Does That Sucky Sucky Thing

TOT2D00ZA few weeks ago, I came across a Stephen Huneck print at that I really liked. It wasn’t cheap, but it was what I wanted, so I bit the bullet and ordered it. “In stock, ships within 3-5 days” said the site. Excellent. I waited. And waited. Then, just as I was about to write to them to ask WTF was up with my print, I got an email:

We are unable to complete your order with us at this time.  As you may be aware, Stephen Huneck passed away recently and sales of his artwork are delayed until his estate is settled.  We do not know if or when we will be able to complete existing orders.  Please let me know by replying to this email if you would like to continue to wait until we know more or if you would prefer to have your order cancelled.

Not cool at all. So, I wrote back:

That’s quite incredibly disappointing. Mr. Huneck’s artwork was listed on your website as “in stock” when I successfully placed an order for it well after his passing. Not as “maybe in stock, but we’re not really sure — and now that the artist is dead, all bets are off” or “we may be able to get you this, but probably not.” No, it was listed as “In stock.” To me that implies that you have it sitting in a warehouse ready to ship (“usually within 24 hours” or so you claimed).

Why the settling of the artists’ estate should have anything to do with the completion of our transaction is quite beyond me. You’re not an antique dealership or an agent for an artist creating an original work. This whole, “if the estate of the artist will allow us to purchase the inventory we should have had on hand when we put an item up for sale, then we may be able to honor our commitment, but don’t bank on it” is a really strange business model…

I’ll continue considering this a back order and would expect you to do what you can to deliver if/when the estate is settled. Your reputation as an online vendor very much depends on it. I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Shortly after, I got this response:

Touché.  We, too, will consider this print on back order and do our best to fulfill your order as soon as possible.

Well, that sounded vaguely promising. So I figured I’d settle back and wait — who knows how long it would take for them to sort this all out? But then, the other day, I got this:

I regret that “Vermont Ski Patrol” has been discontinued by its Publisher and we are unable to fill your order. I have processed a full refund for the cost of this item. I apologize for any disappointment this causes you.

I am attaching a coupon code good for 25%. This code cannot be combined with any others, is good for sixty days, and may be used toward your entire order including any of our finishing services such as framing, canvas transfer, etc. At checkout, simply copy and paste the following code into the “Add Coupon Code” field.

Now, again, I couldn’t really care less about “the Publisher” discontinuing the print — I bought it from, where it was listed for sale. End of story. I shouldn’t need to be concerned about the entire supply chain, unless I was trying to buy something specifically listed as “not in stock, but dare us to find it for you”. My response was this:

I hadn’t even realized that you had had the audacity to charge my credit card before you “discovered” that the product you were selling as “in stock” was not really yours to sell at all.

The coupon is a nice enough gesture, but I’d really prefer that you take me off your mailing list instead; since you’ve proven  entirely  incapable of the most basic premise of online retailing (delivering what you’re claiming to sell after you’ve charged for it and committed to deliver), I think I’ll just do my shopping elsewhere from now on.

I’d recommend to everyone else that they do the same — shop for your art elsewhere online; or even better: visit your local art galleries, find something made by a local artist, and skip the online retailers who evidently can’t even be counted on to deliver the basics. Oh, but if you do insist on shopping with make sure to use the coupon listed above to get your 25 percent off.

Update: it’s like the fail crew over at insist on stepping in it. This just in:

I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused you.

I understand that such a long delay is very frustrating and disappointing, but due to issues beyond our control we were not able to fulfill your order on the promised date.

The item you ordered is not a part of our inventory and we do not keep item(s) on your order in stock and must be obtained from the publisher as they are ordered.

Unfortunately, our supplier has exceeded the estimated fulfillment date and we were then informed as it has been discontinued by its Publisher and we are unable to fill your order.

I once again apologize for the impact this has had on your order and any inconvenience this may have caused you and your patience and understanding is highly appreciated in this matter. If there is any other concern, please feel free to contact us any time and we will be more than happy to assist you.

And this then went back out from me:

The delay is not frustrating. I was perfectly fine with a delay. You were apparently not able to fulfill my order at all — that has nothing to do with the date of delivery.

If the item was not part of your inventory then you should indicate as much on your website — at the very least, you should refrain from misleadingly stating that the item is “in stock” and ready to ship when it is, well, not.

If the item must first be obtained from the publisher when ordered, then it would be prudent for you to wait with charging your customers credit card until you find out if you can actually obtain the product that you’ve so boldly and bravely committed to deliver. Again, it would be helpful if you indicated on the order confirmation that the “order” is really just a vague hint that the customer may or may not expect to receive the product as promised.

Pick a story — any story — and stick with it. “Our supplier has exceeded the estimated fulfillment date” tells me the product will be late. I can live with that — I was in no rush to get this print. But “has been discontinued by its Publisher” is something else; that tells me you had no idea whether you could, in fact, deliver the product you were selling as “in stock” — and for which you had the audacity to charge me up front. This was a limited edition print — there are only 500 of them out there. If you didn’t have x of them in stock, how would you have any idea if you could in fact deliver as promised?

Arun, I appreciate your concern, but this hasn’t “had an impact on my order” —’s ineptitude has rendered my order null and void. If your website had indicated that you didn’t have this item in stock I wouldn’t have bothered placing an order with you, but continued looking, perhaps finding a retailer with a more responsible attitude towards advertising. And, no, I don’t have any patience for this kind of nonsense, and I still don’t understand your way of doing business. Having said that, I have no further concerns — I tried to order an item from you, and while you felt at liberty to charge me for it, you then proceeded to fail in every possible way to actually deliver the item you had listed as “in stock.” That’s the way it goes, we live, we learn. “In stock” doesn’t mean in stock, “delayed” means canceled. This all tells me more than enough about to help me make an informed decision the next time I’m in the market for artwork.

Update II: This is like some dysfunctional relationship, where the breakup becomes a morbid extention of the relationship itself… I think we need a shrink or a marriage counselor to put this to rest. write back:

I wanted to take a moment to address with you the difficulties that you experienced with  your order.  At the time you placed the order the item was available and it was back ordered subsequently.  Hence we are unable to fulfill this order.

We are sorry that we did not perform optimally and that we did not present ourselves in our usual shining light.  This is not our usual way of doing business and we would like a second opportunity to work with you and try to win back your trust and delight in our website.

As a Customer Service Representative with it is my duty to track orders and make sure that all of our customers are delighted and satisfied with their recent purchases.  Your order was very important to us and I wanted to say thank you for shopping with us.

Also as a way of saying THANK YOU for your order I would like to offer you a discount of 25% off your item total on your next order with  If you are interested in taking advantage of this discount simply place your order online at and enter to coupon code 4UDS25. I will also help track your order once it is placed and keep you informed on its progress to help you feel more confident in using our website.

I hope that you will allow me to assist you with any future orders with  And once again thank you for choosing us for your framing needs!

(“Please don’t leave me… I know we can make this work. I’ll change, I promise. Just give me another chance. It’ll be different, we’re meant for each other…”) And I responded:

We can keep running around in the same little circle — and we still won’t get anywhere. Let’s look at your latest variation on what-where-when-happened:

“At the time you placed the order the item was available” —  then I fail to understand why you didn’t simply charge my credit card, send me an order confirmation, box up the product, and ship it out. That would have reduced your available inventory by one unit, and if the new count was zero, you’d be sold out, and a responsible retailer would stop selling.

“it was back ordered subsequently.” — that surely should have nothing to do with my order, if, as you just claimed above, you had it in stock when I placed my order.

“Hence we are unable to fulfill this order.” — no, that would have rendered you incapable of fulfilling subsequent orders, since I would have bought the last one you had in stock.

The only explanation that sort of makes sense is that you knowingly oversold your fictional inventory — which is a really stupid thing to do with a limited edition print, and it’s particularly glaringly bad business to do so without a) stating it clearly as part of your terms of sale, and b) refraining from charging the customer until someone  bothers to walk down to the warehouse and see if you in fact have anything like what you just sold sitting on your shelves.

Really. I greatly appreciate all the concern for my delight and satisfaction. It’s impressive, heartwarming, touching and just wonderful… except, I’m neither delighted nor satisfied, and 25 percent off future orders with you isn’t going to change that (given that you’re perpetually offering 20 percent off everything anyway, it’s a rather lame offer, I might add). All the convoluted explanations of what did or did not happen will not change that.

Without wanting to sound rude: no, I will not allow you to assist me with my future orders with There will be none. I regret having chosen you for my framing needs. (I could make a pun here about how I was already framed when I naively placed an order with you, but I’ll refrain from doing so.) I’ll ask you to just let the message trickle back to whoever sets policies for that this one will leave a mark. I’ve shared my experience widely and publicly, and I can only hope that by doing so I will spare others the grief of dealing with your dubious marketing practices.


Really. If this goes much further, I’m going to either a) sell the rights to the saga, or b) take out a restraining order against them.

Bottom line: I get how this works. sell the print under the assumption that they can go to their wholesalers/publishers and obtain what they’re now obliged to deliver. Where I think they mislead is when they fail to explain clearly on their site that they do not, in fact, know if they can deliver, but insist on claiming that product is “in stock” to entice you to place your order. My travel agent works the same way, but before he tells me he can sell me a ticket, he calls up the airline to confirm that there’s a seat left for him to sell. Only then does he give me a firm price and charge me for the sale. needs to modify it’s online retail model to more truthfully explain the inner workings. It may lead a few people to look elsewhere, but that may be the price they pay for selling virtual inventory. If they can’t handle that, then they’re not worthy of the business they get.

Update III: apparently the crack suicide retail squad over at feel that as long as they get the last word in an argumentm then they have won by default, and the customer will immediately return to shop with reckless abandon. Hence:

Thank you for contacting

Thank you for  taking the time to bring our attention to this matter, and we apologize if this brought you any inconvenience.

I understand that our website should be enhanced to reflect the real time inventory. I am forwarding your valuble feedback and suggesion to our our site management team and higher authorites for review.

I encourage you to bookmark and check back with us frequently.  We are constantly adding features to our site to enhance your experience with us.

Again thanks, we look forward to serving you in the future.

Seriously, which part of FOAD did you not get? First of all, here we go again with the “if this brought you any inconvenience” schtick. If? If? I was under the impression that we’d already covered that ground. But at least you appear to now understand that your website “should be enhanced to reflect the real time inventory.” Well, that’s dandy. Except, you still make it sound like it’s a optional extra, when it’s really not — like, “Toyota Prius 2.0; now with brakes that work.”

And who are the “higher authorities” above the site team that you’re running this by? God? You’re checking with God to review whether your retail failsite needs an overhaul to reflect reality? Good luck with that…

No, no I’m not going to bookmark you. I’m sure you’re constantly adding features to “enhance my experience with you”. That sounds so enticing, like  a hooker with a tube of lube. Seriously, the only “enhancement” I’m after is that you stop selling stuff you don’t have on hand to sell. In other words: Suck Less, Sell More. If I hear on the grapevine that you’ve installed the full suite of UnSuck 2.0 applications, maybe I’ll swing by and take a look. Until then, don’t look too hard for me in the future — I won’t be there.