Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Fan Tale

I spend a lot of time in dark places where I can’t see the keyboard on my computer. So when I saw a small flexible light that plugged right into my laptop, I snapped it up. As a bonus, the package also included a similarly powered fan. Built on a long gooseneck, it had a small motor and two soft, flexible blades. At first glance, it seemed pretty silly. But on my next gig, that same dark, backstage space that had no light also had no air. So I plugged the fan in, directed it at my face, and was amazed how just a little air moving past my nose kept me alert and awake. Others looked at me and laughed, until they sat where I sat, and made a note to buy one for themselves.

It became a regular part of my kit until it burned out after a few years of use. I decided to troll Ebay and see if they had it there. Indeed, the very model I had popped up quickly. So I ordered one from "The Good Item Shop," one of the hundreds of Chinese distributors that seem to have an endless supply of small electronic trinkets. The price seemed to defy any rationale explanation: $.99. And they weren’t making it up in the shipping, which was $.95 for halfway around the world. True, it would take 2 weeks or so to get to me, but at that price, I could afford to wait. Sure enough, a tiny envelope showed up half a month later with the fan inside. Into my bag it went awaiting its first real outing.

A week or so later I found myself in yet another dark and stuffy location. Out came the light and the fan. I plugged them in, then wandered away to take care of a few issues. When I got back 20 minutes later and sat down, I felt no breeze. I looked up to see the two blades just sitting there limply. When I reached up to give them a flick, the housing was red hot. I swore once, quickly unplugged it, and assumed that was that.

While I really didn’t think I would get a refund, I did want to warn others. So I went to Ebay and gave the purchase the lowest ranking possible. I signed off, and made a mental note not to waste my money similarly again. But a day or so later, an email popped up from my friends at The Good Item Shop. In slightly fractured English, it said, "Thank you for buying from us. We are so sorry for the troubles caused to you. We have made a full refund to you. Would you please kindly help us to remove the feedback? You know feedback is our life, we don't want to be killed by a person so kind like you. Looking forward to your kindly reply." It was perhaps the most earnest customer service response I had ever had, made even more so by the agent’s name: "Better."

I quickly wrote back, pointing out that while I appreciated the refund, the product was faulty, even dangerous. Not a day went by before another response: "We have resent you a replacement, could you please help us to remove the feedback? Your feedback is very important to our account, we don't want to be killed by a person so kind like you. Thankyou in advance!" And indeed, my account had a $1.94 credit posted. Now the ball was solidly in my court.

Two weeks or so later, another tiny package showed up with a replacement. I let them know I had received it, and if it worked, would indeed revise my rating. Sure enough, a response: "Thank you for your message. Could you cancel the negative feedback to us? Your value is very omportant to us. What do you think about it?" Now I was starting to feel bad. So I plugged in the replacement and let it spin for a few days: no issues at all. It seemed that I did indeed just get a bad egg, and it wasn’t a scam.  I went and revised my rating and wrote them back, thanking them for their followup and response. One more email appeared: "Thank you for your kindness."

All that for a $1.94 sale, from a merchant on the other side of the world, for a single questionable transaction. Peter Steiner had a famous cartoon in The New Yorker of two pooches, one at the keyboard of a computer and the other watching. The typist says to the other, "On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog." True, but I guess when everyone can read it, even a little howl can go a long way.


Marc Wollin of Bedford will buy more from The Good Item Shop. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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