Retailer Impressions

Rocky's lost Santa gift

Now that the holiday shopping season is winding down, were there any standout retailers, good or bad, in your experience? I shopped plenty of different venues, everywhere from Amazon.com to my local Target. Here were some of my impressions.

First let’s get the bad stuff over with. Just a minor offense by our local Golfsmith store but they allegedly ran out of gift boxes in the first week of December, no doubt due to the swarms of golfers who hit the store so soon before Christmas. Really? You couldn’t estimate better than that? Old Navy lost points in my book because they were charging for their boxes. Even at Christmas time? Here’s the worst of it. Disneystore.com lost my child’s Santa gift before it even got to UPS. It was a Mickey Mouse bean bag chair I know he would like (were any of you lucky enough to get this one?), I ordered it a month before Christmas (just to be safe) and they still botched it up. Worse, they stayed in denial throughout all of my communications with them until it finally came down to the wire and then they had no choice but to fess up. By then the item was out of stock and too bad for me. Grrrrr. But wait, the customer service department, who annoyingly told me they wanted me to have a “magical experience” every time I corresponded with them could only muster enough magic to present me with a $10 voucher on Dec. 21 to be used towards shipping of another item. Do I really want to put myself through this again? I think not, the voucher didn’t even cover the cost of the 2 day shipping I would need. Upon further presenting my case, one sole rep decided I should get more for my trouble. My ears perked at the sound of this, I’ve been sick this week and didn’t particularly want to go out in the rain looking for that last minute item, I was hoping for a Disney pass or at least a decent gift card. I got a $12 plush Mickey to arrive on Christmas Eve. I’m not holding my breath on that one. I also found a couple of other friends who have had bad experiences with the online Disney store so scratch this vendor off my list.

Now the good. The JC Penney store, which, like many stores now, had to do away with their gift wrap department (so sad to see this service go) came through on the boxes, I even got extras just for the asking, no hassles. They put out some great coupons like $10 off anything (yes, you could actually get a $10 item for free) and had decent markdowns and lines that were tolerable. Macy’s had some super sales and huge discounts, boxes included as well. Nordstrom tends to be pricier and the sales less impressive but the customer service is usually right on and everything is so nicely folded in tissue and placed in great sturdy bags. Online stores Sears.com and BarnesandNoble.com came through with my orders in a timely manner, everything packaged nicely and bonus points/special offers were received. Sears has a club that’s free to join and Barnes and Noble has a free kid’s club that allowed us some extra discounts. Free shipping was a plus as well as the ability to return gifts at their local stores.

That’s a wrap for me. Happy Holidays!

Meet the Mama Behind Mamabargains.com!

There are plenty of good deals available on the Internet, but often those deals come at the expense of customer service, reasonable shipping times and rates, and just plain reliability. And that’s really lame.  It can be so difficult to find an etailer that has it all, so let me tell you about one of my very favorite deal websites: Mamabargains.com.

If you haven’t been there yet, Mambargains.com is a “One Deal At A Time” store. Each day, between 2 and 10 items are featured one at a time, all at drastically reduced prices over retail–often over 50% off! But you have to be quick, because once an item sells out, the next item comes up. Some items sure do go quickly, and then you’re left thinking, “OMG, I totally shouldn’t have hesitated on those shoes (the ones where the phrase ‘Mouse’s favorite shoes’ utterly fails to convey the degree to which he loves them) because now they’re sold out and Mouse is going to go completely shoe-less until Mamabargains.com offers shoes again!”

And there’s nothing sadder than a toddler who refuses to wear any other pair of shoes even though his heels are sticking out over the back of the sandal. And then people look at me like, “Um, I don’t know if you noticed, but your kid’s shoes don’t fit,” and I’m like, “I know!!! But I got them from this totally awesome website called Mamabargains.com and they were such a great deal it would be idiotic to buy them anywhere else, so instead I obsessively keep track of the deals on Mamabargains waiting for them to come up again!”

There’s a reason why their tagline “Get Hooked” is so apropos.

Also, I’m really excited that I just got to use the word “apropos.”

But the best thing of all is their AMAZING customer service, and if you choose USPS Priority mail, their shipping is so fast I’m pretty sure they send the box out about 5 seconds after you complete your purchase. Which is perfect for a completely impatient person like myself.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Jessica, the Mama behind Mamabargains.com, a few questions and got some pretty cool answers:

Every successful business starts with a great idea. In your case, the idea came courtesy of a sleep-deprived dream. Did you ever dream that MamaBargains.com would become the site that it is today?

Naturally, I had very, very big ideas for what our little website could become and always knew in my heart that we would find many successes. However, I had no idea that MamaBargains.com would catapult to this level in less than three years. We have nearly 60,000 Facebook fans and fill countless orders daily….it is humbling! It is amazing to think that it was just March 2008 when we “pulled the trigger,” so to speak, and purchased 500 Timi & Leslie diaper bags (which we stored in our residential garage in the early pre-warehouse days). It seems forever ago that Stan and I were spending our evenings, after the babies were in bed, fulfilling orders for the day. In reality, it is just a short time later that we are fully-staffed (with an incredible team, I might add) and though we often are  still helping with order fulfillment (and every other aspect of the day-to-day activities), we have many, many more hands helping.

You offer products from well over 300 companies, many of whom work exclusively with MamaBargains.com. What have been some of your favorite products or deals?
There have been so many incredible offerings; this is a hard choice. There is little more exciting than the arrival of a new product in our warehouse…the unpacking, organizing, photographing, feature verbiage drafting…we are all like kids in a candy store here when first-time features. I always love new strollers, as I know this is a necessity for all moms, and one where you certainly could spend some serious money. In recent months we have featured the Easy Walker QTRO and DUO, both at more than half off, which is a crazy incredible deal. Our moms love getting the luxury of a high-end stroller for a fraction of the cost. I also love working with vendors that design exclusives for MamaBargains.com such as Taylor Joelle and Baby Star. We also worked this year with Itzy Ritzy to feature their Snack Happened bags for the World Food Programme Charity, which was different and unique. We realize how fortunate we are to have healthy, well-fed children and so it was a pleasure to partner with an incredible brand, an incredible charity and our incredible customers to make an incredible impact on the growing epidemic of hungry children.
What have been some of your favorite moments over the last two years?
Again, there are so many to name. The past few months have been nothing short of euphoric, starting with the partnership with Procter & Gamble brand Luvs in the summer. Our national recognition with this partnership grew incredibly….we have more and more vendors looking to work exclusively withMamaBargains.com, in large part because of the integrity in which we operate. In addition, we have many brands wanting to be a part of our “mom community” realizing our incredible base of loyal customers. We’ve also been recognized this year as the Number Four Leading Moms in Business by Startup Nation, won acclaim as the Fastest Growing Company of the Year from the prestigious Stevie Awards for Women in Business and recently found out we will be featured inUtah Business as one of their “Forty Under 40” leaders in Utah. All of this while our sales continue to grow at exponential levels. Wow! Somebody pinch me please….it is with incredible gratitude that we look back on 2010, and we look forward to all 2011 will bring with great expectations.
With an average of 1.8 million page views per month, what is your secret to success?
Customer engagement…without a doubt. There are many days and nights you will find me personally responding to nearly 60,000 Facebook fans requests and discussions. I embrace the opportunity to share my experiences as a mom and business owner with all of our customers. I recognize these people are spending precious time away from their families to make educated, valued purchases, and so I do everything in my ability to make it a great experience all around. We also have a long list of Facebook moderators and incredible customer service technicians that are available and willing to chat and provide insight/advice. The community MamaBargains.com has created with our Facebook fans is amazing.
What can we look forward to in the future?
New deals, new vendors, incredible features and more amazing sales!
Oh, and by the way–Mouse’s favorite shoes came up again, so I snagged two pairs. I would have purchased three pairs, but one of the styles was sold out before I got it in my diaper bag (aka shopping cart). Guess I’ll just have to keep watching Mamabargains! Conveniently, I’m totally hooked.

Totsy is Terrible

There have been some awesome bargain websites springing up with some amazing deals on baby and kid items. I’ve had great experiences with sites like Mamabargains, Babysteals, and Kidsteals, so when a friend of mine pointed out that one discount site, Totsy.com, was carrying an adorable winter jacket from Convertible Designs at a fantastic price, I really didn’t hesitate to place my order.

Big mistake. Huge.

I placed my order on August 11, and then waited. And waited. And waited. At no time in the ordering process was I informed of an estimated delivery date. That should have been another warning, but I’ve had such great service from other sites (particularly the three I mentioned above) that I just decided to wait. After a couple of weeks, I went back to the Totsy site to look at my account. It was only then that I learned that Totsy waits until the sale ends, then places the order with the manufacturer, and then ships it to me. Okay, I know some sites work that way and don’t keep products in a warehouse, and I know that can take a while.

So I decided to take a look around the site for shipping information, just to see how long it might actually take. Normally on etailer sites, there’s a link to the shipping policy right on the very first page. Not so on Totsy. I looked all over the sign-in page and finally found an FAQ link at the very bottom in teeny gray letters:

Once I signed into my account, I found a shipping link, again way at the bottom in tiny gray letters. I don’t want to take a screen capture since it is a members-only section of the site, but believe me when I say that the placing, color, and prominence of the text is exactly the way it is on the sign-in screen, except it is labeled “Shipping.”

In the FAQ/Shipping section is their shipping policy:

How long will it take for me to get my order?
For delivery, orders will be processed, ordered to the brand, received at Totsy, quality controlled, and then shipped, and delivered within 3-5 weeks after the sale close. Your items are ordered to the brand after you purchase them so some brands might be a bit slow to ship those items to us. Make sure you always consider this when choosing the size when ordering an apparel item. When your order is shipped, you will be able to access a tracking number on your personal account page.

My first reaction was WHAT??? 3-5 weeks??? I really wish I’d known that before I ordered, particularly for clothes. They say that you should “make sure you always consider this when choosing the size when ordering an apparel item” except that this information is NOWHERE in the ordering process and can ONLY be found in that tiny FAQ or Shipping link at the bottom.

It had been 4 weeks at that point, so I decided to wait it out a little longer. Things got busy, and the order kind of slipped my mind until one day I thought “This has been a really long time–much longer than the stated 5 weeks.” I then got an email from my friend who had ordered a jacket in the same batch but a different style, and she asked if I’d received mine, because she hadn’t, and she hadn’t been able to reach a live person on their phone line, just a recording. At that point I got a sinking feeling in my stomach, and did what I should have done at the start, which was a little research on Totsy reviews.

They were terrible. And I noticed the same negative comments coming up over and over again: unreasonably long shipping times, inability to get a live person on the phone, lack of response to emails, lost/missing items, incorrect items, no refunds, and so on. It was very dismaying, but look for yourself:

Moody Mama Says got incorrect items even though she had emailed to ask the mistake to be fixed prior to shipping.

GetHuman.com showed 5 different 1 star, terrible reviews.

RateItAll.com has 30 reviews, nearly all of them 1 star

One Bored Mommy blogged about her experience after giving Totsy a tremendous benefit of the doubt.

Katie Talks About… her experience, and a follow-up to the debacle.

And there are plenty others if you want to do your own Google search.

I realized it had been 8 full weeks, October 5th, since I’d placed my order (remember, it was placed on August 11th, and they charged my card immediately upon placing the order), so I sent them an email with my order number demanding a refund. Totsy replied by saying:

Dear [my name],

Thank you for your inquiry regarding order #[number].

The CONVERTIBLE DESIGNS manufacturer did not include this jacket with our shipment as they had no stock.  We have asked the Accounting Department to process a refund for the order.  You will receive a copy of the merchants receipt for refund within 3 to 5 business days at this e-mail address.

We apologize for any inconvenience you may have incurred.

Thank you for your patience and thank you for shopping with Totsy.com.

Kind regards,

Support

After having read all of the negative reviews, I was very suspicious of this response. They said that Convertible Designs didn’t include the jacket in the order because they were out of stock? And it was just a coincidence that my friend also didn’t receive her jacket even though it was in a different style? This just didn’t strike me as likely to be true.  And even if it was true, when did they plan on telling me this? 8 weeks had gone by without a peep from Totsy, yet they were happy to just take and keep my money. That’s just ridiculous.

I did actually receive my refund a few days later, and I was very glad for that, but I decided to email Convertible Designs directly to let them know about my experience and to warn them that Totsy was placing the blame on them, and they might want to reconsider any future arrangements with Totsy.

I received a very prompt reply (within a few hours, on a weekend even!) from Convertible Designs saying:

Dear [my name],

You are a second person who contacted me with this problem.  I fulfilled my obligation with Totsy according to their PO as you have suggested.  There was no problem with the stock.  Also, I’ve heard about the problem with their shipping and customer service departments, but this was after our event was run.

I am a true believer in a good customer service. I demand this from the companies I buy from, and I try to offer it to my customers to the best of my abilities.  I would be more then happy to offer you the same price and free shipping on the item that was misplaced by Totsy.  Please let me know if you are interested, and I will send you the discount code.

Warm regards,
-Natasha
Convertible Designs

So basically Totsy totally blamed the whole thing on Convertible Designs. Now obviously someone is not being truthful here. But after reading everything I did about Totsy and the fact that they didn’t bother to contact me, I feel very secure in concluding that Totsy is the one not telling the truth in this situation. Later, my friend told me that she had also received a refund from Totsy for her missing jacket as well. I did place the order with Convertible Designs and they totally lived up to their offer and sent me the jacket with no problems at all. Talk about great customer service!!! I would absolutely recommend Convertible Designs to anyone. And look at how cute this jacket is!

But back to Totsy–I have no idea what Totsy plans to do with these missing jackets (mine, my friend’s, and the other person who contacted Convertible Designs before me), or really how many missing jackets there are total, but whatever they do with them, I have trouble believing that it’s going to be ethical. The Totsy website is very slick and professional looking and I’m shocked that they run their business this way, but it seems like my experience is hardly the exception.

Totsy is terrible, and I suggest you avoid them at all costs.

*Full disclosure: I made my purchase through Totsy at my own expense on my own initiative. I was not offered any product or compensation from Totsy in exchange for any kind of review.

 

I'm an Amazon Mom

If you have a baby–listen up. Or just listen up anyway.

So you know, diapers are expensive. We use cloth diapers much of the time, but for convenience, leaving the house, wash days, and during diaper rashes, we use disposables. You’re not supposed to use diaper rash cream with a cloth diaper, and we do leave the house on a regular basis, so we do go through our share of disposables.

All babies are different shapes and sizes, as you know if you happen to have one, so different babies fit different diapers differently. In a different way. For different babies. Some babies can only really fit into a few or one brand of diapers. Lucky for us, Mouse is one of those babies! He can only wear one of the most expensive disposables on the market: Huggies Little Movers. Not Luvs, not the Target brand or any other store brand, not even Pampers which seems to have a lot better coupons than Huggies. In fact, our most disastrous diaper experience came with Pampers. It was complete ADF (Atomic Diaper Fail). We were in Europe, and that’s exactly what you want while on vacation in a foreign country: ADF. So we’re a Huggies family. And not even Huggies Snug and Dry which they sell at Costco and are relatively cheap. Nope. Huggies Little Movers. Which cost more. Because apparently that’s what Mouse is. A Little Mover. I hope that doesn’t mean he’s in for a promising career as a Big Mover.

My child does not look like this, but isn't she cute?

Anyway, so we are also Amazon fanatics in this house. We have an Amazon Visa and use it for everything and get tons of points (= $$$) from Amazon. So I like to buy things from Amazon. I also like buying things online because it’s like Christmas when it arrives on the doorstep. And sometimes when it takes a long time, I’ve even forgotten what I purchased so it’s like a nice surprise. The only member of our household who does not like Amazon is Digory the beagle, who is convinced that the UPS guy is going to invade the house.

Amazon has a handy little thing for ordering diapers called Subscribe and Save. The name is kind of self-explanatory–you save 15% on diapers and they automatically come to your house for whatever time you’ve specified. I have always avoided Subscribe and Save in the past because I was never sure how long Mouse was going to stay in a particular size of diaper, plus I hate it when things automatically get charged to my card and sent to me and I forget that’s going to happen. But then I learned about Amazon Mom.

Amazon Mom is a free program that 1) gives you an additional 15% off Subscribe and Save diapers, 2) gives you free Amazon Prime shipping for 3 months with the opportunity to extend that, and 3) sends you annoying emails to try to get you to buy more stuff. Obviously for Amazon, numbers 1 and 2 exist so that they can send you 3, but for the benefit of 1 and 2, I’m willing to put up with some emails (and actually I haven’t even gotten one yet).

Amazon Prime shipping is free 2-day shipping. Well it’s not free–you have to buy a subscription to Amazon Prime which I think is like $70 a year and then you get 2-day shipping on qualified items. I’ve never purchased Prime because I’m cheap, and because most items that qualify for Prime also qualify for Super Saver shipping, which is free standard shipping with a minimum of $25. Super Saver shipping can take a while, but I’m willing to wait if it saves me $70 a year. However, I’m not going to turn down my nose at free Prime, so I’m happy with that Amazon Mom benefit. Plus for every $25 you spend in a single order of Baby items, you get an extra month of Prime. And since I still buy baby stuff…

The 30% off diapers is really the best deal. Now I know some moms do the super-duper-uber coupon thing where they buy several papers and wait and stack coupons and scour the web for awesome deals, and I have to say I’m in awe of those moms, but I am not one of them. I try to use a coupon whenever possible, but for the most part I don’t get those really serious bargains. Which is why 30% off diapers is a big deal for me.

With Amazon Mom, our Size 5 Huggies Little Movers come down to 23 cents a diaper. Perhaps I could do it cheaper the above way, but quite frankly, 23 cents a diaper that get delivered to my house without me having to move a finger is just about as awesome as it gets. Especially compared to sites like Diapers.com, which I think is one of the biggest rip-off sites on the web. They suck you in with a first-order coupon but if you pay attention, their Size 5 Huggies Little Movers come out to 40 cents per diaper. I mean, REALLY??? I could go out to 7-11 and get them for cheaper, practically. Drugstore.com has them at 37 cents/diaper, Walgreens will send them to you for 39 cents/diaper, and Babies R Us are happy to drop them off at 33 cents/diaper.

In other words, if you’re lazy, totally brand-loyal out of necessity, don’t like hunting down coupons and shopping several different stores at different times, and like things showing up on your doorstep in 2 days, I highly recommend Amazon Mom.

Now yes, you do have to subscribe. However, you can choose 1 month, 2 months, 3 months, or 6 months delivery, and you can cancel any time. I chose 3 months so in December if I have too many on my hands, I’ll just cancel. Or I can always bump up the subscription. Amazon makes it very easy to cancel, as long as you remember to do so.

So if you’ve got a kid in diapers, definitely check out Amazon Mom. Or even if you don’t care about any other benefit, sign up for Amazon Mom to get 3 free months of Prime shipping!

Review – Moms Groups on Meetup.com

When I was pregnant with little C, I was not working. So when big E was in school it felt a little lonely since all my friends were at work. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVED being a stay-at-home mom, but the adult stimulation was definitely lacking. I went on Yahoo groups to find some groups with similar interests. I joined a scrapbooking group. I enjoyed the discussion and I even went to a few events that were a lot of fun. Did I make any real connections? Not really. I stumbled upon Meetup.com while surfing the net about 2 weeks after giving birth to little C.  I did a search for Moms with a 10 mile radius of my house.  Holy cow, 15 groups near me! I joined the group. My first meetup was interesting. The first thing you need to know is that I am a very outgoing person. I have absolutely no problems going to a party alone where I don’t know anyone, no problem speaking in front of people and certainly no problem making friends. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m a pretty fun person. So back to my first meet up. I went to the park where there was a play date, no one introduced herself to me, I had to go up to the group of women and ask if they were from XYZMeetup group, which they were. I enjoyed the conversation, I really liked being able to talk about breastfeeding with other women that were going through the same things as I was. All in all it was a good experience. There was definitely a clique though, which I was NOT part of. But I took it for what it was and kept going to events.

It’s been four years since my first Meetup and about 3-4 different moms groups later. I think Meetup is a great place to meet other moms, but there are some things I think one should know.

  1. Anytime you have a group of all women together there will most likely be drama.
  2. Don’t go in with expectations of meeting a friend for life. Will you make connections? Of course, many will be on the surface, but if you’re lucky you may find a deeper friendship.  But remember a true friendship takes time to develop.
  3. People will FLAKE. Yes, we are moms, we are scatterbrained and sometimes we forget.
  4. You wont like everyone… and everyone wont like you. It’s OKAY.

So with all these said, I have to say I am in a moms group now that I absolutely love on meetup. I have met some of the most amazing women on meetup. One of my dear friends I meet on meetup and we’ve been friends for almost 4 years now. I think the bottom line is, if you’re going to jump into this world of meeting people online, you just need to go in with the right expectations.

The Photo Addict

We’ve moved!

Gen X Moms is movin’ on up to the East Side! We now have our own shiny domain and some fun stuff on the horizon. Please join us at www.GenXMomsBlog.com. See ya there!

A Party Favor Nightmare

I recently made a purchase from a place I’ve shopped before that has left me feeling angry and bitter.  And, once I tell you about it, I’m hoping you’ll be at least a little bit angry with me.

I’m guessing you’ve gotten catalogs in the mail from Oriental Trading Company, purveyors of inexpensive party favors and decorations.  There’s a good chance you’ve even ordered from them.  I know I have on multiple occasions.  The Big Cheese just turned 3, and we were having her party at Frogg’s Bounce House (in Fountain Valley, CA), which led to her wanting a frog theme for her party.  I immediately turned to Oriental Trading Company for favors, because, let’s face it, if it’s not a licensed character, it’s not at the party store.

I found these frog straw cups.

Aren’t they cute? 

 I love favors that can double as party decorations, so I ordered these cups right away.  They are $14.99 for 8 cups (plus S/H).  At less than $2 a piece, they seemed ideal.  The Big Cheese helped me open the big Oriental Trading box when it arrived and fell in love with these frog straw cups at first sight.  Then, I glanced at the invoice and saw a Proposition 65 warning.  “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.”  For those of you not familiar with Prop 65, it is a California state law that requires anyone doing business in California to notify consumers that the products they are selling expose the consumers to chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity.  This warning has to accompany the products that contain these chemicals when these products are sold in California.  In the case of my order, this Prop 65 warning was attached to these frog cups, these cute cups that I was going to use to serve beverages to toddlers and preschoolers, these cute cups that could cause serious harm to those very children.

I immediately called Oriental Trading’s Customer Service number to question what horrible toxin was in or on these cups.  Their customer service agent assured me that whatever the chemical in question, it was at federally acceptable levels.  She told me that I only received the warning because I live in California.  In other words, because I live in CA, I know that these cups are dangerous, but, if I lived in another state, I would have no idea that these Oriental Trading cups could harm my children.  I asked if it was lead paint.  The agent quickly assured me it was not lead – but then proceeded to tell me that she did not know what toxin it was.  Not feeling at all reassured, I told her I refused to serve drinks to young kids in these cups.  She told me I could either receive a merchandise credit or a cash refund for the price of the item.  The Oriental Trading agent then told me I could either recycle the cups or throw them out.  Also, the shipping costs I incurred could not be refunded.

Still seething by the fact that Oriental Trading would sell cups baring a Prop 65 warning to young kids, I decided I had to write a product review on http://www.orientaltrading.com.  Unfortunately, Oriental Trading censors their reviews.  I wrote a beautiful review discussing Proposition 65 and the language that came on the invoice.  I wrote that I felt these cups were inappropriate for children because of it.  I then received an email from Oriental Trading telling me that my review was not posted because it violated their terms of use.  I made multiple attempts, all containing 100% truthful information, and many were rejected, including this tame review entitled “Would not give to kids:  These cups came with a warning that they contain a chemical that could cause cancer or reproductive harm.  While the company assured me they meet all Federal guidelines, California law requires the warning.  I would not use these at my daughter’s party.”  I finally got Oriental Trading to accept a review of these cups, but it is so watered down, it’s almost worthless:  “Poor Quality:  Poor quality and not worth anywhere near the amount of money they cost.  Will not be using these at my daughter’s party.”  That’s right.  Until I eliminated all references to safety and Proposition 65, Oriental Trading refused to publish my review.  So much for honest reviews of their products on their own site.  At least now you know the truth.  Please feel free to pass on this review.