Sunday, October 20, 2013

Online Shopping: To try, or not to try? This is the question.

In the Comment Section: Forum: Where have you shopped successfully or unsuccessfully online?

I've always been an extrovert. For some reason, however, I have always hated shopping for clothes in a store with crowds of people out and about. I have always preferred to buy online, but it's hard to know store policies online so today's review will bring that process to light!

Top Customer Service: 

L.L.Bean: Besides the fact that 100% of products are guaranteed from L.L.Bean, they have free shipping. Which means that they will ship returns/exchanges back to you for free and give you a free shipping return label, which comes with your initial order so you don't need to print anything. They also have live chat online which has always been very helpful for me, especially when I'm trying to figure out product weights or materials questions for hiking and camping gear.

ModCloth: I won't lie, I was really irritated last week when my $54.00 sweater came by FedEx with a completely broken zipper:

But then, ModCloth Customer Service reached out and linked me to Live Chat so that I could resolve the issue. The representative sent me a free shipping label to return it, and sent me another sweater in the meantime so that I didn't have to wait for them to process my return. That was great customer service...and it was smart: they didn't know I was a blogger! I think we should applaud great customer service.

Amazon Prime: Did you know that you can pay a one time fee ($80), and then have everything Amazon sells shipped to you with FREE 2-day shipping? I have many friends who use Amazon Prime all year long and they really rave about how awesome it is to get everything with 2-day shipping. There are other perks of Prime also: 41,000+ movies/t.v. shows to stream for free and 350,000+ Kindle titles to borrow for free! If I was planning to get all of my X-Mas presents online, I would definitely upgrade to Amazon Prime. 

Mattie's Mountain Mud: If you want incredible, organic, fair trade certified coffee hand roasted by a master, Mattie's is worth the try! (Bavarian Chocolate, need I say more?) Recently, I ordered my standing order from Mattie's but I used Paypal to check out and my delicious coffee was sent to my old address because I hadn't used Paypal in years. Mattie expressed her sorrow for me via e-mail and even offered me free shipping for a new order. Just before I ordered more, I decided to see if it was still in Florida. Normally, I would have assumed that it was being consumed by a new tenant, but because I love that coffee so much, I drove over to my old address and checked for the package at the Clubhouse to see if it was there: it wasn't. So a few days later, Mattie e-mailed me a picture of the returned coffee and shipped it back to me for $7.

That was great customer service! It only cost me $7 to get my coffee back from an i.d.10.T (me) error on a $18 gourmet coffee order. I was very pleased. (Of course I updated my Paypal address so that my chocolate organic coffee never goes anywhere else!)

Lackluster Customer Service:

Victoria's Secret: It's been years since I've ordered anything from V.S., but back when I did they had a similar return policy to L.L.Bean with the exception that for a return or exchange you were re-billed for shipping once. That was frustrating because it was hard to guess clothing sizes even with their "size charts" because they have many different brands on the site by different manufacturers. Now you can see why I've stopped buying online from this retailer. My husband is contributing to this article today, because he has been ordering car parts from this company since 2008. Recently, the wrong part was shipped to him and he had to pay triple shipping to get the right one. (1) Original wrong part to him, (2) the return shipping and (3) new, correct part shipping. So he paid $30.00 in shipping for a issue that was not his fault. Now this company should have looked at his records, seen that he had been purchasing a dozens different parts (many expensive) over the past six years and found a better solution. However, because it was a busy dealership, his order was overlooked and they responded badly to his request, losing a customer.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Horrors of Honey?

Go to your pantry. Take out your honey jar, and investigate its origins. Unless it says USDA certified organic, there's a good chance that it's illegally imported, mislabeled Chinese honey, which evaded taxes and could contain banned antibiotics.  Earlier this year, National Public Radio exposed the mislabeling from two of the biggest USA honey packers (which was the "largest food fraud case in history"):

"This is a huge deal for the industry. This is the first admission by a U.S. packer, the actual user,” that they were knowingly importing mislabeled honey, Eric Wenger, chairman of True Source Honey, an industry consortium that has set up an auditing and testing system to guarantee the true origin of honey, told NPR." 1

However, evading the $180M in import taxes didn't seem to help out the struggling company as GROEB (USA), one of the big packers, filed for bankruptcy on October 3rd, 2013, and this filing put an end to the class-action lawsuits against the company. Ethics aside, this case is not really "new" news, with reports of tainted and illegally imported honey having been reported back in 2011. Since then, the European Union has been in the vanguard of banning Asian honey, and our FDA which "checks few of the thousands of shipments arriving through 22 American ports each year," 2 cannot possibly regulate it all...and it's not just illegal Chinese honey that's being found, Indian and Vietnamese honey are also part of the problem. (How can we avoid filtered, stripped, tainted-with-antibiotics illegal honey? By buying local organic honey, which must be labeled as follows.)

Of course, what's especially alarming at this moment, 45% of American FDA workers (around 6,500 workers nationwide) have been furloughed currently pending the government shutdown. 68% of the staff at the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in surveillance presently have also been furloughed. So honey testing aside, all major "routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs, and the majority of lab research" has stopped. 3 I did some additional research into the effects of the Government Shutdown on the FDA and discovered that the full time FDA meat production facility employees will still be working, but this is still troubling. It is estimated that the FDA inspects 80 facilities nationwide per day, so if the shutdown continues to Oct. 17, another estimated 960 facilities will go without being inspected. What is really interesting, are the horrifying 2013 warning letters to companies that failed inspections which you can read here. There are major companies listed there with violations of illegal drug residue (mainly in cows which were sold living in inadequate living conditions), misbrandings, insanitary conditions, mislabeling, unapproved supplements, modified tobbaco products...the list goes on and there are over 25 pages of summary violations.

So what began as an investigation into illegal honey mislabeling, has led me down the closed hallways of food inspection, reminiscent of the horrors of the meatpacking industry in The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Why aren't we hearing more about this?