I was one month short of a perfect consumer year for 2018. Unlike 2017, I had made no mistakes.
No bad purchases. No hiring the wrong home repair person. Just smart consumer decisions.
And — get this — that included getting a new roof in 2018!
But then I blew it. To save — what? — a lousy $15.
One month short of a perfect season. I came so close.
Just once I’d like to say I can go a whole year without a consumer error. But The Watchdog learns by failure, not success.
I’m the self-proclaimed leader of Watchdog Nation, a decade-old consumer rights movement that emphasizes how a quick blast of research before hiring someone or buying something saves you from failure.
My favorite tool of choice is what I call “the magic Google box.”
But sometimes even I forget.
And when I do, there’s always a story, a somewhat sad story. But a lesson learned.
My error follows the classic pattern.
In a hurry.
Price looks good.
Ignore warning signs.
Forget to research.
Make impulse buy.
Return policy a joke.
Customer service non-existent.
Turn to magic Google box.
Search: “Return policy for [company name] products.”
Shipped from China
If only I checked that phrase with the company name — GearBest.com — before I spent $20 for four little connecting wires that turn old 3.5 mm audio jacks into Lightning jacks for later iPhones.
You see, I’m a bit resentful that I had to give up my iPhone 6 when it failed and buy an iPhone 8. I hate that I have all these perfectly good earbuds, but they don’t work with the new phone unless I use the 3.5 mm-to-Lightning connectors.
Apple wants $9 each, so to buy four is $36.
GearBest.com, the place I found on the Internet, only wanted $5 each for $20. A $16 savings.
I noticed it shipped from China and took longer than usual. That was OK. I didn’t want to reward Apple with more money.
I bought four from GearBest.
Jump through hoops
They didn’t work. Turns out Apple certifies accessory products with a “Made for iPhone” badge of approval. Then there are the knock-offs.
No worries. I’ll return them, right?
Right. Right? Hello! Is anyone there?
That’s when I entered a world I’d never known before. The world where a company pretends it will take back their faulty product. But, see these hoops you gotta jump through?
GearBest describes itself as “a Chinese online international store serving global buyers.”
When I contact GearBest, I go into a continuous email loop with a boilerplate message that never changes. “We are fully committed in providing the best support and advice to every one of our valued customers.”
Even when I explain, at the end of this mishap, that I’m a columnist and now writing a story about how the company pretends to easily accept returns, but makes it near impossible, I still get a robotic answer: “We are fully committed in providing the best support and advice to every one of our valued customers. ... We look forward to assisting you with your query.”
Only then do I do what I counsel citizens of Watchdog Nation to do before a purchase, not after.
Take a moment. Do a Google search.
And there, in the magic box, I meet all the other suckers who thought they were saving a few bucks before they enter the continuous loop of robotic customer service from some place in the land of the Great Wall.
GearBest publishes instructions on how to return a product. I printed it out. Eight pages. One requirement, take a photo of the product and send it in. Really?
Already wasted time hunting for a clear return policy. How much time do I want to spend to retrieve $20, most of which will likely get eaten in overseas postage?
I’m spoiled. A product doesn’t work? You get an RMA and ship it back for credit. Or you go to the store.
Good luck with GearBest.
Comments I found — with help from the magic Google box:
“I kept getting scripted responses. ... Through the conversations with GB customer service, they are not willing to answer any of my questions or concerns even relating to the product itself.”
Another: “It’s getting to the point where every reply is basically the same. They don’t answer questions you ask and just palm you off with a script — ‘Thank you very much for placing your order with us.’”
A third: “I’m glad for all people that have never had an issue. But from my experience, the hassle, the wait and the money saved is not worth the problems that you may encounter.”
Better than last year
Last year, my consumer mishaps were far more serious. I put a decimal point in the wrong place when I paid my American Express bill and accidentally overdrew my checking account by $18,000.
I hired an ex-con to stain shelves. He did excellent work, but then disappeared without finishing.
I hired a property tax consultant who didn’t show up for my hearing.
Oh, and I bought my oldest son a computer that contained a too-tiny hard drive.
I didn’t repeat any of those mistakes in 2018. Learn by failure, not success.
To resolve this, I bought four connectors from Apple. At $9 each, they are the cheapest items for sale in an Apple store. And they work.
I’m giving up on China and eating the lost $20.
And I’m on guard.
There’s still a few days to go in December. And I have more stuff to buy.