Cubs fan calls: 'Attack dog' gets results

Leo Daugherty seems to have a low batting average on Internet shopping. Two years ago, I reported on his frustrating attempt to buy three bluegrass CDs online ["Promises, promises," March 28, 2002], and now I can relay his experience with a website that sells "Any Team Can Have a Bad Century" t-shirts to hapless fans of the Chicago Cubs.

"I ordered two or three," Daugherty emailed me, "paying with my American Express Card. I received a confirming email from rulap@aol.com saying that my order was shipping by UPS Next Day Air. That was on October 5." Daugherty's credit card was never charged, because the t-shirts were never sent. Finally, he emailed rulap@aol.com to ask for help, but "got nothing back. (My email did not, however, bounce.) I, along with brokenhearted Cubs fans the nation over, need counsel."

The good news is that, according to website owner Claudia Coleman, other Cubs fans aren't brokenhearted because they didn't receive t-shirts they'd ordered from her, but simply because the team came so close to winning its first World Championship since 1908.

"I've sent out thousands of t-shirts," she told me. Daugherty's order, unfortunately, "fell through the cracks, and I'm sorry."

I have no reason to doubt her– but I do wonder why, if Coleman runs such a well-oiled operation, it was so difficult to haul Daugherty out of the abyss. I began by doing some online research, and learned that Coleman, along with her twin sister, Marsha Kaeseberg, owns two gift stores in Chicago called Jumbalia.

Unlike the t-shirt site, Jumbalia's website includes a phone number, which, on December 15, I called. I spoke with Kaeseberg, who said that if I forwarded Daugherty's email, with his account of the transaction, to rulap@aol.com, she'd contact him and straighten things out. At no point did she mention her sister; I assumed the website was jointly owned, and that Kaeseberg would be the one to receive my message and follow through. Only later did I learn that Claudia operates the t-shirt operation alone.

I forwarded Daugherty's message, but nothing happened. On January 7, I called again, and this time left a message for Kaeseberg in which I reminded her of her promise to contact Daugherty and asked her to call me. Neither of us received a response.

Finally, late on the afternoon of January 14, I left a final message, saying that I would be writing a column about the situation and, if I didn't hear anything by my deadline the next day, I wouldn't be able to report a positive outcome. I was puzzled by the lack of response; all that was required to rectify the situation was for someone to contact Daugherty, take his order, and mail him the t-shirts.

My message, which was rather emphatically worded, did the trick: Claudia left something like six voice-mail messages, split between my cell phone and home phone, over the next few hours. When we spoke the next day, she was quite defensive– but in an odd way. Explaining (repeatedly) that she sells the t-shirts only as a sideline, she seemed to suggest that therefore no one should expect her to take it seriously. "I do it on the side," she said. "It's not what I do for a living."

I gave her Daugherty's phone number, and she said she would call him and straighten it out. But, once again, Daugherty heard nothing. On January 19 I called yet again, and this time Coleman followed through: She sent Daugherty two free t-shirts by FedEx, and left him three messages announcing that they were on their way. (She also, according to Daugherty, said in one message that he could "call off his attack dog.")

Coleman said that the last part of 2003 had been rough because of illness in the family, so we'll cut her some slack. After all, any website can have a bad year, right?

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.

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