When online shopping goes haywire
Retail: Do your homework before you shop on the net
For the unwary online shopper, disaster awaits. When dealing with an online-only retailer other than the big, established ones that value their reputations, you should only start shopping after you've spent some time investigating the company.
Take the online retailer Funky Tights. Its website states the Randburg-based company has dispatched more than 8,000 orders of mostly imported tights and tops since 2015.
But the business started letting customers down last year, blaming its late delivery on customs delays. It continued to market its products as if there was no problem, promising delivery within "seven to 14 working days".
Only when they'd paid and not received their orders did customers get a cut-and-paste justification: "As we rely heavily on customs to clear goods in the time stipulated, we are occasionally faced with delays that are beyond our control. We have a shipment that has been stuck in customs and we are hoping that it gets released soon."
Liesl Quinn of Mount Edgecombe ordered and paid R518 for a pair of leggings in June, being impressed that the site had more than 54,000 likes on Facebook. When all she got was excuses, she did some research.
"There is an uproar from many people with the same issue as me," she told In Your Corner. "Some are still waiting for their order nine months later."
Kirsti Connolly of Bryanston's experience reflects that of many others. "My husband ordered R600 worth of their products in April, as a birthday present for me. First they said a shipment was stuck in customs, then they offered us the choice of getting a refund or continuing to wait for the goods to arrive and be compensated with a gift. I opted to wait.
"At the end of July they said they were sending my order; when it hadn't arrived three weeks later I asked again, got no reply, and then I asked for a refund. Still no reply, and then I got blocked on Facebook."
Funky Tights blamed e-mail servers for its failure to respond, then removed its phone numbers from its Facebook page and website.
Last week company owner Michele Smith e-mailed me in response to my post on her website, saying: "We have notified clients of various customs delays. We are making every effort to get through all refunds as fast as possible, but this has been difficult with the amount of stock we have at customs.
"We have four shipments at customs for up to 16 weeks, with two additional ones being released these last two weeks, and this has allowed us to start catching up and closing orders. We have no intention to steal from clients and are trying our best to resolve all issues as soon as possible."
Smith did not respond to further e-mails, and two days later informed some of her customers that "we are busy changing the business over to new owners as it has been sold".
"The new owners will be handling the refunds and outstanding orders. They will be in touch with you over the next week to finalise it."
Unsurprisingly, customers aren't holding their breaths.
Before ordering and paying for goods from an online retailer, search for the company's name online, and check out complaints website HelloPeter.com. Likes on the company's Facebook page are no indication of its service delivery.
Pay by credit card - that way if you don't get the goods, you can apply for a refund from your bank. You don't have the same protection with an EFT or debit card payment.
There is a criminal charge which covers this scenario: theft by false pretences. The SAPS is more likely to pursue the case if several victims come forward to lay a complaint. That's made easier when victims mobilise on a Facebook or Whatsapp group.