an exchange, returned at your expense.

Or hey, you can always re-stain them yourself! Whatever gets the blocks in front of the kid, right?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:05 PM on June 3, 2008

Response by poster: From their printed catalogue: "If for any reason you are not happy with your purchase, please contact us. To return an item, obtain return authorization online or over the phone. Note your RA number on your package. We are not responsible for returns received without an RA number. Please send your return to... Full credit will be given for returns received within 4 weeks of the purchase date. After 4 weeks and up to 4 months, store credit will be issued."

And no, Visa was a whopping disappointment on this one, too.

This has nothing to do with wood lots taking coloration the same way, etc. Nine colours =! seven with double the amount of snot orange.
posted by kmennie at 12:11 PM on June 3, 2008

Tell them you are going to initiate chargeback for the whole amount. No reason why you should pay for something you didn't order.

If they can't complete your order, why should you pay for it? Have them make arrangements to ship it back. You could also claim shipping damage, as colored blocks for kids should not lose paint.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:14 PM on June 3, 2008

Hmm, I'd ask them what their definition of "for any reason" is. I doubt they'd put that in their catalog if the sole purpose was to tell you, "so what?" Note that they may also be shining you on in order to put you past their 4-week full refund cutoff and into an exchange via store credit.
posted by rhizome at 12:16 PM on June 3, 2008

Best answer: I successfully disputed a Visa charge a few years ago by citing the deceptive trade practices act in the state where I lived. My argument basically was, "what they sold me wasn't what the promised me and hey -- read this statute, that's illegal!"

They're located in Vermont. I can't find a deceptive trade practices act in their state code, but there is a statute regarding false advertising. It prohibits the use of anything "untrue, deceptive or misleading" in promotional materials [Title 13, Chapter 47, Section 2005].

If they weren't being outright deceptive, it sounds like the description was at least misleading.

If you don't have any luck with the return policy you cited above, I'd send a letter (certified!) to the company quoting the false advertising statute. If that still doesn't get them to act, send a letter (certified!) to Visa disputing the charges and citing that statute. When you sound like you know what you're talking about, the dispute works a lot better.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:32 PM on June 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds as if you've been emailing them so far. You might have better luck if you call them. They'll be able to hear that you're a gracious but very disappointed person who understands their point of view but hopes they'll make an exception for a repeat customer. On the other hand, you're asking them to forfeit $35 on a $50 item; they may prefer to lose you as a customer than lose the money. Offering to split the lost postage might help. Or ask them to send you several of the "good" color blocks, instead of replacing the whole set. If you take the attitude that "there's a way we can work this out; let's try," you might get something better than you have now. But if they think you're never going to buy from them again in any case, they won't do anything for you. A "small family-owned business" usually won't handle returns as cheerfully as a big company, no matter how right the customer is.

FWIW, I agree with you that you're entitled to the blocks they described, and you shouldn't have to pay return postage. But the reality is that there's no way to make them comply, so you need to use diplomacy and, possibly, compromise.
posted by wryly at 12:40 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could easily make blocks like these yourself. An eight-foot piece of 2"x2" lumber will produce 48 of those blocks. You'll also need a hand saw, some sandpaper and something to stain the blocks with (if you go to Home Depot or Lowe's, you could even skip the handsaw, though the guy at the we'll-cut-it counter might balk at making 47 cuts). It'd make a nice weekend project (some would even find it meditative), and could certainly be done for less than fifty bucks.

In terms of time and money and effort expended, and in terms of satisfying results, this might be a better option than trying to deal with either Visa or novanatural.
posted by box at 12:42 PM on June 3, 2008

Did you actually call them up, or did you just email them?

If not, call them up and simply say you are dissatisfied and that you want a refund. Be business like.
Go through their procedure and get a RA number and send it back. If that procedure fails, then you can start complaining on the internet & looking up deceptive acts laws. It looks like this is a small company. Get someone on the phone and just go through the checklist. It looks like they explain their policy pretty well. Also - the moment you start saying "snot orange" and "my daughter is getting shafted" you are instantly the "crazy customer" and have no credibility. Just keep cool and refer to their words in the catalog ("any reason").

You might just have to suck up the shipping charges. Or you could just suck up and give them to your daughter and let her decide if she likes them or not. My bet would be that she doesn't even notice any of the "problems" you found.
posted by gyusan at 12:51 PM on June 3, 2008

Response by poster: I admit to excess indignation at this point. Perhaps I should've posted the replies from the company that got me there, but. None of you would've noticed that as kids? That your toys had paint transfer and a "wrong" number of colours? I suppose you couldn't tell the difference between Mega Blocks and Lego, either...

Neatly painting sixty-four cubes of wood in non-toxic colours would be quite a lot of expense and work, hence the purchase of purportedly neatly painted cubes.
posted by kmennie at 1:22 PM on June 3, 2008

None of you would've noticed that as kids? That your toys had paint transfer and a "wrong" number of colours?

If it was colored blocks, I don't think I would have, no. If it was my favorite Transformer and he was blue instead of red, maybe? Unless your kid was studying the catalog and specifically requested the blocks based explicitly on the nine colors including that wonderful periwinkle hue that was Just So, your daughter probably has no idea anything is wrong.

If you want to pursue this company on the principle of making things right from a retailer-ethics perspective, by all means do so, but it's not clear here that your daughter's opinions of the blocks received has much to do with whether you do or don't pursue.
posted by cortex at 1:38 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:11 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mod note: a few comments removed -- offended by question? go to metatalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:15 PM on June 3, 2008

I've gotten results on botched mail-order stuff by contact the vendor's local Better Business Bureau. Here's the Vermont BBB—it might be worth a shot.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:26 PM on June 3, 2008

It sounds like you received damaged goods due to insufficient packing. Wouldn't that make a stronger argument to the company than the difference in palette? I'd make that my first talking point, and then once they offer to replace them, move on to the difference in palette as a reason that you want a refund instead.

But yeah, emails never get anything done. Call them - and hurry!
posted by GardenGal at 2:27 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was going to jump in and second people who say call, be sweet, like, "we have a problem we can solve together, right?" and I saw your metatalk post mentioning you've bought from them before. Use that. Call and say, "I've always been so happy with everything I've gotten from you before, but these blocks! The quality just isn't what I expected." I might, if it were me, let go of colors 8 and 9--sometimes you're more likely to get the help you want if you focus focus focus. So many times friends ask me to vet a letter of complaint, and it goes on and on--"and then there was this one time...and this other thing..." I tend to think it's more effective to focus on the one biggest thing you want, or on the very minimal thing that would make you happy.

It's pretty typical to have to pay shipping on returns; I buy a lot of clothes from catalogs and I end up doing it quite often. $35 is really high shipping, though--probably neither you nor they want to eat it on a $50 item. They offered you a $10 gift certificate; is there some higher number that would make you happy? Is there some amount of money these blocks seem worth to you, so that, a partial refund, with you keeping the blocks, would be good enough?

If their supplier has changed, or has changed materials, it may not be possible for them to provide the missing colors even if they wanted to.

If it helps, looking at your picture, I agree that what you got isn't what you were led to expect. I doubt you'll get a solution that gets you out of this without any loss, but good luck.
posted by not that girl at 3:25 PM on June 3, 2008

Best answer: Howdy:

I'm sorry this happened. You're completely within your rights to be upset, and they should make this right.

Here's what's worked for me in the past with situations like this:
  • Call customer service, and get a supervisor.
  • Frame the situation as "I'm a previous customer who's unfortunately got a problem with my most recent order, and I'm hoping we can work together to iron this out, because I want to keep recommending you to my friends."
  • Describe the situation plainly and calmly: "I saw X in your catalog, and loved it, so I ordered it. When it arrived, Y was wrong with it, and while I wish I could be okay with this, I'm sure you can understand (especially if you have kids) how it's just not going to work out. I mean, if this happened to you, you'd be disappointed too", and so forth. Build a relationship, like you're talking to a friend, and try to get the customer service person to identify with your disappointment. Not with your anger, but your disappointment.
  • Tell them, calmly and coolly, what you'd like to have happen, and be prepared to negotiate or compromise a bit on it. "What I'd like to see happen is either a replacement where the colors are correct and things are as advertised, or a complete refund of my costs and the shipping costs. I think that's reasonable. What do you think?".
  • At this point, if they have any sense, they'll start negotiating with you, or maybe even do what you want. If they won't, that's the point at which I bring a little anger in, but continually focused on "I'm a repeat customer, and I'm asking you to honor your policies and make me happy so I continue to buy things".
Generally, what doing this has shown me is that people tend to lock down in the face of anger: it's a lot easier to tell someone who's yelling at you (or feels like they are) to eff off than it is to blow off someone who's appealing to your humanity. If you get them "on your side", they feel good from helping you. Think about it this way: it feels okay to deal well with someone being angry at you, but it feels a hell of a lot better to do a favor for a friend, right? Same principles here.

And, for the record, none of what I've described comes naturally to me: I'm a scorched-earth get-pissed-first kind of guy, and I learned all of this by watching my wife, a born negotiator. I have to say that I've gotten excellent results doing it her way, and I hope what I suggested helps!
posted by scrump at 3:50 PM on June 3, 2008 [10 favorites]

A "small family-owned business" usually won't handle returns as cheerfully as a big company, no matter how right the customer is.

I just wanted to mention that, in my personal experience, the opposite is true.
posted by mediareport at 7:22 PM on June 3, 2008

It is not clear to me how many times you've contacted the company, but getting the answer you did (that's what the supplier sent us) sounds like a lazy answer you'd get from someone who can't give you what you want, anyway. They gave you the easy answer- don't take it. Bug them until they give you the right answer.
posted by Monday at 5:10 AM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: It is not clear to me how many times you've contacted the company

Just for the record: 3x, all very politely. 1: "Hi, I just received...here's the problem." 2: "No, you misunderstand me...how can this be fixed?" 3: "If you can't fix this, I'd like to make arrangements to return it inc'l shipping refund." They do not exactly rush their replies; this has been over the course of a month.
posted by kmennie at 8:12 AM on June 4, 2008

I think GardenGal has an excellent point about focusing on the inadequate packing, which led to damage during shipment. I can't see your comparison photo, so the difference b/t what was advertised and what you got may be quite striking, but there's an element of subjective judgment on how big and how important the difference is. But damage during shipment is a concrete, objective hook for getting what you want. That's unacceptable under any standards.
posted by Mavri at 9:28 AM on June 4, 2008

Best answer: Call. Call, call, call. My wife loves email for this sort of thing. I hate it. If an email doesn't immediately get the expected response, call. It is way, way, way too easy for a customer service rep to be dismissive of an email. Email is basically the least-effort method of contact. Email says "this is not so important to me that I would take time to make a phone call."

Yes, email is awesome when it works - but if it is this important to you, get thee to the phone and start (politely, but firmly) asking them to do the right thing.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:02 PM on June 4, 2008

Response by poster: From Nova, yesterday afternoon:

Thank you for your recent email with additional photos. My colleagues relayed the message that you called today, and based on those conversations and our communications, I hope that we can come to a more satisfactory resolution for you.

Due to the high shipping cost, we will not be asking you to return the blocks to us. Please let me know which of the following two options you would prefer:

1) credit card reimbursement for the blocks and the shipping for that portion of your order ($49.90 + $20), totaling $69.90
2) Nova store credit for the blocks and full shipping cost ($49.90 + $35.10), totaling $85.

As soon as let me know your preference, I will credit you in the manner you choose- and I do hope we have the opportunity to serve you again in the future!

Except the shipping for the blocks was $35; I added a small toy to my order with the blocks once I found that (a) block shipping = $35, (b) block + small toy shipping = $35. But.

The blocks actually mark not just each other but painted surfaces, so I suppose we now have a set of special, only-use-in-the-sandbox blocks?

Thanks to all advising picking up the phone; I now blush at not having done so earlier, though it's still not clear why the e-mails went so poorly. (I have to mention that their second reply included the helpful tip that rubbing alcohol might remove the marks, as though it was completely reasonable for me to have to remove marks from up to 512 surfaces.) The "recent email" she mentions was sent about 12 days prior.

They were extremely nice via telephone, though.
posted by kmennie at 6:16 AM on June 5, 2008

Woohoo! Good job!
posted by loiseau at 9:10 AM on June 5, 2008

Response by poster: For the record, here was the end of the exchange:


Thanks so much for the reply.

Let me make clear something I only noticed in the last couple of days:
the blocks not only mark each other, but also painted surfaces (eg,
walls) -- they can practically be used as crayons. I can't recommend
strongly enough just taking them off the market, because the first
person to get them and give them to a toddler is going to be
_extremely_ irate about the mess...

I remain astonished, partially because we have these:


which appear _identical_ in colour and finish, and I can't _make_ them
transfer colour.

And. On some level I feel small for pointing this out; on another,
well, I've waited over a month to get this sorted out and experienced
considerable frustration over that time, and why shouldn't I? The
shipping for the blocks to Canada = $35. (I can only assume $20 is the
US charge...) I added the glockenspiel to my order only after finding
that the blocks alone were going to ship for $35, and adding the
glockenspiel added no extra to the shipping total. (Also, $15 would be
a lot to ship just an $18 glockenspiel...)

A credit card reimbursement would be preferred.

Thank you so much for sorting this out, and we look forward to seeing
your 2009 catalogue.


I have just refunded your card $69.90, and hope that despite the disappointment in the block quality, your family will still be able to make good use of them!

We look forward to serving you again. Thank you for you order!


Thanks. But. You charged me $35 for the shipping, not $20. I realise
there was another item added to the shipment, but I added it only
after discovering that the blocks were going to cost $35 to ship, and
adding the second small toy added nothing to the shipping cost. I
would never have spent $15 to order a a small, lightweight $18 item
that could be found locally.

Why should I still be out $15? After waiting a month for something
resembling customer service this is a bit insult-added-to-injury.

Somehow, with the "still be able to make good use of them," I still
don't feel you're getting the full extent of the problem. Apart from
the incorrect numbers of colours, THE DYE MARKS WALLS and who knows
what else when the blocks are rubbed against it. Please test these out
yourself; if you keep shipping blocks from the same batch, you are
going to end up with customers much angrier than me...


Given that we have sold many, many of these blocks without the issues you have raised, we have done our very best to respond to your concerns fairly. How products are used outside of their intended purpose is something Nova cannot control- or take responsibility for.

Again, thank you for shopping at Nova.

I could see the "very best to respond to your concerns" had it not taken over a month, three letters, one photograph of the blocks, one scan of the blocks, and one phone call to get anything at all, but no mind.
posted by kmennie at 12:31 PM on June 5, 2008

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