When Bethany Watson’s first son was only 6-weeks-old, she knew she should be focusing on the precious moments that are so fleeting: his first smile, first coo and laugh. Instead, she was calling me, frantic because the custom bedding for she had ordered months before for little Taylor’s crib had yet to arrive.
“It’s taken up so much time and energy and stress when I just want to be concentrating on my new baby and my new family, and not worrying about the design of my baby’s nursery,” Watson told me.
Watson planned Taylor’s nursery to a tee. After weeks of scouring fabric stores and baby boutiques, she finally found a crib set she loved on Etsy.com.
Etsy is an online marketplace that connects merchants who make handmade and custom products with consumers throughout 150 countries. The website that first appeared on the shopping scene in 2005 has skyrocketed selling $41.1 million of goods in December alone.
Watson wonders how many of those buyers got the products they paid for because 9 months after she paid an Etsy merchant $380 through Paypal, she still has nothing to show for it.
“At any other company if you don’t get what is promised to you, you get a refund from the company or they try to help you resolve it,” Watson said. Not only did Etsy not help Watson get a refund, the website’s representatives refused to give her any information about the vendor who took her money and then stopped returning her calls.
“We won’t be able to provide any personal info about the buyer, seller, or the incident specifically, due to our privacy policies,” wrote Etsy’s Adam Brown in an email when I inquired about the woman who was supposed to send Watson her crib bedding.
Etsy told Watson it would investigate her complaint. Five weeks later, it sent her this email:
“We are sorry to report that after many attempts, Etsy has not received an update that indicates the seller has or will settle your transaction. Consequently, we have banned them from using Etsy or operating a shop on the site.”
“In this case, your PR’s not too good,” said Dan Parsons, President of the Houston Better Business Bureau. “You’re not making it easy for people to want to come back, and over time, that will erode trust in the site.”
Pay Attention to Deadlines
In Watson’s case, the Etsy merchant that went by the name “Customhouse Baby” took her order and her money in May with a promised delivery date of August 24th. Watson agreed to the terms, not realizing Paypal would only refund her money if she filed a non-delivery complaint within 45 days of her initial payment.
And Watson wasn’t alone. We found moms from Miami to DC, South Carolina to Canada who purchased baby bedding from Customhouse Baby, but never received the crib sets. In every case, the woman behind Customhouse Baby gave a delivery date far past the time that would allow any of the consumers to get a refund through Paypal.
In a statement, a Paypal spokeswoman wrote,” We can suggest that customers who used a credit card to complete their purchase contact their card issuer to file a chargeback.”
Unfortunately, Watson’s credit card required her to file a non-delivery complaint within 60 days of her original payment in order to get a refund.
Many Customhouse Baby customers think the merchant intentionally set up the delivery date so far in advance so that customers would have no recourse when they finally realized they weren’t going to get their product.
“This is the classic problem when you’re dealing in cyberland, you don’t know who’s on the other end,” said Parsons.
Etsy only allows communication between buyers and vendors through its website; but when Customhouse Baby didn’t deliver the promised products to consumers, the woman who owns the company first replied that she had a death in her family and had fallen behind in making the bedding. Weeks later, she stopped answering messages completely and removed her shop from Etsy.com.
“When you order things from Paypal or from Etsy.com, you’re kind of on your own, so just know that you have that risk going into it,” Watson warned.
Advice from an Etsy Merchant
When we described the Customhouse Baby case to Etsy merchant Judy Arnold of Magnolia, she scoffed at the three month time frame the custom crib bedding maker said she needed to complete Watson’s order.
“That sounds like a very long time to me,” Arnold said, adding that she ships any items ordered from her Etsy site, Mimimadeit.Etsy.com, within 10 days. “They want their product. They paid for it, they want it.”
Arnold makes everything from kids costumes to casserole dish covers to make-up bags; and she says if a customer wants to talk by phone, she has no problem calling them. If a vendor refuses to communicate by any way other than email, Arnold said that should raise a red flag.
She says buyers should always check a merchant’s feedback to see what others say about their experience with them. She has 100% positive feedback. When Watson ordered her bedding from Customhouse Baby, she said the merchant had no complaints and 91% positive feedback. Closer to the expected shipping date, She said Customhouse Baby went from 0 complaints to 25 in about three days.
“I would never order through a company again that’s not going to help you if you don’t get what’s promised to you,” Watson said.