Sunday, February 1, 2015

Le Sigh: The French Box Disaster

Running a business is hard, especially when you're working with a small team. I know this (I actually run my own as well) and when working with small businesses, I try not to let little things bother me. In the subscription box industry, this is even more prevalent, as there are so many factors. Not only do you need to coordinate orders coming in all month long, while also ensuring you have enough product to fulfill those orders, but you're also dealing with billing and payments and customer questions. Add to that the element of suppliers who sometimes end up running into obstacles and things such as weather that can affect shipping, and it's hard to please everyone. If you're a subscriber, you need to take so many of these things in stride and trust that these companies have your interests in mind.

I have only had one truly terrible experience, mainly because I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Stuff happens and most of these companies are run by a small staff. Until recently, Try the World was my only epic fail when it came to subscription boxes so far (I've had minor issues, but this was obviously not a minor one).

French Box is a subscription service that apparently sends you items from France. That's the rumor anyway. I signed up in December for the January box and spent the month assuming I would get it. I mean, I paid for it so of course I would, right?

On January 18, I received an email from French Box stating that they had had a minor delay but that anticipated boxes would ship by the 25th. Again, this is what happens and I appreciated the heads up. On January 22, I received another message saying the box would go out the next day and that I would receive tracking info. A week later, I emailed French Box, since no tracking info had arrived, just to find out if the tracking emails had been misplaced.

This is the reply I got back from Ben at French Box (unedited - the errors are on them):

"We made a mistake when sending out the January shipping notice to you, our January box sold out in late December. We're very sorry for the inconvenience, we shouldn't have sent you that email. 

This is the first time we make a mistake on quantities we thought we'd be able to ship out. 

This is your first month with us, we realize this is not a great first experience... We hope we can find a solution with you: 
1 - We can put you on a waiting list in case we have a few boxes left (we will know in about one week).
2 - We can start your subscription with our February box.
3 - We can refund you today and cancel your subscription.

Regardless of your choice, we can also give you a coupon to purchase our previous box from December. 

Additionnally, you may see an authorization for $24 on your credit card, dated January 25th. 
This authorization was for the February box and has been voided since you haven't received your first box yet. It will disappear (expire) in a couple of days. 

Again, we sincerely apologize for this mistake, let me know what you what you would like to do."

So, I did pay in late December, but I guess I'm getting a refund. Maybe. Hopefully. This doesn't seem too terrible, I suppose, since they did offer to cover themselves. However, if they're so disorganized that they sent me not one, but two emails confirming my subscription was shipping, PLUS the original receipt and confirmation, I'm not sure I trust them to send anything at all. I told them to cancel my account. In response, I was sent arguments in reply.

A few hours after confirming that I, indeed, wanted to cancel and getting a lot of attitude from Ben ("we are just a human company" - maybe they should consider using people who can write an email that sounds like it comes from a human then?), I received yet another email related to this debacle. He wanted to confirm that I had signed up for a new subscription that morning (I didn't). I guess I will be calling my credit card company, since this is obviously not a business I want to have my personal info.

What bothers me most of all is that this is just bad service. If I hadn't asked, I would have simply paid for something that they had no intention of shipping. They didn't communicate, and when they did, it feels very CYA rather than customer-friendly. It's only $24, I suppose, but if this is the quality of their operations, I cannot imagine the box quality is very good, either.

Honestly, perhaps the boxes French Box and Try the World are amazing if you are one of the people who receives them (which seems to be reviewers far more than paying customers). But there are many companies who want your business and will treat you like a person of value. For this price, you can easily find one. I feel it's important to review and promote companies who do things right, and I've removed both of these boxes from our list. We all have our own preferences for items and I may not personally love a box someone else does or vice versa, but I do think it's important that money is spent on something you receive. These two companies, and a few issues we had with people we never bothered to give money to due to attitude, did help us, though, in one way. Our list is now updated to ONLY include services we've tried or can vouch for in some way. Although we may be leaving someone out, we would rather coordinate trying their box rather than recommending anyone spend money and end up in this situation.

We pay for the majority of our subscriptions and I am not a wealthy person. I like the convenience of some of the boxes, and for others, I love that I'm able to support small businesses and ethical companies I wouldn't normally have access to. Bad customer service hurts everyone, because there are smaller companies just starting out who will meet more resistance from potential subscribers after they've been burned too many times by this kind of quality. And the bigger companies can afford angry customers - but ideally, the more that people are aware of how they operate, we will see consumers responding with their money. That, after all, speaks louder to a company than any kind of email or blog post.

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