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Online Shopper

He Has Vested Interest in Bringing Orders Out of Chaos

Requesting merchandise too far in advance means more time for things to go wrong. But it still beats a trip to the mall.

November 22, 2001|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long the height of geek chic, sweater vests should be an essential and handsome accent in any man's wardrobe.

But by a series of online flukes and goofs over nearly three months, sweater vests have ended up the very foundation of my wardrobe.

How I ended up with this bounty--six, to be exact--is part federal law, part credit card mistake, part human error. And it highlights the potential problems of ordering merchandise online too far in advance.

It started back in August as I began to plan my fall fashions. Three waffle-stitch sweater vests. One each in navy, natural and charcoal at $38 a pop.

Click.

Click.

Click.

Pleased with my sartorial sensibilities, I checked out of Eddie Bauer's online store, at http://www.eddiebauer.com, and waited for the vests to arrive, along with the admiring looks they would surely bring.

I knew when I placed the order that the vests were not due to ship until the middle of October. That was fine as a sweater vest in August in Los Angeles looks a little geeky.

October came, but instead of sweater vests, Eddie Bauer sent out a notice that my order had been canceled. Turns out, the order fell under the Mail or Telephone Order Rule, a federal law that limits the length of time a company can keep a customer's merchandise on back order.

The rule allows companies 30 days to ship an item ordered from a catalog or Web site. That can get stretched to 60 days because the company can send out a notice informing customers that their merchandise will be delayed. That notice, which I got in early September, is supposed to give customers a new shipping date and offer the option of canceling the order.

But the letter gives the company only another 30 days before it must unilaterally cancel the order.

That's what happened to my sweater vests.

The letter informing me of this offered the option of calling back and reinstating the order, with a 10% discount for the inconvenience.

So I called Eddie Bauer's customer service center, read off my order number, asked the helpful clerk to reinstate my order and then recited the code for my discount. It took less than five minutes and saved me more than $11 off the original order. The Scotsman in me liked that.

But there was a hitch. American Express changed my credit card as a precaution after a batch of account numbers was stolen from a merchant. The next correspondence I got from Eddie Bauer began with "We regret to inform you ..." and then politely went on that the company would be happy to accept my business "with an alternate credit card or on a cash basis."

Again, I called the customer service center, this time to provide my new account number. The clerk was kind and pleasant and understanding, and my new order--the third--took about 10 minutes to complete. Gone, though, was my 10% discount.

A couple of weeks later, the first of my sweater vests--two charcoal ones--arrived by Priority Mail.

Not a good sign.

Then, a few days later, the others came--two navy vests and two natural vests. Now I had six vests in all. Three were full price. Three were discounted.

American Express apparently accepted the charge from my first call because it showed up on my bill. As did the order from the second call. More than $200 worth of sweater vests in all--a sizable chunk of the value of my entire wardrobe, frankly.

This is not the first time since my account number changed that American Express has rejected a charge once and then accepted it. Apparently, orders placed before the account numbers were stolen are being honored.

Each package came with return shipping labels, but I didn't want to spend the money to mail them back because the glitches were not my fault. Another call to Eddie Bauer's service center. The clerk told me I could take the vests back to any Eddie Bauer store and get a full refund--shipping and all.

I still haven't done it. The reason: I hate the mall. That's why I ordered online in the first place. I'd rather sit at my desk and look like I'm working than schlep over to the Glendale Galleria on a Saturday to buy my duds.

Sure, I could ship the vests back, but then I'd have to wait several weeks for Eddie Bauer to refund my card. Plus, I'd have to go to the post office, which I hate even more than the mall.

Maybe I'll just keep them.

They really do look sharp.

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times. He can be reached at aaron.curtiss@latimes.com.

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