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Chatterbox: Crunch time

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I told my husband recently that, as I must, I fully intend to shop on Christmas Eve with the rest of the crazy people. It’s definitely frantic, but it’s also a little bit of fun.

Not finding what we’re looking for is definitely not the fun part, but that can happen anytime. Unfortunately, much of what is on many holiday wish lists can’t be found retail. It’s not surprising. Retail can’t carry everything, but it used to be easier and we had better luck when there were many shops, each of a specific nature. Now, we go into a department store, where each department is a shadow of a specific store. Finding sales help is a waste of time and energy. Once, I was so desperate, I actually picked up the desk phone and, literally, paged my own help. No joking (the button was labeled, P.A. system); “Sales assistant to house ware, please. Sales assistant to house ware.” I resisted the impulse to sing.

Self-serve is the new model on the web and off. Customers work free, so corporations pay fewer employees. Therefore, sharing our information is important, as we should all and each offer our knowledge and experience to one another.

For those of us who are still shopping at this late date, we already know we shouldn’t wait until the last minute for anything. Since we, obviously, already have done so (personally, I almost always do), it’s not necessary to mention that; it’s a mute point.

If we shop online, we can get stuff shipped overnight, or fast enough, or on a slow boat from China. At this point, many of us may have already resigned ourselves to the likelihood of having to wrap a photo of the gift, with the gift arriving later. That’s okay, especially when the gift is anticipated and the right one. However, slow shipping is usually a sign that something is coming from far away, and, just so we all know, this can be problematic even on reliable shopping sites.

Almost everything in America is made off shore. Buying at retail stores isn’t a problem; the items are in our hands. We can feel them, try them on, decide what we want to do, and return them to the store if they’re wrong.However, after several expensive and fruitless experiences I’ve recently had online, I recommend avoiding purchasing anything where shipping is slow. My personal experiences, and those of some friends who shared, indicate that even if the item is wrong, it’s still yours.

Though not exclusively, this happens most often with clothing purchases. Garments don’t always match their pictures, sizes are oddly diminutive, and returns are virtually impossible. I’ve never had any success, though order sites won’t actually say that returns may become an issue.

My most recent experience was not in my control. A friend of mine is renewing her wedding vows next week and asked several old friends to participate. Matching gowns were all ordered online, around the same time, from the exact same supplier. Though they were expensive, none of the dresses were the same – not in style or color. In the first two emails, the supplier told me we shouldn’t have expected them to be the same. Really? Then, they recommended I work with my credit card company, and they stopped responding. Currently, after returning the dress in question and requiring a signature upon receipt, I’ve heard nothing. So, from my personal experience, unless it’s linked through a known retail store, if your product has slow shipping, you may really want to rethink it.

First, they’ll offer a small refund, then, usually, a larger discount indicated as a final offer. If we decline both, future emails will go ignored or we’ll be instructed to contact our credit card company. Our credit card company will help and our online shop site or PayPal will too, but I wasn’t able to successfully return any of my purchases for a full refund. Return shipping was so exorbitant, it erased much, most, or all of the refund anyway.

Many holiday shoppers are wise, willing and aware enough to shop locally. It makes sense to support our neighbors. When we can’t, we can wander big stores or malls, have a cappuccino, and chuckle at our own procrastination with everyone else.

When all else fails though, it’s midnight at the computer with our wish lists. It’s worth it if our loved ones love their gifts, but in the interim, it’s Bah-humbug a little … maybe a lot.


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