Popular online retailer Fishpond has been overrun with furious complaints from customers who have been left high and dry by the company after ordering products during the pandemic.
The e-commerce business has seen its supply chains disrupted due to the coronavirus but it has refused to provide refunds to customers whose delivery never arrived citing the fact it is a “small company”.
The business, which is part of larger company WorldFront, operates through a network of fulfilment centres in US, UK, Australia and New Zealand and employs about 100 people, and pulls in hundreds of millions in revenue each year.
The Auckland-based retailer appears to have fallen on hard times but Fishpond has continued to take payment for items it is has been unable to deliver for the past four months.
Customers who have managed to get a response from the company when seeking a refund say they have been given the run around and accused the business of using stall tactics and going dark.
WA woman Lisa Ashley ordered some eye cream in early May. “It’s now September 2nd, and I still haven’t received my order,” she says.
“I wrote them in July asking for a refund and they asked me to be more patient due to COVID delays. I waited three more weeks to no avail. Despite my requests to them I was ignored.”
Sunshine Coast woman Jodi Salmond says she won’t be using Fishpond again after ordering four books on April 28. When more than ten weeks went by without delivery, her repeated efforts to contact the company seemed fruitless.
“I know COVID-19 has hit everybody pretty badly. In terms of not receiving something on time, that’s not the biggest issue. It’s more the communication,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
More than three months after purchase, two of the books recently turned up while she was passed on to a third party supplier for one of them. “I have continually chased up with them - the third party - I’ve e-mailed them about eight to ten times to no response whatsoever,” she said.
Fishpond did eventually offer a refund for the fourth book which has still not turned up this week but only offered a store credit. “I’m not really interested in shopping there ever again,” Ms Salmond said.
“I haven’t left a review on their website just yet because I still want the books and I want to see where this goes.”
‘They are scam artists’
Others have been quicker to vent their frustration on the company’s website as well as various customer review sites.
“I have had the same experience as others on this site. Very frustrating when you can't contact them. Appalling business if they are taking people's money and not sending any goods. Surely they can't get away with this,” one Sydney woman wrote last week on review website TrustPilot.
Dozens of other complaints posted in recent days have accused the normally reliable company of scamming shoppers.
“They are scam artists, the site should be shut down,” exclaimed one.
“I ordered something from them 3 months ago and they eventually admitted they cannot supply it. Now they have stopped replying to any communication and I’m still waiting for a refund! Avoid this scam company,” another complaint posted last week says.
“All evidence indicates that this is scam. DO NOT ORDER FROM FISHPOND. Tracking is a farce, order never received and no-one replied to my emails,” another customer posted.
Left with no other recourse, countless shoppers have reported launching a chargeback via their bank.
Even those who have received their products during this time have found themselves in a battle with the company, such as Sydney woman who bought two books in May with the hopes of gifting a $49 hardcover book to a friend.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, made the purchase through Fishpond “because it would get here the earliest according to their estimates,” she said.
When it eventually arrived on August 17, it was “in very damaged condition.” The retailer said she could keep the book and it would issue her with a $7 credit.
In an e-mail correspondence with the company, shared with Yahoo News Australia, she called the offer “laughably inappropriate and unacceptable.”
When she insisted on a return and full refund, the company directed her to a faulty link.
“I click on the link provided by you TODAY, minutes after receiving your email and received a message saying the item can not be returned or has already been refunded,” she complained in the e-mail.
Pandemic has rocked global logistics industry
Fishpond sells over 10 million products in categories including books, music, homeware and toys.
The former general manager and CEO of Fishpond, Ben Powles, left the company last year. But in 2013 he boasted about topping $100 million in annual revenue, according to report by NBR.co.nz. At the time, the company was adding a new customer every 51 seconds.
According to its website now, in the past 12 months Fishpond has sold a product every 1.2 seconds and gained a new customer every 5.9 seconds.
Mr Powles LinkedIn page credits his 10 years at the company as being responsible for transforming it “from an e-commerce retailer to a technology and logistics company”.
But as a self-described logistics company – think of it as a smaller Amazon of the Antipodes – it’s seemingly threadbare customer service department has left it unable to handle complaints as the pandemic saw deliveries slow to a trickle.
Due to travel and border restrictions, Fishpond was forced to reroute orders from the UK to Australia from the usual airmail to sea. In the period of April to early June postal operators were not able to secure airlift and the postal operators transferred packages to sea freight for delivery to Australia, the company told Yahoo News Australia.
Several customers who spoke to Yahoo News Australia are understanding about the disruption caused by the pandemic, but have been left furious by the stalling tactics and elusive nature of the company. One customer, who eventually managed to get her money back after launching a PayPal dispute, called Fishpond “spectacularly unhelpful”.
The global logistics industry is valued at roughly $US5 trillion, but has been ravaged by the pandemic which has caused freight volume to plunge.
We wouldn’t survive if refunds were given, Fishpond tells customers
In full disclosure, I came to this story after books I ordered as early as May 17 never arrived. After several emails to the company, they were unable to tell me the status of the orders or if they would turn up. Subsequent requests for a refund went unanswered.
Like me, most customers have been told refunds en masse would be fatal for the company.
“We are a small business and have been affected by these delays in transport from the pandemic. We will not be able to survive this trying time if refunds are given for packages that have been sent but delayed through transport delays outside our control,” the company’s service desk has been telling customers.
Fishpond declined to respond to questions posed about whether it is facing insolvency, as it has suggested to customers.
After Yahoo News Australia put questions to the company on Monday, the retailer said it will contact all customers still waiting for their products to offer a refund by the end of the week.
“We take our responsibility to deliver orders on time seriously and this has not occurred on all orders during the pandemic,” Fishpond’s founder and CEO, Daniel Robertson said in a statement.
“Although the supply chain impacts of the pandemic are outside of our control, we take responsibility for delivering orders in the timeframe that we give to customers.”
“We will be contacting all affected customers by the end of this week to update them on their orders and offer a refund if their order hasn’t already arrived and they don’t want to wait any longer,” he said.
The company has been slowing moving to address some refund requests in recent weeks.
“They finally responded to my emails about a week or two ago,” said Melbourne customer Ish Koodah.
“It was kinda out of the blue. I had given up.”
Know your consumer rights
Julia Steward, the head of policy and government relations at consumer advocacy group Choice, says customers are entitled to a full refund when products purchased online are delivered well outside the estimated timeframe given by the vendor, or are damaged.
“Under the Australian Consumer Law, a business legally has to provide you with the product that you paid for within the estimated delivery time,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“Damaged items do not meet the legal requirement for a purchased item to be of acceptable quality. A customer will be entitled to either a refund, repair or replacement depending on whether the damage is major or minor. If the damage is major, then the customer can choose to have a replacement or a refund.”
If you are unable to contact the business, she suggests people get in touch with their local state or territory protection agency, which can be found below.
NSW Fair Trading
NT Consumer Affairs
Office of Fair Trading Queensland
SA Office of Consumer and Business Services (CBS)
Tasmania Consumer, Building and Occupational Services (CBOS)
Consumer Affairs Victoria (CAV)
WA Consumer Protection - Department Of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety
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