VistaPrint: Bait and Switch?

by Randy Cassingham                                                        Update: VistaPrint Responds

This isn't the usual, uninformed whine about VistaPrint -- that (sob!) they charge shipping and handling on their "free" stuff. No, they have to stay in business, I understand the game, and that's fine (and still a pretty good deal) -- it's how they stay in business.

No, this is something the FTC might find of interest.

I got a package from Amazon, and typically Amazon throws in several ad fliers. That's OK too: sometimes there's a good deal. In fact, this time a VistaPrint flier caught my eye.

"It's Better than BOGO" the headline screamed.

Better than "Buy One, Get One (free)"? Cool. I read on.

"BUY 250 Premium Business Cards at $1.99 and GET 250 More for FREE!" it continued, plus some other details.

Here's a scan of the actual flier:


They warn you right up front that "Shipping and processing not included" -- which is what I already know about VistaPrint. No problem; I take that into account when I figure on the bottom line for the service.

I know that the "Premium" business cards means that they don't put their ad on the back, and they're normally $20 for 250. Clearly $1.99 for 500 cards is a good deal. I had wanted to get some cards for my volunteer work to leave with people so they know who helped them, and I thought that would be a good way to get some nice cards.

The back of the flier clinched it for me, though:

"PLUS, Get a FREE Small Rubber Stamp!"

Cool: I've been wanting a "VOID" stamp to use occasionally on my Get Out of Hell Free cards -- it makes rather a statement, I think. Together, even if it cost $20 for "shipping and processing", for 500 cards and a free self-inking rubber stamp, it'd still be a pretty good deal.

So I went to the special URL indicated, and sure enough there was the deal:

Yep, that was the "right price" all right. I clicked "Get Started" and got started, and after some fiddling the card was just the way I wanted it. But when I got to the "checkout" at the end, I noticed something was wrong:

...the quantity shown was only 250, not 500. (I also noticed they charged me for uploading the logo. Sigh, the flier warned about shipping and handling not being included, but didn't say that uploading your own photo would cost extra. Sheesh. But I pressed on.) I changed it to quantity 500, and sure enough it was charging me $10.00, not $1.99:

I clicked the "Help" link on top, and quickly determined that I'd have to call them to get a correction to the shopping cart.

A live person answered pretty quickly. He had never heard of the flier, and went to the special URL to see the offer. Sure enough, just like for me, it was there for him, too.

Good: we can get this done quickly!

Yeah, right. I was on hold for quite some time until he finally came back. By then, the timer on my phone showed I had been hanging there for 25 minutes.

The problem, he said, was that I had uploaded a picture. That changed the deal, and therefore I couldn't get the second 250 free -- no BOGO for you, bub!

I offered to fax him the flier, which clearly showed that I could upload my own photo:

Oh. "Please hold."

Back to their crappy music while he talked to his "supervisor" again. After several minutes he wanted the "PC number" from the bottom of the flier. There was none, and the small-print terms and conditions certainly didn't say the offer is void if you upload your own photo. I again offered to fax him the flier.

There's no "PC number" on the bottom? Nope, and here's the "small print" that was there (and this is slightly larger than actual size!):

Oh. "Please hold."

Back to their crappy music while he talked to his "supervisor" again.

He came back with what he thought was some sort of concession: he'd give me the second 250 cards for "only $1.99".

Absolutely not, I replied: I am a customer today because of an ad they sent me, and I wanted what was promised in that ad: 500 cards for $1.99 plus shipping. Anything else is "bait and switch" I said, and makes liars out of VistaPrint, which fact I'd be happy to post online.

Oh. "Please hold."

Grumble. This is beginning to sound like a case for "Cranky Customer" I said to myself.

Finally, he comes back and offers me the 250 cards for free. About time, I thought, and said OK. He processed my payment and we were done. Total phone time: more than 45 minutes.

But it was not the happy ending I anticipated.

More than half an hour later, I got my e-mail receipt: 250 cards: no charge. My rubber stamp: no charge. The uploaded picture: $4.99 still (OK: shrug). Shipping: $14.74. Grand total: $19.73.

The guy was polite (and so, I should add, was I -- no screaming, no calling him names, but yes: I insisted that VistaPrint give me what they promised me in the ad that brought me to their site. Was that really too much to ask?!)

Wait a Second!

Hold on there: 250 cards? OK, I got my 250 free, but what about the 250 for $1.99?! They are no longer on my order. So I'm getting 250 cards for the $19.73 total (7.9 cents/each), not the 500 that presumably would have cost me $21.72 (4.3 cents/each).

So after burning up the better part of an hour on the phone, I still didn't get what the ad promised! And sure enough, that leaves me with one unescapable conclusion: the VistaPrint people are liars! Can this be anything but "bait and switch"?

They had their chance, and they blew it. I'm not getting on the phone again. They can find this online (just like I promised!) and contact me!

VistaPrint, you still owe me 250 cards. Let me know where you want me to Paypal you $1.99. And I want that hour of my life back, too. You most definitely have a Cranky Customer.


Randy Cassingham is the publisher of This is True, the curator of the popular joke site, Jumbo Joke, and is the founder of Cranky Customer.

20 October Update

I wasn't too surprised to hear directly from VistaPrint this morning:

I am sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience with VistaPrint and the order with Amazon. I want to assure you that that this was not a bait and switch, but rather a back end glitch that we are having fixed and we thank you for bringing the glitch to light. I can help you get the deal that you were looking for whenever you like, and have a number of ways that we can do this, but want to see what that is most convenient for you. I apologize for any inconvenience that this has caused you and want to help get you the deal that you were looking for.

Please let me know what you think.


Jeff Esposito
Associate Manager Public Relations

My response: while acknowledging the error in their "back end" is great, what about VistaPrint's customer service's failure to make good on the offer when the error on their end was clearly pointed out? Jeff very quickly replied:

On the agent's end, they were unaware of the glitch and I apologize for their stance. This is not typical procedure for our agents and I have brought the issue to the attention of supervisors at the call center. I appreciate you allowing me to rectify this situation and apologize for a number of my fellow employees that were not as cooperative as they should have been on your initial call.

My conclusion: Customer service is important, and it's vital that they get things right, especially when a customer is not getting what was promised by company advertising.

I'm not at all surprised that the "agent" wasn't aware of the glitch; that's not the point. Rather, it's after a customer made him aware of the glitch, he should have made sure that he filled the order correctly, according to the promise of the advertisement. That he couldn't or wouldn't is the real issue here. That he had me on hold so long to pass the whole thing by a supervisor makes it even worse: if the agent failed in his duty to do it right, the supervisor certainly should have done it right. Yet even that backstop failed, so a company exec had to step in and do it right. And he did, with appropriate apologies.

The bottom line: That it had to go that far is a failure when there were two steps along the way where this could have been fixed without VistaPrint suffering from the bad publicity. That's what I mean when I say that customer service is important; for the company involved, it truly does matter, whether it's a little thing like filling an order for business cards, or a big thing like supporting a computer. When they don't pay attention, they suffer the wrath from Cranky Customers everywhere.

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Vista Print can be used if used right. Currently they offer 500 cards for $10 INCLUDING shipping. However it costs extra for 'glossy' or uploading a photo to your card. I plan to buy 5000 cards double sided in color and glossy for about $65! Make sure you get on their mailing list, they have offers all the time...once in a while a good one comes along.

What is it about companies that offer a "customer service" number, but staff it with people unempowered to provide customer service? And would anyone put up with a physical customer service counter in which the customer was left standing for 25 minutes while the rep carried on a conversation with his manager, with no acknowledgment to the customer during that time?

Has anyone ever bought a car at a dealership in which every detail of the negotiations (haggling) had to be approved by the "manager"? In that situation, I'd finally ask to negotiate directly with the manager since the salesman, apparently, had no authority. For some reason, that's never possible; at which point I cut off negotiation and leave. And the dealership accuses me of "wasting" THEIR time.

I'm reminded of a line in Mike Nesmith's spoof, "Elephant Parts", in which a company spokesman says, "America, we're not hoping that you're stupid. We're COUNTING on it!" Dealerships or customer service, they're not hoping that the customer will capitulate; they're COUNTING on it.

Interesting article. Do you think VistaPrint would have responded the same way to the average "Joe & Jane" not having the forum you do? They showed their true colors with their agent's response as the agent represents and is trained by them. To show true customer relations, maybe they should go through a spot check to see how many others were duped and see if more than one agent is doing the same thing.


Others do have forums too. Even gripes posted on lowly Twitter accounts have been known to get results. -rc

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