Bristol Cameras took my money

Also known as ‘The right and wrong way to deal with an internet order problem’. This also applies equally to telephone and any other form of distance selling. Here is the sad saga of my dealings with Bristol Cameras Ltd. It is preceded by a couple of problems with internet orders that were well managed and resolved.

Traditional Aikido Volume 1Before Christmas, I ordered 2 books from the Aikido Journal website, Traditional Aikido Volumes 1 & 2 by Morihiro Saito. These were books that Jo and I used to clarify our techniques many years ago; we never owned them, but were looking after someone’s library for them. The originals were printed in the 1970s and had been out of print for many years. Occasionally, you would see one or more of the 5 volumes on Ebay, but they would go for in excess of £100, usually a lot more. In early November, Aikido Journal announced that Volume 1 was available immediately. This was a brand-new edition done in the exact style and format of the original books by Saito Sensei. These are hardcover volumes made for durability featuring a semi-gloss paper like the originally published volumes. Anyway, back to the problem, after completing the order for volume 1 and confirming my credit card details, instead of a confirmation, I got a series of database errors displayed. I left a message detailing the problem on the contact form and within a few hours I had received an email back from Stanley Pranin, the editor-in-chief of Aikido Journal, confirming that they had received my order and that it should be shipping on the Monday. I had the same problem when pre-ordering volume 2 and had the same swift response and confirmation.

Adri's Dream trebleFor Christmas, I bought Jo a wooden treble recorder. About 2.5 years ago, when we were at Joust 2006, Jo bought a wooden descant (soprano) recorder. It was a Mollenhauer Adri’s Dream in pearwood and has a lovely tone. She has been playing the treble (alto) for a couple of years now and decided that she wanted to get a nice one; the Adri’s Dream one would be just right. I checked our normal source of musical instruments, Hobgoblin, but they didn’t have it listed. So I turned to Google and that turned up Elida Trading in Hudderfield. This is run by husband and wife, Elizabeth and David Ward. I had already come across Liz’s name on recorder/music forums when I had checked out an Ebay seller ‘elizabethward’ a few years ago. I dropped them an email and had a response within ten minutes suggesting a convenient time to ring that afternoon. Within a few minutes that afternoon, the recorder was ordered and credit card details were left. A couple of weeks later, the recorder arrived and it was exactly as expected. The little problem was noticing an extra charge on my credit card bill a week later. It turns out that someone with a similar order added an item to their order, but it got charged to our card – an honest mistake. Within about 3/4 of an hour of being notified of the problem, it had been refunded. Great service, both for the original order and the customer support.

Then there is how not to do it!

Manfrotto 488RC2 ball headI replaced the Manfrotto 115 head on my photographic tripod with a better Manfrotto 488RC2 ball head before Christmas and decided to treat myself to a new monopod and head so that I could use the same quick release plate on the camera. After much research into the different options, I decided on the Manfrotto 681B monopod with 234RC tilt head. Being 6’1″, I needed a monopod that provided at least the same height as my existing Velbon monopod, 165cm, and the 681 fitted the bill at 161cm plus the head. I looked around to find the best price and found that although most places were about £70, Bristol Cameras were £10 cheaper. The site looked professional and I got an automated confirmation of my order that evening. On the Monday morning, I received another email confirming that my order had been printed off and that I would be updated if there was any delay or when the parcel shipped. In the details for the monopod is the following Q&A:

Question: Is the Manfrotto 681 Monopod in stock?

Bristol Cameras Answer: As per most accessories listed on this website we do not have the resources to maintain stock info on several thousand smaller items. We keep many of the accessories on our site in stock and even if we don’t have the Manfrotto 681 Monopod in stock, it is likely that it will be available from suppliers within 48 hours. However, If there is a problem obtaining this product, we will inform you of the delay within 48 hours.

So this was looking good, it should be shipping on Wednesday unless I hear otherwise.

Friday 12th December

Having had no confirmation of delay or shipment, I replied to the confirmation email asking for an update on my order. At the same time I started googling Bristol Cameras to see if there were any posts about them. I wish I had done so before placing my order. The posts on about Bristol Cameras on Review Centre seem to fall into two camps, those who had a great experience (the item was in stock and they got a quick delivery) and those who had a bad experience (the item was out of stock, they were told nothing and kept waiting for their goods).  There are other posts on forums about people being let down by Bristol Cameras, so I should have done my research first from the look of it. Oh well, maybe mine will be fine.

Tuesday 16th December

I received the following generic reply to my email:

We are experiencing a very high amount of orders during this very busy period of the year, there “are” delays with both goods being sent to our customers as well as suppliers sending goods to us. We will inform you of any “major” delays” e.g. if you will receive your order for Christmas. If you have not heard from us within 1 week of placing your order, please phone direct to query. Online and mail order is not open on weekends.

Yes there are delays but the majority of our orders will be sent in the quickest time possible.

Please call us to query further…the lines are very busy we are aware of this, but as it stands this is the best way to get in contact with us

So that didn’t really answer my question then.

Wednesday 17th December

I rang them, they weren’t joking about the lines being busy, it took over an hour to get through. I was told that they were expecting a delivery from their supplier that day and that my order would be shipped within a couple of days, so OK, not brilliant communication, but at least I knew it was imminent.

Thursday 18th December

Then I got the following email:

Apologies we have run out of this item and have been informed by our supplier that this item is out of stock and is on back order with no E.T.A, we will keep your order live unless you wish to cancel sorry for any inconvenience caused.

Great, so I’ll have to find another source.

Friday 19th December

I rang them and cancelled the order. By 11:00 I had confirmation that the order was cancelled:

Your order has been cancelled and no funds have been charged to your card. Sorry that we could not help you on this occasion.

I placed a new order with Digital Depot, who had confirmed by 12:30 that my order would be shipped that day. Finally, it’s all sorted.

WRONG! At 16:50, ten minutes before they closed, Bristol Cameras sent an email saying that the items had already been sent that morning and that it was too late to cancel.

Saturday 20th December

The order from Digital Depot arrived in the morning, so at least I finally had my monopod and head. It was well packaged and complete, good communication and service. Thanks.

Sunday 21st December

The order from Bristol Cameras arrived. On investigation, the printout of the credit card transaction enclosed with the order showed that it hadn’t been shipped in the morning, the transaction didn’t take place until 12:31, over 1.5 hours after it was confirmed cancelled. Not happy again!

Monday 22nd December

I rang them again to get it resolved. They agreed that an error had occurred and that they would give me a full refund including return postage. I was to ship the package back by Recorded Delivery, so that there was tracking on the package. Fortunately, it was the week before Christmas, so Jo had already finished work and would be able to get it posted on the Tuesday. I enclosed a letter detailing the issues and what had been agreed.

Tuesday 23rd December

Jo took the parcel to the Post Office for me. In the end it was too long to go Recorded and so had to go Parcel 48. I sent an email that evening confirming the letter and letting them know the cost and tracking number.

Friday 2nd January

I checked the Parcelforce website and confirmed that it had been delivered back to Bristol Cameras on 29th December. I checked my credit card on-line and confirmed that I hadn’t received the refund. I rang them and eventually got through (…beginning to see a pattern here) and was told that it was a busy time of year and that they had a large pile of returned and exchange goods to be dealt with (with their customer service, I’m not surprised) and that I would get my refund by the end of the following week. I wasn’t happy, but accepted that it would occur.

Tuesday 20th January

I checked my credit card on-line again to find that the refund still hadn’t occurred. I sent an email that night requesting an update, but decided that I needed to also ring up and speak to someone.

Wednesday 21st January

I rang them only to be told that the pile of returns had been cleared, but that the person dealing with them was out for the day. If I gave it a couple more days I’d see my refund.

Friday 23rd January

I rang again, they must have had the phone off the hook as I tried continuously from 2pm to 3pm and it was permanently engaged. When I got back from picking the kids up from school I tried several more times before finally getting through at 4:30pm. I was told that it takes a few days for a refund to show up on the card and that I should give it a couple more days.

I know by now that I am being given the run around, but will give them the benefit of the doubt, one last time. If my credit card is not showing a refund by Tuesday evening, I will contact the credit card company to dispute the transaction.

Monday 26th January

This afternoon, I got the read receipt showing that they had read the email I sent last Tuesday. About par for the course. I checked the credit card, but no refund yet, the only pending transaction was the service for my car that afternoon.

Like anyone who has a issue with an order, I accept that sometimes mistakes are made or things go wrong. It’s how this is dealt with that makes the difference. If someone takes ownership of the problem and provides good feedback, it gives you confidence in their abilities and understanding of the situation. Swift resolution gives you the confidence that if there are issues, you won’t be the one doing all the running around. Although I had minor issues with my purchases from Aikido Journal and Elida Trading, their professional approach to dealing with these issues inspires confidence and I would use them both again in the future without any doubts. On the other hand the total ‘ignore the customer’ approach of Bristol Cameras is inexcusable in any company trying to maintain a customer base. I know my order was small, only £60, but any customer should be important, not just the ones spending hundreds of pounds. My experiences with them have been communicated at work with all those into photography. Some of the people had seen the prices and considered using them, but no longer. Although the hassle dealing with them was immense, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have prevented some other people from befalling my fate.

Sorry about any weird changes of tense, this post has been written retrospectively and over several days as the lack of resolution progressed. I didn’t want to spoil any chance of a successful resolution by posting before the end. Any updates past this point will be added as they occur.

Tuesday 27th January

The refund is not showing on my credit card, so I will need to contact my credit card company to get this resolved. Their department for dealing with unrecognised transactions closed at 17:00, so I will probably have to wait until Friday afternoon to call them. I’ll try ringing Bristol Cameras tomorrow.

Wednesday 28th January

The number was engaged when I tried calling them and I didn’t get another chance.

Friday 30th January

I checked one last time to see if the refund had occurred, no surprise to find it hadn’t. I then tried for 30 minutes to call them one last time; it was permanently engaged. I then rang my credit card to dispute the transaction. I got through to a very helpful person who took the details of my problem and tried to ring Bristol Cameras herself. They have to give it 30 days before they get involved, but as that has passed they are able to help. She had no more luck than I did, so in the end she is sending me a claim form that I have to complete and return with copies of any documentation that I have. They will only be able to refund the £59.99, the £10.99 postage will be what I end up paying for trying to save £10 by shopping with a dis-organised and unprofessional outfit.

Wednesday 4th February

The claim paperwork arrived from MBNA. Looking at the declaration I have to sign, it indicates that I have a refund voucher from Bristol Cameras. I am therefore unable to sign this as it is incorrect. The form says that I must not change the wording, so I will have to ring MBNA on Friday to clarify what I have to do.

Friday 6th February

I tried ring Bristol Cameras again in the afternoon to see if I could get resolution, you have to give me points for persistence. As usual they were permanently engaged. I rang MBNA and explained my problem with the declaration. I was told to explain the situation on the back of the form and sign that instead. I did this and posted the form back recorded delivery with printouts of all the letters and emails that I had related to this.

Thursday 12th February

I had a phone call from MBNA to say that need a refund voucher to credit the card, it’s Mastercard rules. They had spoken to Bristol Cameras and Simon was investigating what had happened. She would call him back and conference me in so that if he had any questions we would be able to resolve them. Needless to say, they never answered the phone, so we had to give up.

Friday 13th February

MBNA rang again and reconfirmed that without a refund voucher from Bristol Cameras they would not be able to refund. She had been trying to get through to Bristol Cameras before she called me and was unable. As I had placed the order and then cancelled it, the refund is in Bristol Cameras hands. So if they carry on ignoring me, there is nothing MBNA can do. She would put the dispute on hold for another 14 days while I have to try to get a refund voucher from Bristol Cameras.

With nothing to loose, I tried ringing Bristol Cameras until I got through after about 10 minutes. I spoke to Richard who took ownership of the problem. He took all my details from the original order number, to the ParcelForce tracking number and the cost of return postage. He apologised for the problems with the mail order department; evidently they have now employed more staff. He went away to investigate, and true to his word he rang me back about an hour later. He confirmed that the goods had been received back and was most apologetic as somehow the paperwork had been overlooked. He confirmed that the refund was being processed that day. He could not confirm if the return postage would be covered as the cancellation was on the same day the order was shipped. Apparently the way Bristol Cameras work is at 4pm they enter all the shipment details for the day on their computer system. This of course makes a mockery of my confirmed cancellation as no-one checked this before the end of the day. I am sort of hopeful that this time the refund will actually happen.

Sunday 15th February

I checked on-line to find that I have really had a refund from Bristol Cameras. Unfortunately only for £54.99, the cost of the goods. So as it stands I am down the cost of outgoing and return postage, £15.99. If I hadn’t been told to return the goods for a full refund including return postage, I would have been better off selling them on Ebay. However, I was originally told by Bristol Cameras that I would get all my money back, so I’ll have to ring them again.

Monday 16th February

I rang Bristol Cameras again today and explained my issue with the refund of postage. My details were taken so that he could investigate and get back to me. That was at ten past 11. As I’m now at home writing this up, it’s safe to say that it didn’t happen before the end of the day.

Wednesday 18th February

After giving them another day to get back to me, I rang Bristol Cameras again this morning. I spoke to the same person as Monday (and several previous calls) and asked for the update he was going to provide me with on Monday. He explained how busy he had been and that he would investigate and get back to me later in the day. I pressed him for a shorter time-scale and he said that he would investigate and get back to me within the next 30 minutes. I was quite surprised when he rang back after about 10 minutes. I was told that ‘I didn’t get a refund on the postage as according to the letter I had enclosed with the goods I had returned them because I no longer required them’. When I read out the letter I had send to him over the phone, he admitted that the wrong details had been entered on their computer system. They would have to find their copy of the letter to confirm and then sort the refund. I asked if this would include my postage cost for returning the goods and was told that they would need to see proof of the costs. At this point I offered to email them a copy of the letter that I had enclosed as well as a scan of the proof of posting (with the postage cost on it). This was agreed as a good suggestion and I was provided with an email address and told what to include in the email. I sent this off this morning and hadn’t heard anything by the time I left work this evening.

Thursday 19th February

I had an email from Bristol Cameras to say that this was being discussed with management today as he had been out yesterday.

Monday 23rd February

I emailed Bristol Cameras for an update.

Tuesday 24th February

I had an email saying that my refund was being done today and apologising for the way it had been handled. I was assured that if I ever chose to order from them again, it wouldn’t be the case in the future.

Saturday 28th February

I had a sales receipt today from Bristol Cameras for the refund of my postage. It was for £13.94, not quite the £15.99 that I was due, but close enough that I can’t be bothered to pursue this any more. After checking on-line, this has also appeared on my credit card, so it’s finally over.

I’ve been shopping online for over 10 years now and can safely say that this has been my worst online shopping experiance ever. I did eventually get most of my money back, but all in all it took 10 weeks and numerous telephone calls and emails to resolve this. I pity anyone else who buys from Bristol Cameras expecting more than cheap box shifting of in-stock items.

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