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My nightmare customer service experience, and how you can avoid a similar fate

In January, I ordered a phone. It was, defective. What seemed like a simple return ended up a 2 month+ test of patience and confidence in online shopping.
By
March 20, 2015
expansys-japan

March 11, 2015. A normal day for most of the world, a sad anniversary for Japan. For me, it was the end of a customer service nightmare that began 63 days earlier.

In this story, I’m seemingly the criminal. My crime? Choosing to buy an imported phone from an established international online retailer. Let’s take a look at what happened to me, what’s happened to some other people, and what you can do to protect yourself from experiencing this situation in the future.

Requiem for a Nightmare

The nightmare begins with a desire to try out the A5.
The nightmare begins with a desire to try out the A5, little did I know what I was getting myself into.

For anyone who has ordered an overseas phone before, Expansys is probably a name that might ring a bell. The UK-based company has offices around the world and carries an expansive inventory of digital products. My item was purchased from the Hong Kong-based Expansys “Japan.”

So: It’s late December. Samsung has released the Galaxy A series and I am eager to see the all-metal build for myself. As I don’t have a credit card, my payment options are limited to Paypal, Bank Transfer, or Cash on Delivery (COD), something Expansys Japan offers via an arrangement with local shipping carrier Yamato. At the time, the Galaxy A5, was selling for about 52,000 yen, which was about $480 or so.

Sure enough, when the phone arrived, it was immediately opened and found to be defective.

On January 2nd of 2015, I took the plunge and ordered the Samsung Galaxy A5 for the purpose of creating impressions and content about the all-metal machine. Sure enough, when the phone arrived, it was immediately opened and found to be defective. The frame had a few scratches which didn’t bother me too much, having experienced same with the Galaxy Alpha, Note 4, and Note Edge last year. The back side, however, looked as if a design had been imprinted into the metal. For a $100 product, I wouldn’t care. For almost $500, I did; the combination was unacceptable. Take a look; the damage is highlighted in red:

Galaxy A5 Defect Edit

It should be stated at this point, that Expansys had sold me an unopened phone. I felt a bit sorry for their situation given that the problem is ultimately Samsung’s quality control (or lack thereof) as the vendor was simply fulfilling an order. Nonetheless, this is the reality one must deal with when deciding to run a product-oriented sales operation: there will be defects and such.

The Nightmare started off but a Dream (of a swift refund)

Expansys HELP
This e-mail (template) reply actually was so thorough that I foolishly assumed my money would be returned in a week or so.

I contacted Expansys on January 8th, 2015 and notified them of the damage. The staff apologized for the inconvenience and indicated I would need to sent it back to Hong Kong so that it could be inspected and, if the defect was found to be legitimate, a refund would be given.

I was promptly provided with the company’s DHL account and told I would need to contact the carrier to arrange pick up. There would be no charge to me for this return shipping. Wonderful. Everything seemed smooth and painless, all the more so when DHL came on January 13th and was so kind as to fill out the paperwork themselves. When I checked the package status just a couple of days later, I noticed that it has already been delivered. Fantastic.

I notified Expansys and was told the package was received and that the defect would be checked. I was also asked to provide my bank account information for the pending refund.

The Real Problem Begins

About a week passed with no contact regarding the status of my refund. I finally send an email, but receive no response. A few days and several more emails later, a reply is finally received by the end of January. In the email, they state the inspection process is going to take a while because “we’re very busy”. I had asked repeatedly who would be checking the product: Expansys or Samsung? If the product had to be returned to Samsung, obviously I could understand the longer wait. No answer was given.

About a week passed with no contact regarding the status of my refund. I finally send an email, but receive no response.

Fast forward to February 5th. Expansys replied to an angry message I had sent inquiring as to the status of my refund. At this point, almost a month had past and I was getting more irritated with each passing day. The reply indicated the defect had been confirmed and a refund would be provided. Days pass, and I then send another email asking where my money is. On February 13th, I received a single reply indicating there was some kind of “trouble” with the refund but it was sent finally, on the 13th.

Expansys EXCUSE
A rare reply from Expansys that contained a bit more than the usual “please wait” type content.

I wait. On February 17th the money had still not appeared in my bank account and so I call my financial institution to investigate. Late in the afternoon, I received a call from my bank with some extremely infuriating news: it had the money, but due to an error, the money could not be deposited to me. Instead of sending the money to my name, Expansys had used my bank branch’s name as the recipient. I was told the money could not be deposited into my account until the sender corrected the mistake.

I contact Expansys informing them of the problem, and in the process, discover the wiring error was my fault. Back when I provided my bank details in January, I had mistakenly specified the wrong name due to misreading the Kanji (Chinese characters). This issue is totally of my own creation, and therefore technically Expansys only took a month to refund the money.

Unfortunately, what should have been a simple fix turned into another month of waiting.

More Waiting

I provided Expansys with my correct bank information. Days pass, finally a reply arrives. I’m told that they have contacted their bank (HSBC) and that I need to pay a fee due to bank charges which amounts to about $30. Of this I had no objections whatsoever, given the fault was entirely mine. I was told that a separate e-mail will be sent to me with an invoice. Apparently the billing comes from the UK office. Days pass, no Paypal invoice. I contact them again and finally an invoice is sent on Friday, February 27th. I pay it immediately and then send another message to Expansys indicating it’s been paid. I am told that they will contact the UK office and notify them.

Days pass again, more e-mails are sent asking what’s going on.

Days pass again, more e-mails are sent asking what’s going on. The last reply I received in regards to this matter was Expansys indicating that it was proceeding via the “guidance of HSBC” and therefore any additional expenses related to the error will be covered by Expansys. Finally, on March 11th, I checked my bank account and the money was there. Expansys did not, and has not, actually sent me any message to confirm the wiring completion thus my discovery of said funds was a totally random surprise.

Analysis

EXPANSYS CLUTTER
This is just one part of the long number of messages exchanged for a simple refund. And for reference, most of the Expansys sent messages are auto replies.

Suffice to say, this is not exactly what I’d label as “good” customer service, and mind you I’ve had dozens of bad ones; $950 lost on an iPhone 4 back in the day via auction fraud, $1100 spent on eBay for a “new” LG G Flex back in December 2013 that was anything but… you get the idea. Ironically enough, at least with the eBay situation the seller was prompt in his replies and thorough in his explanations.

I gave Expansys multiple chances to explain what was going on, but they never bothered to. In the end, I was never worried that Expansys was going to “steal” my money, as I had used them many times in the past and felt assured they were a legitimate organization. I did however, abandon any hope of receiving prompt customer service, explanations of what was going on, or seeing my refund in any semblance of a timely manner.

Not surprisingly, a quick Google search reveals that it’s not just Expansys Japan that has problems, but rather the company on-the-whole. Here are a few customer testimonies from elsewhere in the world. A 2012 complaint from UK-based Overclockers:

[quote qtext=”I wont use Expansys ever again. I ordered a phone holder which the website claimed was in stock. 3 days after they took my money they advised me it was actually out of stock…6 weeks later I cancelled the order and requested a refund…A couple of days later I got an email saying my order was in stock and they’ll now process my order…The item arrived and I sent it back. I spent the next 3 months ringing every week or so trying to get a refund but they claimed the item was never returned. Sent a seething complaint by Special Delivery to the boss, that was 12 months ago. Was never acknowledged and I never got the refund. Never, ever again.” qperson=”PistolPete” qsource=”http://forums.overclockers.co.uk/showthread.php?t=18462467″ qposition=”center”]

And a February 28th (2015) comment on TrustPilot:

[quote qtext=”Bought a new phone in late January which developed a fault after two weeks. Returned at my expense as their courier didn’t show. To date the only only one to communicate is me. Staff are laid back (couldn’t care less) and send placatory emails all of which say the same thing, non of which I suspect are accurate.” qperson=”Andy Lane” qsource=”https://www.trustpilot.com/review/www.expansys.com” qposition=”center”]

What to take away from this story (i.e. 10 DOs and DON’Ts)

android smartphone shopping
Shopping online is fun and convenient, but it’s also a world of trouble unless you know how to protect yourself.

I am not going to outright state you should avoid Expansys. Assuming that there are no problems with your order, it’s plausible you won’t experience any trouble. In reality their horrible customer service is a sad reality that exists in a post-globalized world, where companies are selling products to customers they have absolutely no direct contact with. This is all the more true when you factor in the international element: these goods are being shipped to foreign countries and are subject to import taxes, local regulations, time zone differences, even language barriers.

To this end, I would like to offer some advice to those seeking to buy expensive mobile products online, with a focus on those buying internationally. While this may not prevent a situation from arising, you will at least be in a safer place should one occur:

1. AVOID using bank transfers as they tend to offer absolutely zero customer protection. Once the money leaves, it’s as good-as-gone. This is exactly what happened in the iPhone 4 auction fraud case I mentioned earlier. This advice goes double for international transactions as there are fees on the receipent’s end and thus if you send $100 to pay for a $100 item, the store might only get $85 after their bank takes commission thus requiring you to send more money and pay another wire fee.

2. DO use online payment services like PayPal. They offer significantly higher customer protection in the event of fraud and such. Much like credit cards, they often have a window-period in which you can file claim.

3. DO use a credit card. This advice works best when combined with the online payment service, however if a store accepts credit card directly, and you feel comfortable trusting them with your personal information, that is also acceptable. Credit cards allow you to dispute a charge.

virtual-credit-cards

4. DO keep records of everything. Not just your e-mail, you must also keep receipts from return shipping. This is absolutely essential as services like Paypal will require proof of your return before they can begin to investigate the claim in earnest. If you can’t demonstrate that you’ve returned the item to the store, and the store has received it, there is no basis on which the claim can rest on.

5. DO use tracking when returning the item(s). Depending on the store’s return policy, it may-or-may-not pay for the return shipping. Regardless, make sure to include tracking when sending back your purchase, even if it means paying out of pocket. The charge is usually just a few dollars more, but when it comes to disputes, having the ability to confirm the store received the parcel and having proof to offer a credit card company is essential.

6. DON’T buy from a store just because it’s the cheapest. Often times there are reasons why an item might cost so much less than at competing retailers or vendors, though it might not be obvious at first. Perhaps the store has only two people working for it, and it can afford to sell the products for less money simply because it doesn’t have to pay a full team of staff. Maybe the items are refurbished.

7. DO read the after-service details before placing your order. This is extremely important. Does the store have a return policy? Will it accept items that have been opened? Do you need to send it back within 24-hours of receipt, or is there a 30-day window?

Samsung Galaxy S5 164 paypal
Services like PayPal might actually be better than you think when buying products online, or overseas.

8. DO try to find the item locally if possible. This goes back to the pricing issue: if a local store has a product for $200, and an online store has it for $180, consider if it’s really worth the potential trouble to save $20. If the online store is say, Amazon, and the item is shipping from Amazon (not a third party seller) then it’s a safe bet. On the other hand, if the store is located overseas, you might end up paying $20 or more in import taxes and wind up with a major problem in-hand should the product itself be defective or incorrect. Finding the item locally also allows you to physically inspect it before purchase (when possible) and makes returns or exchanges much easier.

9. DON’T misread the small print. I see endless amounts of posts about “Amazon is now selling product X”, yet when I actually check the link, it’s some Marketplace Seller offering the item which makes the scenario about as legitimate as selecting Buy It Now on eBay. If you are buying from a hypermarket, confirm where it’s shipping from. If the Marketplace Seller’s order will be fulfilled by Amazon, then you’re golden for Amazon’s internal return policy applies.

10. DO consider waiting. I know how many of you want to be the first to have something (heck, I am that way as well). If a new product has gone on sale overseas, and will hit your market in a few weeks, just consider waiting. The more local and contained a situation can be controlled, the lower your own danger and risk will be.

So there you have it. My nightmare customer service experience, and some take-away advice. Have any of you also experienced situations like this before? We welcome your own horror stories (along with what we hope are positive outcomes) in the comments below.