Monday, January 28, 2013

A Friendly Word of Warning

Even though my circumstances have not yet permitted me to do some of the things other miniature enthusiasts do (i.e. attend shows, take classes, join a local club), I have met a fair few people who share my passion, and almost every single one has been delightful.

This post is, I'm sorry to say, a warning about a miniatures business that cares more about money than their customers.

This is a well-established company, one of the oldest miniatures stores in the country. Their story reads like a heartwarming fairy tale - an ordinary family taking up miniature-making during the Depression, exhibiting their historical models to schoolchildren, and proudly displaying their best work in a long-running (now gone) exhibit at one of my home state's oldest theme parks.

I grew up marveling over the miniatures collection every time my family went to that theme park. Three generations of my family have supported this business, and I am sad to report that it is no longer a nice family company run by friendly people. (If you haven't figured it out yet, their name just might possibly rhyme with "Snots," which is, unfortunately, a pretty apt description of how their current employees behave.)

My cousin was also a dollhouse fanatic. Some time ago she ordered lighting components from Snots. They were defective. Cousin looked everywhere on their website and discovered that their customer service number had vanished. There were dedicated numbers for phone orders and for vendors, but there was no way to report a problem via phone. (Red flag #1.)

The site said to email the company regarding any items that arrived damaged or defective, and Cousin immediately did so. She waited...and waited...and waited for a response. (Red flag #2.) Several days later, it was returned to her as "spam" for being an "incomplete" message. (Red flag #3. Her message was meticulously filled out.) She sent the message again. THREE WEEKS LATER (red flag #4), after emailing them AGAIN (red flag #5), she finally got a surly message (red flag #6) promising her she'd receive a return authorization number within a few days. (Red flag #7. We both worked in retail and knew it does NOT take that long to generate an RA number.)

The return authorization Cousin repeatedly requested, and was promised in writing, NEVER CAME. (Red flag #8. I verified this by checking every last one of her email folders myself.) Therefore, I can only conclude that Snots never sent it.

And here's where it gets worse...

Cousin checked over their policies and discovered that return items without an RA number would not be accepted, that any chargebacks would result in a $50 fine (red flag #9, and I'm not sure this is even legal, especially with a chargeback related to faulty merchandise), and that if the customer refused to pay the fine, the bill would be sent to a collection agency (red flag #10; here in the USA this is definitely illegal).

Cousin emailed them again. They again failed to send the number. (Red flag #11.) She eventually filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (where, not surprisingly, they had a D rating). Not only did the BBB basically refuse to help her, Snots posted a blatantly dishonest rebuttal. They falsely claimed they had sent her an RA number twice (red flag #12...if this was actually true, they'd surely have re-sent it the last time she'd emailed asking for it), nastily accused her of damaging the items herself (red flag #13, and since this was Cousin's tenth house, she did in fact know how to handle lighting components!), falsely claimed that she was "in violation" of their policy (red flag #14 - how is that even possible, since she'd patiently followed their instructions?), and made it clear they wouldn't replace the defective goods they sold her or return even one cent of her money (red flag #15).

Cousin was not in the best health when she placed the order. She intended to take Snots to small claims court (and began filling out the paperwork), but didn't last quite long enough.

Cousin is no longer able to warn people about this company herself. However, I'm still here, and since I had a similarly unpleasant experience with Snots' rude and irresponsible approach to customer service, I feel that the miniature community should be aware of it.