Tuesday 14 July 2009

Caveat emptor versus caveat vendor

Oh dear, oh dear. I've had a bit of a tricky exchange of emails. I bought an item on *well known online auction company* and, too late, realised that the description was inaccurate - that is, it was a piece in two parts (might have been a cup and saucer but it wasn't) and that they didn't match. If that's so, the correct description is 'cup and a saucer' - the "a" separating them from being a pair.

Thing is, he'd bought it from a reputable - indeed, prestigious - auction house and had used their description. Since my bid was considerably less than he paid, my surmise was that he realised they didn't match and decided to sell on. Anyway, the toing and froing went on for some time and I wanted to discuss it reasonably - I felt a lot of sympathy for him in the matter and, as I pointed out, if he'd gone to the auctioneers at the time and said there was a mistake, his money would have been refunded. I told him who I was and that auctioneering is my business. Finally, he just said pay up and shut up, so I've spent 20 minutes on the phone to *well known online auction company's* helpline. On their advice, I've written to him cancelling the transaction and recommended that he contacts the helpline himself to confirm what's been said.

But I hate this sort of thing. I had an almost sleepless night - I got up after 2 wakeful hours, read until 4am, and was still awake half an hour after that. If only he'd accepted that I had a point - he hasn't denied it in so many words but avoids agreeing with it - I'd have done my best to reach a compromise, but he was quite forceful in his manner. Actually, the helpline chap recommended I phone the vendor, but I said I'd try emailing first. I hate conflict, more so as I get older, and I don't want an argument.

So, let the buyer beware that he's not buying a pig in a poke, but let the seller beware that he's described what he's selling accurately.

Anyway, the book I was reading in the night, as it happened to be on the cloakroom bookshelf, was Arthur Ransome's Peter Duck. It must be well over 40 years since I read it. Most enjoyable, for all that the plot's entirely fanciful. A ripping yarn you might say, and none the worse for that.


Dave said...

Of course if someone tries to sell a pig in a poke, they can be discovered by letting the cat out of the bag.

Presumably those two sayings are linked in some way, a poke being a small bag (origin or the word 'pocket' I believe). One assumes someone trying to pass off a moggy as a pig would keep the bag closed.

Rog said...

I think you're being far too reasonable. Ebay have cleaned up their act substantially over the last year or so, not least by making negative feedback the perogative of the buyer alone and promoting "secret" feedback which affects the seller's fees. They are gradually promoting a returns policy more in line with the distance selling legislation.

If you aren't happy with what you bought, regardless of description, you should just send it back recorded delivery. If he doesn't refund immediately, do a Paypal reversal.

If the item was clearly mis-described, he should not only credit you but also pay for the cost of return postage as well.

By being too reasonable and engaging in debate you are letting the seller string you along. Have no compunction to giving negative feedback anyway - it's the only way that unreasonable sellers are rooted out in a Darwinian fashion.

As Vicus would say, I hope this helps!

Z said...

I think you're exactly right, Dave and that's the origin of both expressions.

Thanks, Rog, that's very helpful. I started by simply asking if the two pieces matched and his reply was very defensive and he said he'd quoted the *prestigious London auction house* catalogue. I replied that he hadn't actually answered my question - but his not answering gave me my reply.

Auctioneering is my job, so I knew I was in the right. I tried to engage with him in the way I'd want someone to deal with me, courteously and reasonably, but his replies gave a strong impression he was trying to bully me. He has actually been a customer of our sales in the past, though I don't know him - it's all a bit difficult.

Thanks for the expert advice - I probably did give the impression I was gentler than I am (rock 'ard, me) and if I'd sounded tougher at the start he might not have tried to mess me about. His approval rating is 100% positive at present, so it's a pity he's let himself down. I was going to let that go, but you're right of course - I'll see what he says in his reply before I damn him entirely. He should have complained to the London auctioneer and this wouldn't have arisen - but not having done so, he should have described the piece correctly. I might still even have bid - though rather less money.

Sarah said...


Z said...

I'm awfully hard to argue with, Sarah. I'm tenacious and logical. The Sage used to be able to distract me with an irrelevant side issue, but I became wise to that years ago. If I don't care or it's a moot point, I don't argue.

sablonneuse said...

It certainly sounds as though you're going to stick at it until he refunds the money. Good for you!

Z said...

I didn't pay - it was just at the end of the sale that I realised the problem and I immediately queried it with him.

I've had an angry response today, he still wants me to pay up. He's saying that he didn't say the items matched in the description.

He's not got a leg to stand on and it's clear he was trying to deceive. I've advised him to phone eBay to have their advice to me confirmed and I've repeated that I've withdrawn from the sale. If he replies, I'm not answering and will ask eBay to contact him.

Blue Witch said...

Ah the joys of eBay and people with fewer morals and lower ethical standards than oneself. I avoid it at all costs, having had more negative than positive experiences, in the days when eBay weren't at all interested and if one left negative feedback, one got worse in return.

The expression, 'letting the cat out of the bag', has, according to a talk I attended recently, an alternative presumed seafaring origin - the cat o' nine tails was kept in a bag until needed to punish an errant seaman. The person giving the talk had a lot of evidence for his assertion (slides of historical documents with references etc) and at the time it seemed at least as convincing as the piglet/cat explanation usually preferred.

Z said...

Usually with L'toft china, people are pretty careful as if something is mis-described one can come back at them and complain. Weeza has bought a lot of Zerlina's clothes etc on eBay and has had no problems at all, nor have any of us until now. The man's a fool - he has contradicted himself and won't accept that his deceit hasn't paid off. Unfortunately, he'll bad-mouth us all over the place but that's life.

Did anyone ask the person giving the talk what the cat o' nine tails has to do with giving away a secret? Putting a cat in a bag and selling it as a pig, although a rather easily discovered trick, at least is one, whereas taking the cat out of the bag to whip someone seems to have nothing to do with the meaning of the expression.

Blue Witch said...

He did explain it, but I can't remember what he said as I wasn't feeling too well that night and I don't process information well in those circumstances.

If I ever want to complain to anyone I *never* do it by email, if I have a choice of modes of communication. Much more likely to get somewhere by talking to someone in person/by phone, or (if it's a major complaint) in a letter, I feel. Email is far too easily misconstrued (sometimes deliberately).

Z said...

I wanted to do it in writing, and also via eBay, so it was in their communication form. This was useful when I phoned their helpline as there was a record of everything that had been said.

I'll google the cat thing later.

Dave said...

My Google research reveals the two possible explanations, but:

Of the two explanations, the 'pig in a poke' derivation is the more plausible, although I can find no direct documentary evidence to link 'letting the cat out of the bag' to the selling of livestock. Versions of the phrase exist in both Dutch - 'Een kat in de zak kopen' and in German - 'Die Katze im Sack kaufen'. These both translate loosely as 'to buy a cat in a bag', i.e. to buy false goods.

The cat o' nine tails story is dubious at best. It is reported that the lashes were sometimes stored in bags, but the suggested nautical punishment origin fails at the critical point, in that it doesn't match the 'disclose a secret' meaning of the phrase.

heybartender said...

I love that this discussion has gone from a complaint about an eBay purchase to one about the origin of a phrase. Makes me feel like I am not alone in the Universe.

Z said...

Oh yes, and that aspect is far more entertaining too. I love digressions (although I return to focus with dully stern precision if it matters - not that it often does) and I love comments that range far from what I was talking about. I think comments make blogging.