Miss Terry Shopper and the Smashed Art Deco Vase

So I bought an Art Deco vase on eBay as a present for someone who likes Art Deco vases. I know they liked this particular Art Deco vase because they forwarded the exact link to it and asked me to buy it for them.

As the seller was from France, I asked about postage upfront which seemed reasonable (for tracking and adequate packaging) at over $60AUD (after converting from Euro). I put in my maximum bid and came out pleasantly surprised as the lucky buyer of my (new) old Art Deco vase at around $30AUD.

I waited patiently for the vase, but when it arrived, it arrived in pieces. I don’t know much about collecting Art Deco, but I was pretty sure vases generally come in one piece. Especially collectible ones.

Ever the optimist, I wrote to Didier (the seller) and explained that the vase arrived broken and politely requested my money back. I was a bit taken aback when he refused. I asked again, citing that the packaging was inadequate. Didier wrote back something in French which I could only guess was a long-winded “merci but no”.

Still optimistic, I started the PayPal complaints process. After a bit of research, I had to enter the complaint as “Item not as described.” Well, no, the seller didn’t describe the item as “broken.”

Over a month passed, yet I felt that I was in the safe and logical hands of an impartial third party, and was ready to let the almighty PayPal judge deliver a fair and just verdict.

Then – Hallelujah! –  a verdict. I received an email which I assumed was spam as it had no name in the “from” field:

Once I removed the email from my trash folder, I was happy to learn that PayPal had decided in my favour. Sort of. I just needed to post the vase back to the seller in the same condition in which it had arrived to me. Except that I had to pay for postage. (Which, from Australia, was turning out to cost more than the original payment to the seller had cost me in the first place.) Still, I was willing to do it, just for the moral victory. The problem – I had 10 days to post it back. Yet I was interstate for two weeks.

I replied to the email as it was from someone named Jack and I naively assumed that Jack would receive my response. When I heard nothing, I called PayPal. Someone name John told me that of course I could have an extension given the circumstances, and that I had an extra week to return the broken vase.

Within a few days I had received another email from PayPal, telling me that if I didn’t provide tracking information in the 10 day period, the claim would be cancelled and I wouldn’t receive my funds. What? John told me I had an extra week! I wrote back to this email from Jeremy and wondered if all PayPal employees have names starting with J. There was nothing at the bottom of the email to indicate that it was a no-reply email and again, I naively assumed Jeremy would receive my response. No luck.

I called back, and Josh (I actually can’t remember if his name was Josh but I’m just running with the J theme) told me my “request” for an extension had been denied. But I was assured by John that it was a done deal?! Josh assured me that it was not. I asked Josh to please attend my house in Melbourne, to which there was no spare key available, enter (with my alarm code which I was unwilling to provide), get the vase, attend the post office and send the parcel back himself. Short of that, I could think of no viable alternative. I included a few expletives as I was trying to get my point across and politely (or as politely as an expletive-laden request can be) requested to speak with his manager. Then there was silence.

“Hold on. You said the vase was broken?” asked Josh.

“*Expletive* Yes. I don’t know how I could have been any clearer?!? If it wasn’t broken there would be no *expletive* basis for my claim,” I politely replied.

“Oh,” said Josh. “Well then it’s actually a security risk to send a broken vase through the post. So I’ll just go ahead and refund your money right now. And you don’t need to do anything further.”

Ok, so I was happy that I had a resolution. I was happy that I didn’t have to send the vase back in a physically impossible 10 days. I was happy I was getting my money back. But I was beyond frustrated that every person I spoke to seemed to give me inconsistent advice. Surely, using Josh’s logic, this should have been the very first response I received from PayPal all those weeks ago. Hours (ok, probably 20 minutes) spent on hold could have been avoided. Explaining the situation to the array of J employees was an unnecessary time-wasting exercise! But I had my money, so I politely (no, really this time) thanked Josh for his time, took my money and ran.

That afternoon, the money was safely transferred from my PayPal account to my bank account and the claim was closed. A week later, I received an email from Lisa at PayPal (again, from no sender, so I assumed it was spam) telling me that as I had not provided the tracking information, the claim would be closed and I would not be receiving my money back. My first thought was: “You’re *expletive* kidding me.” My second thought was: “They’ve moved on from J names to L names. It must be an alphabetical order thing.”

I already had my money, so I didn’t feel any need to wait on hold to PayPal again and explain the situation. If I could be bothered waiting on hold, I would say:

1. Make it easy for your customers to contact you.
2. Emailing without a “from” field makes it likely your emails will end up in the trash folder. Not good enough for a company as professional as PayPal.
3. When you have a complaints process, all decisions should be transparent and consistent.
4. Are you in the market for a broken Art Deco vase?

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