The worst shopping experience on the web?

When I was hunting down an extra battery for my Canon Vixia HF10 last month, a sponsored link caught my eye. Some place called "The Camera Professionals" was advertising the camcorder for $599, or $300 less than the cheapest price I had seen at the time.

When I was hunting down an extra battery for my Canon Vixia HF10 last month, a sponsored link caught my eye. Some place called "The Camera Professionals" was advertising the camcorder for $599, or $300 less than the cheapest price I had seen at the time. (Since then, the store has dropped the price to $449).Some quick research confirmed my initial response. Sites like The Complaints Board were filled with horror stories. People either never received their orders, received something different from what they had ordered, or were aggressively upsold before their order was completed.

I figured I would give it a shot. By putting it on my American Express card, the worst case is that I would wind up with a bargain on a second camcorder (which I wasn't counting on), and best case, I would have something to blog about.

The Camera Professionals did not disappoint.

My order seemed to go through without any problems, but after I didn't receive any sort of e-mail confirmation, I decided to call the phone number on the web site. The guy who answered my call asked if I had received an e-mail asking me to confirm my order, and I said no. [Requiring a phone confirmation is a common ploy that allows sleazier outfits to try to upsell you. If you decline, suddenly your product is no longer in stock.]

I was then put through to customer service, which confirmed my order, told me the camcorder was in stock, and that it should go out "tomorrow." There was no effort to upsell me, and the two people I spoke with were quite courteous. Despite clinging to my assumption that deals too good to be true typically were, I allowed myself a glimmer of optimism.

On April 18th, two days after I placed my order, I called to confirm that my order had shipped out the prior day. After about ten minutes on hold, I was told that unfortunately the HF10 was not in stock, and that whoever had told me it was had made a mistake. But, they assured me, it should ship out the following week.

A  week later I called back (still no e-mail from the site whatsoever), and once again, was told that the camcorder wasn't in stock, and that it would likely be another two weeks. I asked the rep if she knew what the problem was, and she told me they were just having difficulty finding an available unit. I pointed out that many stores seemed to have plenty on hand, which suggested there wasn't any problem in the channel, but she stuck to her story. At this point I asked for a supervisor, was put through to someone's voicemail, left a message, and still haven't heard back.

Last week I tried again. Same story, though this time I was given an estimated ship date of May 27. I asked for a manager, was told his name was "Frank Bosco", and put through to his line. I let it ring approximately a dozen times, but nobody answered, and I never got voicemail.

While stories like mine are sadly not that uncommon, I'm still absolutely stumped at what kind of scheme The Camera Professionals is trying to pull off. They never tried to upsell me, they never charged my credit card, they simply appeared to have taken an order for an item they seemingly have no intention of trying to fill.

But that's not all. Since I clicked on a Google sponsored link to visit them in the first place, they actually paid Google for the privilege of taking an order. It wasn't much - looks to be about a nickel a click for the search term "Vixia HF10" - but it's still a nickel more than they made off my order.

Which leaves me to my deep thought for today: Is it worse to be a crooked outfit that actually scams its customers, or to be an outfit that's simply too inept to be able to pull a scam off?