Saturday, March 1, 2014

Caveat quia hortulanus (let the gardener beware)

It's been about six weeks now since I received my initial shipment of seeds from Fedco, which contained most, but not all, of those I had ordered. Three varieties—the Calypso pickling cucumbers, the New Zealand spinach, and the Klari Baby Cheese peppers—were on backorder. A note enclosed with the seed shipment assured us that this was nothing to worry about: "As is logical, your early orders will have the most back-orders (but the fewest out-of-stocks because you are first in line for all short items) as not all varieties have arrived yet." So I thought I could still be reasonably confident of getting the seeds I had ordered eventually. My chief concern was the Klari Baby Cheese peppers, a new variety I was particularly eager to try after seeing the rave reviews it had received for taste, yield, and ease of growing. The others were interesting enough to be worth trying, but I could easily do without them if need be.

You can probably guess where this is going. Today the rest of my seed shipment arrived, and there were the cucumbers, there was the New Zealand spinach, and there was a packet of pepper seeds—but instead of the Klari Baby Cheese, it was a generic "sweet pimiento pepper" that the folks at Fedco had evidently deemed the closest substitute. In a separate envelope, they'd enclosed two quarters and two dimes, a refund of the 70-cent difference in cost between the two varieties. So, apparently, I somehow managed to get my order in early enough for it to be back ordered, but still late enough for it to run out of stock before they were able to ship them to me. Takes talent to hit a window that small, eh?

What really frustrated me about this was that I distinctly remembered marking "no substitutions" on the order form when I first placed the order, specifically because I wanted to make sure that I got the Klari Baby Cheese peppers and not some other variety. But when I went back and checked my order acknowledgement from Fedco, I found that it said right at the top, "You WILL accept substitutions for the items you've ordered." So somehow, their website managed to translate my "no" as a "yes"—and because I didn't spot the error at the time, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it now. For a minute or two, I actually considered trying to buy the seeds from another supplier, but the best price I could find for them was $3 at a site I'd never heard of before called Backyard Diva—and the cost of shipping would be half again as much as the seeds themselves. Given our abysmal track record with pepper seedlings, there's really no way to justify shelling out $7.50 for a single packet of seeds that we might not actually manage to grow.

I was pissed off enough about this error—and about the cavalier way Fedco brushed it off without so much as a word of explanation—that my first impulse was to dump Fedco completely and find some other supplier for all our garden seeds. Mother Earth News has a list of 15 sites they recommend, and while most of them still wouldn't be able to sell us the Klari Baby Cheese seeds, at least they wouldn't pretend they could sell them to us and then pull a switcheroo at the last minute, when it's too late to go somewhere else. But as Brian pointed out, it's probably not worth getting so mad over this one screw-up that we dump a supplier that still has better prices and better selection than any other we're likely to find.

So I guess that instead, the takeaway from this experience is going to be "buyer beware"—particularly when dealing with seed orders. Next time I order from Fedco, I'll make sure to double, triple, and quadruple check the order confirmation to make absolutely sure there will be no substitutions—and if their site insists that "I WILL accept substitutions for the items I've ordered" when I've already said that I WON'T, I'll call them up immediately and insist on getting it changed, or else canceling the entire order. At that point, there will still be time to go to another supplier if I have to.
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