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Trust Matters: Why We Passed on a “Free” Water Bottle

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Gather ’round readers and I shall tell you a tale. It’s a tale of anger, guilt, redemption, trust and… sippy-cups. It’s kind of a long story, but if you stick with it, I think it will make you feel pretty good.

It started a few months ago when Dannie purchased a Thinkster drinking cup from Thinkbaby. Lisa’s bottles were all made of glass since we’d tried to avoid BPA, but Lisa was getting to the age where she wanted to hold her own drink yet lacked the judgment not to hurl it onto the sidewalk. Thinkbaby has a line of durable, BPA-free, plastic bottles which reviews told us were pretty much leak proof. Lisa took to her new bottle almost immediately when it arrived at our doorstep. She had no trouble learning to drink from the rubbery straw, and she loved holding on to the plastic handles. And sure enough, it didn’t leak at all… until it started leaking a lot.

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Dannie and I order stuff from Amazon a lot, and we return stuff a lot. If something really disappoints us (we’re looking at you, micro USB cord) we even push our luck sometimes and try to return it well past the supposed return period. Amazon is so keen to appear risk-free to buyers that they usually issue a refund anyway. When we couldn’t get the bottle to stop leaking we didn’t hesitate to request a return slip. Amazon issued us a refund, and told us there was no need to return the bottle, presumably since they couldn’t resell it and didn’t want to pay the shipping fee. A few days later, the unexpected happened.

The Thinkbaby stopped leaking as suddenly as it had started. I’m not sure if I’d been screwing it shut improperly or what (almost definitely), but I felt a little embarrassed. Ever the skeptic, I tried to reproduce the problem without success. I showed it to Dannie and she couldn’t figure it out either. There we were, two responsible parents shaking a little orange bottle around, actually trying to make it leak all over our daughter as she looked on, learning how adults behave. Eventually, I gave up and handed the bottle to Lisa who was more than happy to give it a shake as well before sipping away happily.

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A few days later, Dannie saw that the Amazon refund had appeared in our account.

“Are we still going to replace that Thinkbaby bottle?” she asked.

Stingy Daddy said “No.”

“Then we’re going to keep using it?”

“As long as it keeps working, I don’t see why not.” This wasn’t rocket science.

“Then shouldn’t we return the money?” she said.

I hadn’t thought of it, but she had a point. The no-return-refund had taken place on the assumption that the bottle wasn’t usable. But it was usable. We were using it a lot and we were happy with it. Yet we essentially hadn’t paid for it. Had we stollen the bottle? Not exactly. We had acted in good faith when we requested the refund, and had intended to ship it back to them. But they didn’t want it back, and if the bottle worked it made no sense to throw it away or buy a new one.

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The bottle was hardly one of our most expensive baby purchases, so why did we feel so much guilt about it? I think it’s because we all want someone to trust, and we all want to be trusted ourselves. Amazon put a lot of trust in us, not because it knows us, but because it wants to have a near perfect refund policy. And we love that policy and use it all the time. Not only did we want them to continue issuing refunds, we felt awful thinking we might not be worthy of the trust we were enjoying. Also, we really liked the Thinkbaby bottle and we felt bad sending a message to them (albeit very indirectly) that said otherwise. So I quickly agreed with Dannie that we should re-refund the money.

And then I forgot about it for about three months, ’cause you know, baby stuff.

Luckily Dannie remembered, and she reminded me. It was while we were planning one of our upcoming trips (Paris and Hamburg in October, and a year long European adventure in 2017). It was becoming increasingly obvious that we were going to be putting a lot of trust in strangers to keep us and little Lisa safe as we traveled the world, and I think it jogged her memory. With a little nudge I got to work figuring out what could be done. What followed was a series of conversations that made me like two companies even more than I already did.

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I contacted Thinkbaby first, told them our conundrum and how I wanted to give them back the money they had refunded. Here’s how they replied:

Jacob,

We had to read your email twice. That is quite amazing of you. We actually don’t sell directly on Amazon. So it’s actually Amazon directly that may have taken the loss. We appreciate your honesty. Thanks for being one of our “thinkers”.

Warmest,

Thinkbaby

I was flattered that they thought I was amazing, but I kept myself grounded by reminding myself that we still had a sippy-cup we never paid for. It was nice of them not to make fun of me for not knowing who we’d bought the bottle from. So I went over to Amazon, and after some searching, figured out how to chat with one of their return specialists. Here’s the transcript of our conversation: (I was posing as Dannie since the account is in her name and I didn’t feel like explaining. It was her idea to return the money in the first place so I don’t think she’ll mind.)

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Initial Question: You gave us a refund for our sippy cup and told us to keep it. It stopped leaking and now we use it and feel guilty. Can we re-refund the money?

12:02 PM PDT Arul(Amazon): Hello Dannie, my name is Arul. I’m here to help you today. How are you doing today?
12:03 PM PDT Dannie Gao: good.
12:03 PM PDT Arul: Thank you for being a Prime member.
12:03 PM PDT Dannie Gao: Absolutely
12:04 PM PDT Arul: Thank you so much for letting us know about this.
I’ll be sure to help you with this.
12:05 PM PDT Arul: Are you referring to:
Thinkbaby Thinkster Straw Bottle, 9 Ounce, Natural/Orange ?
12:05 PM PDT Dannie Gao: That’s the one!
12:06 PM PDT Arul: Thanks for confirming.
Just to confirm, would you like us to charge back the refund for the item?
12:07 PM PDT Dannie Gao: Yes, please.
12:07 PM PDT Arul: Sure.
I’ll forward this to our billing team and our team will charge back your card for the item within 24 hours.
12:08 PM PDT Dannie Gao: Thanks, Arul. Now we can sleep at night 😉
12:08 PM PDT Arul: You’re most welcome, Dannie 🙂
Is there anything else I can assist you with today?
12:08 PM PDT Dannie Gao: Nope, that’s all. Have a good afternoon.
12:09 PM PDT Arul: Thank you for contacting Amazon. Please click on the “End Chat” to close this window.
Take care!
Bye!
Have a great day!
Satisfied that justice had been served, I responded to Thinkbaby’s email to tell them that they were right about Amazon taking the loss and letting them know that we had successfully paid for our cup.

Later that afternoon, we got a message from no other than Thinkbaby founder, Kevin Brodwick:

Jake,

In 10 years of running this company, we’ve never seen/heard of what you just did with Amazon. Your honesty quite frankly made our day. We do work around the clock to produce the best products possible. Even from the launch of our first product, we never stop looking for ways to improve them, while growing our list of taking on product categories that are fraught with harmful chemicals.

If you would send us your address, we would like to send you something from us.

Warmest,

Kevin

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Sure enough, a week or so later we received a package containing Thinkbaby sunblock and two insulated metal Thinksport bottles, all free of harmful chemicals, true to Kevin’s words. We live in Florida, so the sunblock will be used up rather quickly, and the insulated bottles will be very useful when we need to keep our drinks cold (or hot) as we travel across Europe for a year in 2017 (sorry to keep linking to to our travel announcements, but we’re really excited about them).

It’s funny how you can have two very different interactions with companies that are both 100% positive. Thinkbaby blew us away with their personalized attention to the feedback they were getting from their customers. They demonstrated that they were willing to go the extra mile to encourage kind of relationship they want to have with their clients. Our conversation with Amazon on the other hand was executed with the efficiency of a a well oiled machine… which is exactly what I want from a company like Amazon whose sole purpose in my eyes is to connect us to the products we want, get them to us as quickly and inexpensively as possible, and make us confident that we won’t get screwed.

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So it was a win-win for everyone. Thinkbaby sold a bottle and impressed a customer in the process. Amazon made a profit acting as middle man and impressed a customer in the process. Dannie and I got a BPA-free and guilt-free sippy-cup, a bunch of swag, and enough warm-fuzzies to last us through October in Paris and Hamburg (last one for now, I promise).

I guess the moral of the story is that you should try to be the kind of customer you would want to have yourself. There’s no shortage of opportunities to earn a little good or bad karma, and you never know how the universe is going to pay you back. Dannie just told me a story from back when she lived in New York City. She’d been out shopping in boutiques with her mother, and when she tried on a jacket she found eight dollars in the pocket. Rather than hand it over to the clerk in case anyone came back looking for it, she decided to keep it. Eight bucks is eight bucks, right? On the way home no cab would stop for them, and she wound up walking for over two hours with her mother. The whole time she couldn’t help but wonder if it was the universe trying to teach her a lesson. She said the water bottle money reminded her of that incident, and she felt like this was an opportunity to set things straight.

Dannie always says that more than anything she wants Lisa to grow up to be a kind person. I’m glad that in this case she pushed herself and her husband to set a good example. A healthy, happy and kind daughter would be the best payback we could ask for.

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