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Avoiding and Handling “Problem” Orders

damaged package

Let’s face it, every now and then we run into problems with stuff we’ve ordered from online vendors – broken containers, crushed boxes, or damaged plants. Having been a buyer of orchids and supplies for almost 50 years and a vendor for 27, as well as a professional purchasing manager, I thought I’d share some order-handling guidance. This may sound like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often something is missed.

Before or during ordering

First and foremost, pay with a credit card. It offers your protections that may come into play. PayPal is a reasonable second choice.

Second, understand the vendor’s policies on damage and replacement. Some are great (like me!), others, not so much. Caveat emptor! There are vendors who require you to pay return shipping of damaged goods, and I simply do not do business with them.

Then, be sure to have the package shipped to a secure, protected address – work, school, etc., indoors (especially in winter), out of direct sunlight and where it’s not obvious to “porch pirates”.

Once the order is received

Immediately upon receipt of the package, inspect it for external damage and to see if it looks like it has been opened and resealed. If there is any problem, photograph it before opening the package.

Open it and inspect the contents. Note any damage, breakage, losses, pests on plants, etc., and try to assess how it may have happened. Again, photograph any issues. With broken supplies it’s pretty obvious the packing was insufficient, but with plants, the condition could have been prime when they left the vendor, but damage can happen in-transit (poor packing), gotten too cold (no heat packs – always ask for them if shipping in cold weather), or they could be cooked if the package is left sitting in direct sunshine. Pest issues obviously came from the vendor, but they might have been hidden and unnoticed.

If there is an issue, do not immediately think the vendor was trying to rip you off. Assigning motives in a vacuum does not put you in a mindset to reasonably address the issue. The vendor didn’t want there to be any issues any more than you, so most will make it right.

Contact the vendor, clearly state the facts of the issue (“When I unpacked it, the jar was broken” or “there is a mealy bug infestation”, not “Wow! Your packing was horrible, you lousy so-and-so!”), and request a remedy. Replacements at no charge (including shipping) or a refund are in order. Be reasonable and don’t become the “bad guy” – a bent leaf, blasted bud, or one broken jar in a shipment of several does not qualify for a full order replacement or refund.

If the vendor starts “hemming and hawing” – or worse – about resolving the issue, tell them you intend to file a dispute with the issuer of your credit card. When you order something and pay them to ship it to you, the vendor is responsible to get it to you, as you ordered it. Not the wrong thing, not damaged or infested, and as they are the ones paying the carrier, it is their responsibility to choose one and prepare the package appropriately to ensure the shipment makes it to you intact.

If they still refuse to respond reasonably – or don’t respond at all – contact the card issuer and file the dispute, carefully sharing the same, objective facts and the efforts you have expended trying to get it resolved. The charge will immediately be put on hold, meaning you don’t owe it and won’t incur interest charges on the full amount until it is resolved. (The last time I had an issue that required going this route, the card issuer called the vendor with me on the line. The agent did all of the talking, asked for confirmation of the corrective action, then asked my acceptance. One minute and it was resolved.)

If that gets you nowhere, rest assured that you won’t pay for anything, and keep what you received (unless they pay for the return) and the vendor will not get paid and will incur a penalty chargeback fee from the card issuer. Think twice about ordering from them again.