A shedload of (in)sanitaryware – a tale of customer quality control.

The point of this rant is that buying online often results in extended and complicated contractual relationships which make service difficult to achieve when things go wrong.  It clearly also exposes the weakness in quality control when the person you order from is just a mouthpiece for the actual makers, and has no resource to check the quality of product except through customer feedback.

We’ve been developing our small garden for a while and have reached the point where we really need a shed to store ready-for-use tools and so on.  I’m more than happy to put one together from a ‘kit’, so we trawled the net for something suitable and found one offered by a firm called ‘Greenfingers’.  Greenfingers is a portmanteau company, mostly marketing products made by others, so our chosen shed was really made by another company – Mercia Garden Products, based in Nottinghamshire.  Greenfingers seem to be in Scotland, or so I discovered once I had to deal with their customer service team.  The shed arrived, late, and the kit parts were not constructed from the material described in the brochure, nor were they properly put together.  I complained and, to their credit, Greenfingers promptly refunded us by cheque.  However, getting the unwanted shed removed has been a real hassle.  Because it is not Greenfingers who made and delivered it, Mercia have to take it back.  Mercia agreed to come on Saturday last but, as is the way of these deliveries, declined to say what time.  Conserquently we waited in all day for someone who didn’t come.  Later, in conversation with Greenfingers (with whom we had contracted), I discovered that Mercia’s carriers claimed they couldn’t find the address: odd, given they had delivered it in the first instance.

We also have been embarked on a major upgrade of our bathroom and cloakroom.  Being an expert customer I ordered everything we needed online from a well know national supplier of sanitaryware and fittings.  There have been repeated instances of manufacturing defects: poor ceramic finishes, casting errors, chrome finish failures.  The suppliers have a well oiled customer services team, so getting replacements (even multiple replacements when the replacements themselves proved faulty) has been a fairly straighforward process.  However it has not been a straightforward project: the goods were ordered 6 weeks before work was due to start but the delays caused by having to replace items has caused the programme to go off the rails and resulted in additional cost due to out of sequence, uneconomic, working by the plumber.  It has caused other trades, like electrician and carpenter, to be reprogrammed too.  Yesterday we bit the bullet and asked for a refund on one item to enable a replacement to be bought locally.  Meanwhile the ceramic tiling has also gone wrong.  Tiles bought through a local firm were different from the samples we used to select from.  These tiles are a special order item so, although replacement was easily agreed, another delay resulted.  The tile company sent the wrong number of extra tiles, and they gave us a box of completely wrong tiles occasioning more delay.  Since completion of the work we have replaced the shower screen seal with one sourced separately, from a specialist, because the item ‘bundled’ with the screen didn’t work properly.

This last demonstrates that even if you visit, and buy from, a local specialist shop, and have a relationship with that shop, there is no guarantee that the product will be as you expect.  The amount of time, and transport resources, that must be being wasted across our consumer economy is scary: huge trucks travelling the length of the country (or in the case of some of these products, across Europe) carting defective, and then replacement, produce.  When I worked on a major construction project, in my former career, I travelled to the manufacturers to carry out my own quality control.  Big businesses, with multi-million pound turnovers, who market product they don’t actually make, ought to do the same.  In the end it isn’t good enough customer service to just offer replacement.  When you leave the customer to be the quality inspector of the goods, often at the end of an extended or fractured supply chain, you leave your business (and I would argue the environment) exposed to disaster, and the customer with a shedload of hassle.