Sunday, December 20, 2015

When the item that didn't arrive finally arrives

A little more than six weeks before Christmas, A.L. ordered one of her grandchildren a present online. She was thrilled when she found the present after it appeared as a pop-up advertisement on a web page she had been browsing. She thought her grandson would love the gift.

So A.L. placed the order, putting in her credit card information, shipping address, email address, and everything else for which the online seller asked. Whoosh, off the order went.

A.L. was surprised that she didn't receive an email confirmation for her order. Typically, she noted that such confirmations included information on how to track the order to see when it might be delivered. But A.L. decided that the lack of a confirmation was a quirk and that she would simply have to wait until the order arrived, ideally well before Christmas so she'd have time to wrap it and give it to her grandson.

As the second week of December rolled around and no package had arrived, A.L. began to get nervous. Since she had no confirmation email, she searched online for the advertisement she had seen, but had no luck finding it. She checked her credit card billing information online and saw that on the date she'd placed her order, the name of a company she didn't recognize appeared, along with a phone number. A.L. called that number, which turned out to be a website hosting company, not the T-shirt company.

Concerned, A.L. called her credit card company, explained what had happened and that she was concerned that she had been the victim of some sort of online scam. The credit card company opened an investigation and credited her for the amount that had been charged.

A few days later, after searching around on the Internet, she found a different company that sold the same product she wanted to buy for her grandson. This time, she found a phone number on the site, called it and confirmed that the company seemed to be what it claimed to be. She placed her order online and received a confirmation email along with a tracking number.

That afternoon, the package from the first company arrived, containing exactly what she had just re-ordered from the second company.

She had already been given credit for that purchase and she really didn't need two of the same item, although it was the type of thing that her grandson might have multiples of. But returning the item would mean another run to the post office, a call to her credit card company. A.L. was confident no one would know if she simply kept each item.

What should she do?

Regardless of the hassle, the right thing is to either return the item or to keep both items and pay for each of them. While the first item took a while to arrive, it still arrived well before Christmas. The company had done nothing wrong other than failing to provide a confirmation email.

After confirming that the credit was given to her credit card, A.L. could either call to have that charge reinstated, or she could mail the item back to the company and keep the credit. If she really didn't want to go to the post office, she could have the charge reinstated, keep the item, and -- if the second item arrived -- give both of them to her grandson. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program atHarvard's KennedySchool. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



William Jacobson said...


It distresses me that your reader would consider anything other than meeting her obligations to be the "right thing" in this situation. When your reader ordered the present from the first vendor she entered into a binding contract and assumed a duty to pay that became due and owing when the product arrived. Her failure to pay after receiving the present is breach of contract and is definitely not right. Your reader's concerns of "not needing a second item", the hassle of a return and/or being able to get away with keeping the now stolen item are mere rationalizations to attempt to justify her wish to do the wrong thing.

Do the right thing and meet your obligations.
William Jacobson

Anonymous said...

This kind of thing can happen with mail order shopping. My last item was a fuel pump to ship in 3 to 5 days. It took twelve by FedEx. One has to be prepared. As to the tracking info, one has to consider that a bonus and the address/phone number also. A.L. should change to more traditional shopping procedures (cash and carry) or face the consequences.
Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma