Online Shopping Gone Horribly Wrong

Online Shopping Gone Horribly Wrong

Over the weekend, I ran across a fascinating – and somewhat disturbing – account of a new approach to e-commerce. You can read the full article from the NY Times. I’ll just summarize it briefly here, and then talk a bit about what you can do to protect yourself from this sort of thing.

The backstory

This past summer, a woman named Clarabelle Rodriguez ordered some glasses online from a website called DecorMyEyes, which she found by searching Google for the brand name she was looking for. She also ordered some contacts. This is where it gets strange.

The day after ordering, she received a phone call from the company saying that they were out of the contacts she wanted, and that she would need to choose another brand. When she declined and asked for a refund, he got rude and obnoxious, essentially trying to bully her into another brand.

Two days later, her glasses arrived, but they were counterfeit. On top of that, she discovered that she had been billed for $125 more than the total she was presented with at checkout.

When she threatened to dispute the charge with her credit card issuer, things got nasty. The proprietor of DecorMyEyes started threatening, harassing, and stalking her in an attempt to get her to drop her claim.

She went to the police, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), her cell phone carrier (to block the harassing calls), his web host (to get his site taken down), and so on, but nobody was willing to help.

No such thing as bad publicity

In case you’re unaware, there are a number of consumer protection websites out there where consumers can post about their experiences. One such website is full of negative reports about DecorMyEyes, and guess what? The owner of DecorMyEyes couldn’t be happier.

Here’s the text of one of his posts on that same site:

“Hello, My name is Stanley with DecorMyEyes.com. I just wanted to let you guys know that the more replies you people post, the more business and the more hits and sales I get. My goal is NEGATIVE advertisement.”

Yes, you read that right. His goal is negative advertisement. The reason for this is that Google drives the majority of traffic on the web, and they rank sites based on the number and quality of inbound links.

Consumer protection sites such as GetSatisfaction are well-respected in Google’s eyes, so links from there carry a lot of weight. And when people complain about the company on their own websites, they’re just adding to the diversity of links. All of these things push DecorMyEyes higher in the search engines, meaning that more and more unsuspecting consumers will be sent their way.

Sure, if you search for the company name, you will see all sort of nasty reviews, but if you search for a certain brand of glasses, you’ll frequently find DecorMyEyes ranked very highly in the Google search results with nary a bad word about them.

In other words, in a world dominated by internet search engines, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

How to protect yourself

While it’s true that you can often get great deals by shopping online, you have to be careful. Fortunately, it’s not all that hard to protect yourself.

One line of defense would be to stick only with known quantities. For example, only buy from companies like Amazon, who are well known and sell just about everything under the sun – and if they don’t sell it themselves, someone in their marketplace likely does.

The good thing about vendors like Amazon is that they run a tight ship, so even if you’re dealing with a marketplace vendor, Amazon has your back. The downside is that you can often find better prices from lesser known vendors.

If you’re intent on finding the best possible deal and are willing to deal with relatively unknown sites, then the easiest thing you can do to protect yourself is to simply run a Google search for the name of the company and look through the results. You might also consider searching for <company-name scam>, as that will turn up even more of the negative results that are out there.

If you see a ton of negativity, look elsewhere. The internet gives you a ton of options, so there’s no need to roll the dice with a company that has a questionable reputation, no matter how good their price looks.

Finally, if you do have a negative experience with a company, don’t be afraid to write about it online. Just be careful not to link back to the site in question, or you’ll be doing them a favor. See my old post about SimplyBunkBeds.com for an example. And also note that, while I mentioned DecorMyEyes repeatedly in this article, I never once linked to them.

15 Responses to “Online Shopping Gone Horribly Wrong”

  1. Anonymous

    Google has fixed the problem already — impressively quick:

    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/being-bad-to-your-customers-is-bad-for.html

    “Instead, in the last few days we developed an algorithmic solution which detects the merchant from the Times article along with hundreds of other merchants that, in our opinion, provide an extremely poor user experience. The algorithm we incorporated into our search rankings represents an initial solution to this issue, and Google users are now getting a better experience as a result.

    We can’t say for sure that no one will ever find a loophole in our ranking algorithms in the future. We know that people will keep trying: attempts to game Google’s ranking, like the ones mentioned in the article, go on 24 hours a day, every single day. That’s why we cannot reveal the details of our solution—the underlying signals, data sources, and how we combined them to improve our rankings—beyond what we’ve already said. We can say with reasonable confidence that being bad to customers is bad for business on Google. And we will continue to work hard towards a better search.”

  2. Anonymous

    Anytime you shop online with an unfamiliar vendor, type in the vendor name followed by the word “complaints” in a search engine. Chances are you are not the first customer and if the vendor is dubious, you will certainly encounter negative comments.

    Certain precautions are needed while shopping online.

  3. Sandy: There is a difference between small businesses and local businesses. The Amex promo in the other post is for small LOCAL businesses. They specifically exclude online purchases. Be that as it may, your point is well taken. If you do your due diligence, there’s no reason you can’t have successful transactions with small online businesses. The advice to stick to large, well known websites is primarily for those who aren’t willing or able to do their homework.

    Also note that Amazon is a service provider for many small businesses through their marketplace, and they will hold the merchant’s feet to the fire if they behave inappropriately. In other words, you can have your cake and eat it, too — buy from a small business with the protections of a large online presence.

  4. Anonymous

    She did well contacting the credit card company, but she should let the band name manufacture know about the counterfeits being sold and contact the FTC or maybe the attorney general in the state where this jerk is located. The only way UCC violations get handled with brick & mortar stores is when there is a customer complaint that initiates it.

    Honestly it is frustrating and no action will be taken on her individual situation until there is enough other people to tip the scales from “cranky customer” to “vendor issue” in the government’s eyes. However if 10% of those on these websites also took the extra (often pain in the butt) steps, then jerks like this can be shut down, in a very long slow process of one at a time.

  5. Anonymous

    @Patrick:

    So because a guy in Brooklyn is screwing gullible women over, you’re not going to buy anything from anyone? I guess you showed him.

    Yes, the guy (a Russian emigre, I’m not going to give his name either) is a crook and a coward. But Ms. Rodriguez should have done a little due diligence. DecorMyEyes’ website is loaded with spelling and grammatical mistakes, and the company had been garnering negative attention for years.

    If you leave your car unlocked, trusting that no one’s going to steal it, you can’t be surprised if someone does.

  6. Anonymous

    I use Google’s shopping engine all the time and its sad to see that there are a few unscrupulous sellers out there. Fortunately, if you use a credit card it’s pretty easy to dispute a charge. Of course in the rare case you start getting harrassing phone calls, that’s a bit more difficult to mitigate.

    If this guy keeps using these negative business tactics, ultimately it should catch up with him. Negative press isn’t a sustainable business model for the long term. Kinda like robbing banks. Although if it is sustainable, it’d be interesting to see an example proving me wrong.

  7. Anonymous

    This just makes my day and just adds another reason why I have decided to completely opt of buying anything online this holiday season. I talked with my wife and we made a pact to not buy a single item online for the months of November and December.

    I also strongly supported the small business approach that was advertised over the Thanksgiving weekend.

  8. Anonymous

    Your article says to only shop at large, well-known websites, but your previous post was urging us to support small businesses. Of course, it is always safest to shop at the larger sites, but if you do your due diligence online (searching for feedback on the company), and know your credit card’s buyer protection policies, you should be okay with a smaller company too.

  9. Jesse: Correct, but it’s not clear that all search engines respect the “nofollow” tag. In fact, it’s been debated whether or not Google themselves (who invented it) respect it. That Wikipedia article claims that all major search engines discount nofollow links when ranking, but I’ve seen experiments done that suggest they don’t. Sorry, this was awhile ago, and I can’t find any links to support it, so you’ll just have to trust (or ignore) me on this.

    Also, the nofollow tag on this site is only auto-applied to comments (where there is no editorial control), not to links within the articles.

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