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If you subscribe to updates from this blog through a reader (like Google Reader) or email, it’s possible that I may encounter some serious problems in getting those updates to you in the near future. Essentially, Google appears to be extremely meh about Feedburner (the service I use to get those updates to you) and may soon be shutting it down for good.

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Mistress Of Puppets (DIY Slogan Tee)

Every now and then I get it into my head that I am capable of doing crafts. While I do possess some of the qualities of a skilled artisan, such as attention to detail and a certain obsessive nature, I inconveniently lack the “art” aspect of the word. But because Pinterest and the various lifestyle blogs I read make it seem as if I, too, can construct my own chic fashion or home accessories from nothing more than sequins, Mod Podge and an upcycled flour sack, I occasionally indulge this delusion a little further than my level of craft artistry can really justify. (This also happens with food, which is why I rarely photograph our delectably-plated repasts of ragout a la leftovers avec priced-to-clear boeuf et fridge-withered cilantro, and when I do attempt to, it …doesn’t end well.)

But I had some time on my hands a while back and freezer paper stencil tees (there are plenty of tutorials online so I won’t do a step-by-step one – here’s a simple guide for anyone else who wants to give it a try) didn’t look like they could be too hard, so I decided it was about time to try dancing with delusion again. I had a plain black Uniqlo tee, white fabric paint, a craft knife, a Daiso cutting mat, a rather underused iron, and some spongy things I bought from Art Friend, so clearly I had everything it took to construct haute couture.

A little background on the slogan, for those rarely about to rock:

After my friend Matt introduced me to the joys of doing this song in karaoke, it’s become one of the staples of my karaoke repertoire. But since people always seem to find it hard to believe that a female might attempt Metallica at karaoke, I thought it would increase my metal cred to make my status clear on a T-shirt. You know, like those fat ugly guys you see wearing “Sex Instructor: First Lesson Free” T-shirts.

Freezer paper stencil

Read on to see if the finished result is more FAIL or FYEAH!

Paddy (2005 – 2013)

When Paddy first appeared in the driveway of my family home some time in 2005, he was so skinny and weak he could barely stay upright while eating. Although my mother had been the one who initially spotted him and started feeding him, over time he became my father’s cat. Soon, my ordinarily undemonstrative father would often be overheard cooing so loudly and embarrassingly over Paddo, Paddyboy, Boy Boy or whatever other variation he felt like on a given day that it would have been stomach-turning if I hadn’t been so endeared.

Dad and his Paddy

I don’t have many good photos of Paddy. The fight scars (which he thankfully stopped racking up once we got him neutered) meant he wasn’t much of a looker. But the more challenging problem was that every time I would stoop with my camera to try and get a photo at ground level, he would charge at me for snuggles. I only managed to get this shot by leaping to my feet and stretching my camera arm out, pointing the camera back down towards where Paddy was still intent on getting cat hair all over my orange pants.

RIP Paddy :(

On 2 July, 2013, my father came home from work to find his Paddyboy dead in the road. Paddy had always seemed fine as an outdoor cat, which is one of the reasons he had never been taken into the house, but unfortunately he must have been no match for one of the many drivers who see fit to tear along that road as if it’s a main road (even though it is in fact a small road very near a primary school).

Paddy had ruled his little slate-tiled kingdom with a benevolence that belied his physical ability to crush most of the other cats who wandered in and out. He loved lounging on the car roof, and we used to joke about the caving-in which seemed inevitable some day. These days when I visit my family home I imagine an invisible dent on that car roof, as if to pretend he is still with us.

Cat On A Cool Car Roof (RIP Paddy)

Taiwan: Houtong Cat Village

In my recent attempts to be slightly better at blogging about my travels, I’ve found that the impetus to do a post either arises from wanting to provide value to other travellers doing their research online, or wanting to share photographs I took while travelling which may not necessarily be useful snapshots of “what you will see at ___ sight” but that I’m reasonably happy with nonetheless.

This post is because cats.

A village of cats.

Houtong is a small village in Taiwan, an easy train ride away from Taipei. It’s part of a group of former coal-mining villages which have now reinvented themselves for tourism. As uninspiring as this may sound, the villages are surrounded by rolling hills and waterfalls, have done up their abandoned mining facilities quite educationally, and are handily connected by the little Pingxi railway line, which you can travel all day for the pittance of 54NTD (day pass).

Houtong’s done a pretty good job with its coal-mining sights, but evidently decided at some point that it would obliterate all possible notions of being nothing more than a bleak industrial wasteland by cultivating and cosseting its fuzziest residents.

Mural of cats in mining carsPlease slow down, cats crossingNo dogs allowed

When you get off the train, one side of the tracks leads you to the visitors’ centre, a nicely done little coal-mining museum and some rather evocative mining ruins, and the other side leads you to the residential streets. There are plenty of cats to be seen on either side, but just in case you’d like some guidance, here’s a totally useful map.

Here be cats

Wandering around, at almost every turn you come across feeding dishes, little cat shelters  and of course the cats themselves, who were mostly very lazy on a rainy afternoon and content to sit around looking cute and snoozy for photos.

Snoozing cats, background cat houses

Just in case it has managed to elude you so far that cats are an important part of this village, there’s also a giant cat statue.

Giant cat statue on roof

In hindsight, I realize I should have used a smaller aperture for this photo because the depth-of-field is too shallow to effectively make the point that this cat is a real-life version of the giant statue seen faintly in the background. I was probably too overwhelmed by ZOMGADORRRRBBBBSS!!! in the moment.

Houtong village cat

Here is the village logo, which combines references to Houtong’s name (侯硐 means “monkey cave” in English), its mining past and its delightful present. Alec, who does not share my enthusiasm for disturbingly oversized cats, did not share my enthusiasm for this logo either. Humph.

Houtong village logo

I set my umbrella down in order to better photograph this cat. Naturally, it then decided that it can haz umbrella.

Ur umbrella iz nao mai umbrella

Most cats I saw in the village were shorthairs, similar to the strays we have in Singapore, but I did come across this regal chap guarding a doorway.

Orange you going to pet me?

MOAR CATS.

She sits, and sits, and sits, and sitsOh haiMuseum guard

To get to Houtong:
Take an east-bound local train out of Taipei Main station or Songshan station to Ruifang (瑞芳). If you can read Chinese, look on the digital displays for trains heading to Yilan (宜蘭), Hualien (花蓮) or Taidong (台東), but if not it may be easier to ask for help. I believe you can buy tickets in advance for a variety of trains (express vs local etc.) with different journey times, but we just took the next available train and paid with our EasyCards by tapping-in as usual at the ticket gates.

At Ruifang, there is a ticket office on the platform where you can buy the Pingxi line day pass. (If you used the EasyCard to pay for your Taipei – Ruifang ride, you can tap-out with your card on the platform near the ticket office without having to exit the station.)

From here, the Pingxi line sequence is:
Ruifang – Houtong – Sandiaoling – Dahua – Shihfen – Wanggu – Lingjiao – Pingxi – Jingtong

I might write more about the rest of our Pingxi line explorations in a separate post, but just in case I don’t get round to doing that, make sure to check train times as you plan your own explorations, because the trains aren’t always regularly spaced out and you could end up waiting around longer than you’d wanted to at one stop because you’ve just missed one train and the next will be in more than an hour’s time.

Till next time, here is a hoodie I spotted on the train out of Houtong.

As we left Houtong

Hong Kong Photoset: Street Shots

I’ve been interested in street photography for quite a while now, and especially influenced by the ideas discussed – often with brutal honesty – in image critique threads at the Hardcore Street Photography forum. Although my other posts about the Hong Kong trip have been intended more as useful guidance for other people planning their own trips than as “photography” posts per se, this one is just a collection of street shots I took on that trip. I’m happiest with the 3rd and the 9th shots because I think they best capture the kind of style I’m trying to develop in my photography (as opposed to more obvious shots like the 5th or 7th), but I would love to know your views on the photos, especially if your preferences are quite different from my own.

Read on to load larger sizes within the blog.

Hong Kong Day 2: Sheung Wan Snapshots

The gaping maw of a sun-dried lizard. A hipster boutique window bust of Sun Yat Sen in a polka-dotted bow tie. A samfu-clad elderly gent sitting just inside the weathered shutters of his shop, reading the newspapers in soft evening light. It might just have been one of those times when the novelty of being on holiday somehow opens your eyes to the sort of things you’re blind to when you’re at home, but I really enjoyed the day we spent wandering around Sheung Wan.

Evening News

Tai Ping Shan Street twilight

(Yes, these are from the trip to Hong Kong we took, oh, nearly six months ago. No, I will never be as good at this travel blogging thing as The Everywhereist.)

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The Image, Deconstructed

Each week, The Image, Deconstructed features a striking photo (usually, though not always, of a photojournalistic nature) and discusses the creation of that photo with the photographer who took it. I find the discussions interesting not just for the glimpse they give me into the world of photojournalism, but also for the detailed descriptions of what goes into working the scene and the examples of the less successful photos which get taken along the way to the killer shot. I have to admit, there’s nothing I find quite so encouraging as the visual proof that even fantastic photographers take shitty photos.

Here are the “deconstructions” of a few images I found particularly striking:

  • Alex Boerner’s beautiful depiction of a 101-year-old former painter, now bedridden, among her paintings.
  • Rich Joseph-Facun’s impeccably-composed photo of pilgrims at the Ganges River.
  • James Chance’s work at Manila’s North Cemetery (home to a living community of 2000 people) yields more than 1 striking photo. Although the headline photo is certainly dramatic, I prefer the surreality of the photo just after that.
  • Paulo Siqueira’s capture of a tender moment shared through the veil between an Egyptian woman and her baby is sweet, and the story of how he obtained access to meet and photograph this very conservative Muslim woman is interesting as well.

The Sense Of A Beginning

They say writing is a muscle which needs to be exercised in order to get stronger, and although I’m in the best physical shape I’ve been in for a long time (yay!), my writing muscles feel like slabs of lard. But it’s been silent here too long, and as always, the thing that’s been holding me back from just sitting down and writing a goddamn post is that peculiar inertia of perfectionism which renders the idea of watching all the Grumpy Cat videos an infinitely preferable prospect to the awful possibility of writing something that sucks.

But if you will forgive me for just embracing the suck and getting on with things, I would like to tell you about Julian Barnes’ The Sense Of An Ending. This won the Booker Prize in 2011 and the Guardian review will give you a decent idea of whether it’s the type of novel you’re in the mood for, but I’d caution against expecting too much from it. There is a plot twist so infuriating that I cast the book aside the moment I finished it and stormed out of the room to see if the Internet’s disgruntlement matched my own. Alec (who had read the book just before me and was asleep in bed next to me as I read) later said that even in the mists of sleep, when he heard my angry huff and little stomps, he knew exactly why.

So you’re probably wondering whether, given that Grumpy Cat’s Worst Monday Ever will only take up a few minutes of your crowded life and fill you with immediate joy, this imperfect book is worth bothering with. It is. The writing is fantastic and gave me one of those “How have I spent all these years not reading this author?!” moments, which I haven’t had since discovering Graham Greene many years ago. Even just the first few pages will give you a taste of Barnes’ craft – his descriptions of the protagonist’s boarding school environment include a teacher “whose system of control depended on maintaining sufficient but not excessive boredom”, “a cautious know-nothing [schoolmate] who lacked the inventiveness of true ignorance” and this, which strikes me as an appropriate quote with which to end one year and start another:

We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock. Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.

Dancing: The Crack I Took 32 Years To Get Addicted To

I’ve been meaning to write about dancing, and the role it’s come to play in my life, for a long time. And although what’s triggered me to finally sit down and write the damn post is something as trivial (and potentially self-serving, as you will see when you read on) as a coupon deal for the dance studio where I spend a lot of my time, I promise you that my main motivation for this post goes way beyond referral credits.

* * *

I spent the first twenty years of my life immersed in music and words, but the intensity of my involvement in those artistic pursuits was oddly balanced out by an almost complete lack of involvement in the worlds of dancing and the visual arts. I never went for ballet or art classes, and never thought of myself as someone who could dance or who had any visual creativity at all. My identity (insofar as I might have defined it in terms of what I was good at) was firmly founded on thinking of myself as a pianist, violinist, writer and debater. Also a total champ at Tumblepop and a virtuoso on the monkeybars, but that’s not really relevant to the topic of this post.

20-year-old me would have been extremely surprised to discover 32-year-old me listing dancing and photography as the two hobbies she overwhelmingly spends her free time on.

“Are you actually good at either of these things?” Michelle v20 would wonder.

“Nowhere near how good you are at the things you spent the first twenty years of your life doing!” Michelle v32 would reply merrily. “But somehow that’s what makes dancing and photography even more fun!”

* * *

So, dancing. (I’ll save photography for another time.) You can skim my “dance”-tagged posts if you want, but the tl;dr summary is: I discovered the funfest that is lindy hop at 20, danced it sporadically for the next 7 years or so, got lazy after marriage and didn’t do any dancing for nearly 4 years, took up West Coast Swing (that’s just 3 examples of how versatile the dance is in terms of what music you can dance to – and no, none of those dances were choreographed, they’re just people having fun improvising) in 2011 and that ended up being the gateway drug to spending more time, money and effort on dancing in 1 year than I ever had before. Besides West Coast Swing, which I’ve focused most of my energy on, I’ve also dipped my toe into hip hop, dancehall, exotic dancing, general body movement, Brazilian zouk and very recently tango, and have hugely enjoyed my limited experiences with those too.

Like I said, I’m not particularly good at any of this. I would describe myself as having utterly average levels of physical coordination, although my musical background does at least mean that discernment of counts, bars and phrasing is more or less hardwired into my brain. (This does NOT necessarily translate into me always moving my body on time, or having the dance vocabulary to express the phrasing my brain understands, but I still hold on to little blessings like that when the going gets tough.) And I’ve often wondered why the hell I’m slaving at something I have no strong natural aptitude in, rather than something which might come more easily to me, like practising my turntablism or picking up jazz piano.

But here’s the weird thing – the less natural aptitude you have for something, the more satisfying it is when you actually see yourself improve at it! Let’s take spinning, my ongoing dance nemesis. Do you know how awesome it feels to realize you have gone from “worst freaking spinner in the class, such that the guys either have to not spin you much or just keep compensating for your graceless veering off-course” to “able to keep up with average spinning demands, such that the guys now frequently spin you multiple times and it doesn’t end in epic failure”? IT FEELS PRETTY DAMN AWESOME. *does little spin*

The other big source of awesome which dancing has added to my life is the particular physical pleasure of partner dancing, which I strongly believe you can’t even begin to understand unless you’ve given it a try yourself. I really struggle with describing this to someone who’s never experienced it, but it’s completely different from what it feels like to just go crazy by yourself on a club dancefloor. It’s about experiencing the physical sensation of momentum with someone else – like how kids hold hands and spin each other round and round, except with far more different ways to get that feeling of “WHEEEEEE!”

* * *

Where am I going with all this? It’s basically my explanation for why I’m about to recommend a currently available coupon deal to anyone in Singapore who – like me – has never really thought of themselves as being able to dance, to whom dancing may just seem like something “other people” do. There are, of course, plenty of dance coupon deals out there, and plenty more places to learn dancing if you don’t limit yourself to somewhere offering a deal. But this deal is for classes at Mosaic Dance Studio, where I spend lots of my time, and that’s why I know it’s a deal worth recommending.

For $20, you get to try out 2 weeks of unlimited dance and fitness classes. The instructors are great, and the community is very friendly (which, to me, is actually quite important in sustaining my interest in a dance – I drifted away from lindy hop partly because I didn’t have much fun within its community, although I still adore the dance). If, at the end of 2 weeks, you’re not really feeling this whole dance thing, you’ve lost $20 and some time. But there’s a very real possibility, I think, that you’ll be surprised by how much you’ve enjoyed it.

If you go through my referral link to sign up at the deal site before you purchase the deal, you get $5 credit at the deal site and I get $10 credit.

Alternatively, if for whatever reason you don’t want to try that deal, but you do decide to try classes at Mosaic Dance Studio at some point as a result of this post, I think I also get some sort of referral reward (if you tell them about this post when you first register with them) though I can’t quite remember what. If you do this, you should of course let me know so that I can say hi and let you laugh at my spins in real life.

I realize my mentioning any of this referral credit stuff may come across as a bit tacky, and if you think it is, then feel totally free to ignore it. But please don’t ignore the main suggestion I’m making – if there is ever space in your life to fall unexpectedly in love with a new hobby, give dancing a try, somewhere, somehow, sometime.

Zalora = Z-List Customer Service

A while back, I started seeing a lot of ads for an online store called Zalora. Its offer of free delivery in Singapore, free return shipping (with direct pickup from your requested address) and promise of a “world class customer service team” sounded quite appealing, so I thought of giving them a try.

As is my usual practice before using any new online business, I googled for reviews, but all I could find were trade articles and a few blogvertorials which obviously couldn’t be trusted. Although this was odd for an online store which had already been open for a few months in a shopping-mad country like Singapore, I figured I’d just give it a try. Short of it being an outright scam (and since I only buy cheap things online, I could afford to make one mistake of being scammed), the worst case scenario would be that if I needed to return an item, customer service would be bad. The flipside, of course, was that if it turned out to be a good and well-run business, I would be able to enjoy a clothes/shoes/accessories shopping experience akin to what people have in the US.

Unfortunately, the worst case scenario is the one that materialized – multiple times. By now, there are several other online accounts of poor customer service from Zalora, so at least a potential customer who does their research will now have some guidance as to whether this is an online business they want to use or not. This blog entry is intended to aid such efforts. I am not, by the way, telling anyone not to patronize Zalora – I am simply setting out my own experiences with them so that you can decide whether or not this is a level of customer service you can personally accept.

Incident #1: First They Lose My Shoes, Then They Lose My Refund

12 Jul: I order a pair of shoes. Website promises delivery within 48 hours.

13 Jul: Receive email confirmation that the item has been dispatched.

19 Jul: 1 week has passed with no delivery made or attempted. I email customer service.

22 Jul: Having received no reply, I email again.

24 Jul: Zalora replies saying my order was put on hold for delivery but they will check with Aramex (the courier they use) and get it delivered ASAP at my preferred timeslot. In the meantime, they give me the tracking number so that I can track it online.

26 Jul: I email Zalora that according to the online tracking system, the status of my item has remained exactly the same since 16 Jul. Zalora replies that they are still waiting to hear from Aramex and will keep me posted.

30 Jul: Zalora gets back to me. Aramex lost the package. They apologize and say they will do a full refund.

24 Sep: Refund hasn’t materialized. I email Zalora. Zalora replies saying they will check when the item was received in their warehouse before they process my refund accordingly. I am bemused as to why they are looking for an item their courier lost, and email them to make sure we are on the same page. Oddly enough, they reply saying the item has indeed been received in their warehouse and I will get the refund in 3-5 working days.

Oct 7: Still no refund. I email Zalora again. Zalora replies saying they have sent my request to the finance team and the refund will be processed within 5-7 working days.

So, let’s sum up Zalora’s various customer service FAILS here:

  • Ignoring my first customer support request for at least 3 days.
  • Confused service staff who don’t seem to understand the support thread they are handling. (All initial support request emails are assigned a ticket number and subsequent emails are part of a thread which their customer service personnel can check back through.) How can an item their courier lost now be in their warehouse? And why would its presence in their warehouse even be necessary before they can process the refund they already promised me 24 days ago??!
  • Utterly and completely dropping the ball on the refund. The refund I was promised on 30 Jul never arrived. The refund I was promised within 3-5 working days of 24 Sep never arrived. And now, on 7 Oct, they ask for yet another 5-7 working days to do the refund. One wonders whether there is electricity and running water in the Zalora office, or if they take the same attitude towards paying their bills.

STATUS: UNRESOLVED (UNTIL THE REFUND ACTUALLY MATERIALIZES), BUT POSSIBLY PROVING THE EXISTENCE OF A TWILIGHT ZONE OF LOST SHOES.

Incident #2: The Return Procedure From Hell

12 Jul: I order a pair of shoes (in a separate order from the order I made in Incident #1).

3 Aug: Having decided to return this pair of shoes, I submit a return request for pickup on 8 Aug. (They have since changed their return procedure to require you to drop the item at a post office, but at that time they were still offering direct pickup of the item to be returned from an address of your request.)

8 Aug: Although Zalora hasn’t responded to my return request at all, I wait at the specified place and timeslot. No one comes.

13 Aug: I email Zalora asking about the status of my return request, saying that the pickup date I requested has come and gone.

15 Aug: Having received no reply to my previous email, I send another.

17 Aug: I email a fresh support request since my previous ones have all been ignored (but also include the ticket number of my previous support request, where I stated the relevant order number and pickup address). Zalora replies asking for the order number and pickup address, and gives me 3 pickup slots to choose from.

18 Aug: I reply giving all the information requested (again) and choosing a timeslot. Zalora replies saying they have arranged the pickup for my requested timeslot of 21 August between 9 am – 1 pm.

21 Aug: *crickets*

22 Aug: I email Zalora that no one came to pick up the item. Although my email is polite, the last sentence is “This is getting very frustrating.”

23 Aug: With great sensitivity to customer service, Zalora replies as follows:

Dear Michelle,

I apologise for the missed pickup again.

 

We now have a SingPost dropoff at all SingPost post office.

Our return process has never been easier. It’s just a drop-off at the nearest post office at your convenient time for FREE.

Please note that the products must be in original condition, with all tags attached, and must be returned in the original undamaged box and/or packaging

Once your return is received and inspected by our fulfilment centres (usually within 3 – 5 working days of receipt), your refund will be processed and issued through your original method of payment within 7 days.

For orders placed with Cash on Delivery, please provide your name, bank name and account details so we that can refund you through bank transfer once we receive your item by clicking on the link below.

http://tinyurl.com/zalora-return

We will send you a shipping label along with 3 receipts for a FREE return. Please print all the copies and drop the items at any of the post office. Please refer to the link below to know the nearest post office.

http://www.singpost.com/our-network/post-offices.html?catid=36&id=45

Please feel free to contact us at 1800-925 6720 for any queries.

For any queries, please don’t hesitate to call our Zalora customer service at 1800 925-6720.

Regards,

Baocheng

Zalora Singapore Customer Service Officer

24 Aug: I reply as follows:

So basically, having wasted my time waiting for 2 missed pickups, and even more of my time trying to chase Zalora to respond to my support emails, Zalora is now asking me to just go to Singpost and do the return myself.

 

Your text below says I should receive a shipping label to use for the return shipping, yet you have not sent me any.

 

Honestly, this is ridiculously bad customer service from Zalora.

24 Aug: Zalora replies:

Hi Michelle,

The shipping labels will be sent to you within 3 days after the submission of the online return form.

For any queries, please don’t hesitate to call our Zalora customer service at 1800 925-6720.

Regards,

Baocheng

Zalora Singapore Customer Service Officer

30 Aug: I submit the damn online return form.

3 Sep: Having received no shipping label within the 3 days promised, I email Zalora again asking for a reply.

4 Sep: I receive the shipping label.

10 Sep: I return the item at SingPost. Zalora’s FAQ states: “Once your return is received and inspected by our fulfilment centres (usually within 3 – 5 working days of receipt), your refund will be processed and issued through your original method of payment within 7 days.”

30 Sep: No refund has been received. I email Zalora. Zalora replies saying they will look into it and get back to me within 24-48 hours.

7 Oct: Having received no reply long after the 24-48 hours has elapsed, I email again. (Since the original payment was made with Paypal, I of course check my Paypal account first to make sure no refund has been made yet.)

Where do we even begin in cataloguing the FAILS?

  • Ignoring my first pickup request.
  • Ignoring my followup request.
  • Ignoring my next followup request, requiring me to start a fresh support thread.
  • Asking for information I already gave in my previous support thread (which I linked to in my fresh support thread).
  • Failing at the pickup.
  • In response to what is now a customer with good cause to be frustrated, giving a throwaway apology and asking the customer to now follow a whole new return procedure which has “never been easier”. Let’s remember that they’d just asked me to submit yet another online form with all the same information I HAD ALREADY GIVEN THEM TWICE, and then drop an item off at the post office instead of my requested pickup address BECAUSE THEY HAD FAILED TO PICK IT UP TWICE.
  • In response to a customer who now clearly voices the reasons for their displeasure, Zalora proffers no further apology and coolly asks the customer to submit the online return form. You know, the one asking for information I already gave them twice.
  • Failing to issue shipping labels within the 3 day period promised.
  • Failing to issue a refund within the time period promised.
  • Failing to respond to my “where is my refund?” support request within the time period promised.

STATUS: UNRESOLVED, AND FUCKED UP IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE

Incident #3: Zalora Erases History And My New Name Is “LEGACY LEGACY”

15 Aug: I discover that all my previous orders (except my most recent one) have disappeared from the My Account section of the Zalora website. I email Zalora giving them the relevant order numbers which have disappeared. Zalora replies saying the orders I mentioned are all still in their system. They ask me to refresh the page or try again tomorrow.

17 Aug: I reply saying the problem is exactly the same.

*crickets*

11 Sep: I happen to discuss Zalora on Twitter.

Surprise surprise, Zalora suddenly emails me regarding this support request, asking if I’m still having the same problem! I reply saying the problem is exactly the same. I also give further information of something else I’ve noticed, which is that my most recent shipping confirmation email addresses me as “LEGACY LEGACY” (as in, “Dear LEGACY LEGACY, your order has been dispatched”) whereas previous shipping confirmation emails addressed me by my actual name.

12 Sep: Zalora replies saying they will look into it and need some time.

18 Sep: I email Zalora informing them that even my most recent order has now disappeared from their website.

24 Sep: I email Zalora asking for an update.

*crickets*

Now, you might think this isn’t a big deal because it’s just a technical glitch. But I think it’s worth telling people about because of the following 2 issues:

  • Remember the 2 other incidents I described before this one? Each of those related to orders which had completely disappeared on Zalora’s website, but pursuing each service issue has required me to refer extensively to my order details. Thankfully, Zalora’s email confirmations contain some of those details, and I’d kept them. Other details (such as method of payment, because I sometimes use Paypal and sometimes use a credit card) weren’t in the email confirmations, so I had to check Paypal and the credit card accounts I use in order to find out where I should be receiving all those refunds Zalora was failing to send me. So if you order from Zalora, make sure you keep your own records of your transaction history in case they decide you don’t exist any more once you start asking them to keep their promises.
  • If an online business can’t even keep proper track of the orders you’ve made, how happy are you to give it your credit card information?

STATUS: UNRESOLVED, ALTHOUGH I ADMIT “LEGACY LEGACY” IS A COOLER NAME THAN WHAT I AM ACTUALLY CALLED

So there you have it. Well, I left out a 4th incident involving yet another failure to issue a timely refund, but since they eventually did follow through after I’d nagged them about it, that’s the only one of the 4 service issues I’ve raised with them that is actually resolved. If you know people who are considering ordering from Zalora, I’d encourage you to share this post with them.

This message has been brought to you by “LEGACY LEGACY”.

UPDATE (15 Oct):

As usual, complaining publicly on the Internet and publicizing those complaints through social media gets you a response far faster than any number of polite private emails. Zalora has now resolved the first 2 of the issues I described above, and assures me it is working on the third. To that extent, I can give them some credit. However, read on to make up your own mind.

8 Oct

Late morning: This post starts getting views from Twitter and Facebook.

6.15 pm: Zalora’s official Twitter account tweets me asking for my email address so that they can urge their customer service to help.

6.45 pm: Jonah from Zalora calls me saying he wants to discuss the service quality issues I have been facing. I am not able to speak with him then and there, but we reschedule for the next morning.

9 Oct

11.00 am: Jonah calls me. He is pleasant and professional, and listens to my numerous criticisms without getting defensive.

Without making excuses for the poor service I have received in the past, he says they have since beefed up customer service. He invites me to try calling their customer service hotline and assures me I will get through to someone. For emails, he says I will get a reply within 24 hours. I point out to him that an email I sent on Sunday night has still not been replied to, so he says he will have to look into that.

He takes down my bank details to do the refund, offers me a voucher to make up for the inconvenience I have gone through, and says that I should loop him in on my future purchases from Zalora and he will personally ensure that they go smoothly.

However, something that confuses me is that he claims his call has nothing to do with my blog post – in fact, that he isn’t even aware of the blog post but will certainly seek it out to read it – but that I am one of a list of customers he has identified as having received unsatisfactory service (based on the email customer service records), and he is calling about 20 customers per day to speak with them firsthand on the issues they’ve faced. (I’ll write a bit more on this point at the end of this update.)

2.45 pm: Jonah emails me. It is a courteous email and satisfactorily follows up on the points we discussed.

7.30 pm: Jonah calls me asking for more details of the “LEGACY LEGACY” issue, which he says he is looking into with his IT team.

10 Oct

4.20 pm: I forward Jonah the “LEGACY LEGACY” shipping confirmation, as requested, and he replies almost immediately asking for one other detail he needs. He also checks that I have received the refund. (My bank records show it was made on 9 Oct.)

* * *

So, I think it’s fair to say that Zalora’s response once I complained on the Internet has been satisfactory – but there’s the rub. I am still not sure how it can be so coincidental that the only two times Zalora has ever made efforts to reach out to me regarding my customer service problems has been when I called them out publicly (see Incident #3 above for the previous time), and yet Jonah says his call was not in response to my blog post. I guess it’s possible Jonah has an ongoing to-call-list which someone else compiles for him, and that person gets a heads-up from the social media team about any particularly unhappy tweets/posts.

The question relevant to every Zalora customer facing a customer service issue is then: what is the best way to ensure you get an adequate customer service response, given Zalora’s poor record at this? It’s only fair for me to refer you to Jonah’s response above regarding the measures they’ve taken to improve their responsiveness, and I’d suggest you give them a 1 call/email opportunity to live up to the service levels that Jonah set out. But if their response to that 1 call/email is unsatisfactory, it’s hard to conclude from my experiences that continuing politely along their standard customer service procedures will get your problem resolved faster than calling them out on the Internet.

One last point – my remaining unresolved issue with Zalora is Issue #3, regarding my epic renaming and the disappearance of my order details. Jonah appears to be looking into it, and I’m okay with giving them a while to get to the bottom of it. However, it doesn’t help answer my previous concern regarding whether you can trust their IT systems to keep your credit card details secure, and I would suggest that if you are careful about stuff like this, consider using their other modes of payment instead.