TORONTO (Dec. 8) — This is not a blanket indictment of the shopping wing on the National Hockey League’s official website — NHL.com (http://atnhl.com/2h6SN1T). For all I know, I could be the only person to have had a calamitous ordeal while attempting a routine purchase. Rather, it’s a warning to be circumspect when choosing the NHL’s service… and, sadly, a reminder that incompetence is generally widespread.
My son, Shane, turned 20 years of age on Tuesday (Dec. 6). While growing up, his father covered the Toronto Maple Leafs — home and away — as a reporter at Canada’s first all–sports radio station, The FAN–590. As a result, Shane has forever been an impassioned follower of the Blue and White (bless the poor kid’s heart).
Birthday presents have therefore been a cinch.
When he was three years old, I bought Shane a blue Mats Sundin jersey with the 2000 NHL All–Star Game patch (the game was played at Air Canada Centre). When he turned 10, in 2006, he was presented a blue replica of his all–time favorite Leaf — Darcy Tucker — and an extraordinarily gracious telephone call from No. 16, in Boston, the night before a Leafs–Bruins game. My son’s 13th birthday (Dec. 6, 2009) arrived with a Phil Kessel No. 81 “alternate” jersey (replica of the white Maple Leafs road uniform from 1964 to 1967). No. 20, this week, would naturally provide Shane a version of the Leafs design unveiled for this Centennial season… with the number and name of either Mitch Marner or Auston Matthews (I chose the former).
The mess about which you are now going to read is partly my fault, for I strayed from my normal routine and got sucked in by a “$40 off” coupon emailed to me from NHL.com. “Such wonderful timing,” said I to myself. It was Nov. 19 — 17 full days before Shane’s birthday. I logged onto the league’s shopping site and summoned the appropriate item, which was “in stock” and guaranteed to ship “within three business days”. Even with the American Thanksgiving holiday consuming one or two–such days, this was a no–brainer.
Simplifying the process, or so I thought, was the choice between clicking on a Canadian or American flag–icon. Which made perfect sense, given the NHL has teams on both sides of the 49th parallel… and, particularly, with regard to the wide discrepancy between the U.S. and Canadian dollar. Of course I would order the jersey in Canadian funds. The item retailed for $199.99 and I applied the $40 coupon. As you can see, below, from the receipt I printed upon completion of the order, I was charged a “standard Canada” shipping fee and Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), which doesn’t exist in the United States. The total came to $195.42 — a fairly good deal considering the same jersey retails for $204.99, prior to tax, here in Canada.
On Nov. 22 — three days later — I logged in to view my VISA credit card balance and was startled. The charge from NHL.com for the Mitch Marner Leafs jersey appeared as such:
|Nov. 19, 2016||Nov. 21, 2016||
FRG*SHOP.NHL.COM 800-618-3211, FL 195.42 USD @ 1.390696
Yes, as promised, I was docked $195.42 — but, as you’ll notice, in American funds for a total of $271.77 Canadian dollars. Which, obviously, precipitated a prompt telephone call to the NHL’s on–line store. After pressing “1” for this, “2” for that and “3” for something else, a young lady materialized and asked me to confirm my name, telephone number and email address. “Yes, Mr. Howard, how can I help you?”
“Well, I’d like to know why I’ve been charged in U.S. dollars for an item I ordered on your Canadian website; for which there’s a shipping fee within my country and a sales tax that doesn’t exist in the United States?”
I might as well have asked for the Pythagorean theorem.
After a deathly pause, and without a smidgen of explanation, the woman launched into a prepared statement from which she was likely reading: “I’m so sorry for the misunderstanding, Mr. Howard,” she replied, sweetly and patronizingly. “Because of this, I’m prepared to offer you a [certain percentage] credit on your next NHL.com purchase. Is that all I can do for you today?”
“You haven’t answered my question,” I flatly responded. “Why have I been charged in U.S. dollars?”
“I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Howard,” came the second reply.
After which I interrupted and requested to speak with a supervisor or superior. “Again, I’m so sorry for the misunderstanding, Mr. Howard. Would you like me to put the [percentage] credit on your file?”
“Ma’m, what’s your name please?” I asked (I’ll call her Karen).
“Karen,” I said, barely containing myself, “please listen to me and try not to take this personally. I do not want another apology from you. Nor do I wish to hear your voice any further. The next voice I expect to hear is that of a supervisor. Someone for whom you work. Is that clear?”
This time there was no reply. Just a “click”… and Muzak. More than 15 godforsaken minutes of Muzak.
At some point, I fully expected to hear another click… and a dial–tone. Instead, and thankfully, a pleasant–sounding man picked up the phone. “Hello, Mr. Howard, my name is John. How can I help you today?”
“Hi John. Just for our understanding, my first name is Howard and my last name is Berger. You can call me ‘Howard’ or ‘Mr. Berger’ but I’m not ‘Mr. Howard’ any more than you’re ‘Mr. John.'”
“Oh, sorry about that, Mr. Berger. What can I do for you?”
“Well, John, before I start in… how much of my issue are you aware of?”
“I understand there’s a problem with you being charged in American dollars. But, you must understand that all of our items are processed in U.S. dollars. And, I trust you also saw the condition that custom jersey orders [with name and numbers] cannot be refunded or exchanged.”
“Yes, John, I’m aware of that condition. And, if you say that all orders are charged in American dollars, I believe you. My only question is this: As I went through the ordering process — and after clicking on the Canadian flag–icon — all I saw come up were numbers. At no point was there a ‘CAD’ or ‘USD’ next to the numbers. I was charged a shipping fee within Canada and Harmonized Sales Tax, which only exists in Canada. How, therefore, could I have possibly known that the order was being processed in American funds? In fact, John, how would anyone in my position be aware of that?”
“Hmmm… I don’t really have an answer, Mr. Berger,” John replied, with full honesty.
“Whether it be me, you or another person,” I said, “you have to know that a customer in Canada simply would not continue with the ordering process if advised it was in U.S. dollars. Even with the ‘$40 off’ coupon, John, the exchange rate doesn’t justify making the purchase. Had I known, I would have stopped the order and bought my son a jersey at a store here in Toronto. Just as you would have, in my position.”
Under the circumstances, I could have argued for a full refund and cancellation. But, it’s true: I did post the order with the understanding it was “custom” and therefore “final”. I just couldn’t rationalize the American–dollar component. “I wish there was something I could do, Mr. Berger, because you make a good argument.
“But, I cannot refund or cancel a custom–jersey order.”
“Well, how about this, John?” I replied. “In the end, we’re talking here about a difference of roughly forty Canadian dollars. If I were to buy a jersey retail here in Canada [at $204.99], the total would come to around $235. You charged me nearly $272 with the exchange–rate. Why not post an extra $25 U.S. to the [percentage] credit on my next order? I think that’s fair.”
“I think it’s fair as well, Mr. Berger,” he responded, sounding quite relieved.
“I’ll look after that right away and send you an email confirming the additional credit.”
“Okay, John. Thanks for your time. And, I appreciate your honesty.”
With that, the issue was closed. Or, again… so I thought.
Fast–forward now to Nov. 29. One week after my telephone exchange with “Karen” and John of NHL.com and one week before Shane’s 20th birthday. I live in a high–rise apartment building with a Concierge service in the lobby. Packages are accepted by the desk and a cardboard–notice from the Concierge is subsequently delivered to my 14th–floor unit. Having ordered the Leafs jersey for my son ten days earlier, I began to wonder (though not grip over) why it hadn’t yet arrived. I phoned the Concierge desk and was told there were no packages in my name. Recalling that NHL.com had a “track your order” service, I went on–line to check. When it came up as NEW, I got very concerned. At the very least, I expected to see SHIPPED.
So, it was back to the telephone.
After pressing “1” for this; “2” for that and “3” for something else, a young lady that sounded frightfully similar to “Karen” answered. Again, I was asked to verify my name, telephone number and email address.
“Are you the person I spoke to last week about my order being processed in U.S. funds?” I wondered.
“I’m not too sure,” she replied, “but, how can help you today, Mr. Howard?”
There was my answer. And, I felt a shiver go up my spine.
“I’d like to know why my order is still coming up as NEW when I posted it ten days ago and was told it would ship in three business days? It’s a gift for my son’s 20th birthday on Dec. 6. One week from right now.”
After a lengthy pause, during which I heard the constant tapping of a keyboard, the ubiquitous “Karen” said, “Mr. Howard, thank you for your patience. I’d like to put you on hold while I check into this.”
Muzak. Same as the previous week. For nearly 15 minutes.
“Mr. Howard,” Karen finally responded, “the information I have is that your order will ship Dec. 5.”
“Oh, yeah?” I replied. “Since when is Dec. 5 three business days after Nov. 19?”
Then… and without word of a lie: “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Howard. I would like to offer you a [percentage] credit on your next NHL.com order.”
In as measured a voice as I could possibly summon, I said, “Karen… remember last week when I told you I never wanted to hear your voice again? Same applies right now. Get me — as quickly as you can — a supervisor. Do not come back on the phone for any reason. Just find someone above you.”
Yet another 10–to–15 minutes of Muzak filled my ear before a man named Shawn picked up the line.
“Hi, Mr. Berger. I understand you’re having some difficulty. How can I help you today?”
“Do you have my order in front of you, Shawn?” I asked.
“No, I don’t,” he replied. “Can I get your order number?”
“Sure. Here it is… And, please tell me what’s in the status–bar when it comes up.”
“Okkkayyyy… let’s see. Oh, it says NEW. That’s odd. And, you placed the order Nov. 19, correct?”
“Yes I did. With the guarantee of it shipping in three business days. The lady I spoke to today said the jersey will be sent out Dec. 5. That’s not acceptable. My son’s 20th birthday is the next day, Dec. 6.”
“Wow. I’m so sorry, Mr. Berger. I have no idea why this hasn’t yet been processed.”
For the second time, I was getting pure honesty from a supervisor at NHL.com. Which, again, I appreciated.
“Lookit, Shawn, if this was my kid’s 17th or 18th birthday, I’d say don’t worry about it. Whenever it gets here, I’ll give it to him. But, this is his 20th. It’s a biggie. I want him to have the jersey by then. I think that’s reasonable. Given the circumstances — and even though I understand that custom orders are final — I feel this item should be canceled and fully refunded to my credit card. Don’t you agree?”
How else could the man reply after admitting negligence at his end?
“Yes, Mr. Berger,” Shawn said, “I think you’re entitled to a refund. Again, I’m sorry this has happened. Let me put you on hold for a few moments and get the cancellation process underway.”
“Okay, Shawn, no problem. Thank you very much.”
On two occasions during this latest pause, Karen came back to apologize for the delay, saying her supervisor was “working on” the credit card refund. When she picked up the line for a third time — nearly half–an–hour after I’d spoken to Shawn — I said, “Why is this process taking so long? Surely, you guys have dealt with a cancellation in the past.”
Her response floored me.
“Mr. Howard, your item has shipped. It’s [at a post office] in New York. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience. But, I’d like to again offer you a [percentage] discount on your next NHL.com order.”
I can honestly say this was the first time in my nearly 58 years that I felt homicidal. If I’d somehow been able to go through the telephone, I would have been charged with Murder 1. No question.
Now, I was yelling.
“Karen, what is the matter with you? Thirty minutes ago, your supervisor, Shawn, said he was putting me on hold to process a refund. Twice, in the interim, you came on the line to confirm he was working on the refund. Now you’re telling me the order was shipped and is in New York? GET ME SHAWN!!”
While listening to that friggin’ Muzak for another 20 minutes, I went back to order–tracking and clicked the “refresh” button. Still, it said NEW. A second click, however, generated a SHIPPED message while indicating my package was at a postal station in Cheektowaga, New York — a suburb of Buffalo.
You have to know that I couldn’t make up this story if I tried.
Steven Spielberg couldn’t make up this story.
Roughly 15 minutes later, a woman identifying herself as “Consuela” picked up the line. And, she was full of piss–and–vinegar. “Mr. Berger,” she said, “as a one–time convenience, I’ve decided to refund your order. But, you must understand, this is a special circumstance. And, we…”
“HOLD IT!”, I interrupted. “Just hold it! What right do you have to come on the line and make me feel like the bad guy? You know what I would have liked as a ‘one–time convenience’, Consuela? For your people to have processed my order competently and within the proper time frame. In the past 40 minutes, I’ve been given three entirely–different stories. First, that my package will be sent out Dec. 5. Then, from a supervisor, that it hasn’t been processed and I’m entitled to a refund. And, finally, that it’s been shipped and is in Cheektowaga, New York. Please put yourself in my position for a moment. Would you not be totally confused?”
“When you receive the package, Mr. Berger, you have 15 days to return it. Otherwise, your credit card will be re–charged. Here’s where you send it…”
Again, I was in utter disbelief.
I expected an address in Beijing… Hong Kong… Seoul, South Korea. Or, at the very least, somewhere in the United States. Instead, she tells me about an office–unit in Burlington, Ontario, where the NHL.com holding company FANATICS is apparently located. “Burlington, Ontario!!” I responded, incredulously. “Are you serious, Consuela? That’s like 35 minutes from the front door of my apartment. When the package arrives, I’ll put it in my car and hand–deliver the darned thing. Is there a telephone number for that office–unit?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Just mail it back. I’ve also refunded your shipping fee.”
Finally, nearly an hour after making the call, I hung up the phone. Exhausted.
Then, I did what I should have done from the start. I called Real Sports Apparel — the official store of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre. The people there had always been wonderful to me. A young woman answered and listened to a Coles Notes version of my NHL.com horror story. “Oh my goodness!” she laughed. “That’s incredible. Come on in here. You can walk out with a Mitch Marner jersey for your son.
“We have all sizes — in both blue and white.”
This was manna from heaven.
I went to the ACC and bought Shane a blue Marner jersey. The manager on duty was nice enough to provide the media discount I’d been granted in the past. With taxes, the total came to $162.15 CAD. Much better than the $271.77 refunded to my VISA card by NHL.com. I happily drove to Guelph, Ont. (where Shane attends university) on Tuesday night of this week and gave my son his 20th birthday present. I then regaled he and his girlfriend, Brooke, with precisely how the gift came about while enjoying a great Italian dinner.
As a postscript, Shane’s NHL.com jersey finally made it to my apartment Concierge the following afternoon (Dec. 7). Eighteen days after I placed the order on–line. Eight days after it was apparently just across the border, in Buffalo. Furthering the mystery, it arrived in a bag not from Cheektowaga, New York… or anywhere in the United States. Otherwise, a Canadian Customs form would have been attached, describing the contents. Instead, it came from the FANATICS holding unit in Burlington, Ont. — with the return–address (as seen below) that Consuela had provided me.
So, an item processed and delivered from 35 miles away — within Canada — was charged to me in American funds and required nearly three weeks to arrive in midtown Toronto. Go figure.
And, we learn.