What to do when you’re disappointed with your vintage purchase

It happens to us all. Occasionally we buy a piece and are disappointed, or overlooked a flaw noted in the description, or don’t agree with the seller that the item was in “great/good/awesome” condition. Maybe it even fits wrong. Anyway, we received the item, don’t like it, but technically we got the item we ordered.

Most professional sellers, including me, have it in our shop policies that items are sold “as is” and that no returns will be given unless it’s grossly misrepresented. We do our best to describe the vintage clothing that we sell online, to note any flaws, and to take accurate pictures.

Here’s what you should not do: Refrain from writing nasty notes or writing anything insulting. The seller didn’t mislead on purpose, or to personally scam you. You are attempting to return an item that wasn’t “grossly misrepresented”, and technically the seller is “in the clear” and not liable.

If the seller accepts a return or gives you a discount, they are doing you a favor. The seller spent time and care to list and photograph the item, and genuinely thinks their description and photos were 100% accurate. Do you really want to start things off with a pissing contest (as my grandpa would say)?

Here is what you should do: As SOON as you receive the item, that same day, immediately, write a nice note, any pictures to document, and using nice phrases such as:

  • I was really disappointed that my bra shows thru, and thought you may have overlooked how thin the fabric is, especially on the left side, when you photographed it on the mannequin.
  • I knew this would be a really tight fit, but my hips must be longer than this skirt was made for. I know the height of the waist to the widest point of the hip isn’t a standard measure, and I am really sorry that I didn’t ask before….
  • I was disappointed because you’d listed this item in “good condition”, however, upon receiving it, I noticed numerous small issues including… I would not have bought this item had you noted these stains/holes/pulling.
  • I know you’ve probably not gotten this item out since posting it online… I noticed some moth holes that you may be from storage and they’re quite noticeable.

Small merchants care about good customer service, even when they are technically “right”, so give them a chance to help you.

If the seller says that they can’t give you a refund/discount/return, accept it gracefully and move on. Don’t buy from the seller again, there are so many other merchants! Don’t leave negative feedback for items that weren’t “grossly misrepresented”, the seller will leave you negative feedback in return, and other merchants might hesitate to sell to you.

I was recently contacted by a customer who was disappointed when she received a lovely dress that I was personally enamored with. She apparently over looked the photos of the dress, in the studio, in normal light. She didn’t steam the tulle, which was wrinkled from being stored and shipped in a box, and she didn’t like the packaging I used (brown paper, so it wouldn’t stain the light colored dress). I’d been slammed with personal obligations, was having a terrible week, and shipped at the end of the second day (within the 2 day promise), but she didn’t like that I hadn’t shipped the same day, and that the postal office had taken longer because of a mis-sort.

I had three small business-owner friends review the communication, product, and my return policy, and only the one who had been in business 10+ years recommended accepting the return and giving her the full refund she was demanding. I was technically “in the right” and within Etsy and Paypal rules, but just swallowed it so that I wouldn’t have to deal with such a negative person and escalate the issue. I really don’t like doing business with negative people, and someone writing an insulting note is quicker diffused with over-the-top great customer service. Writing notes of the nature she sent to me is sure to get her on the wrong side of a seller who won’t be so professional and nice.

Contrast this to the experience of a gal who admittedly overlooked pics of a hole in a dress. She didn’t have the right cami to wear under it. She was profusely sorry and told me she’d learned a lesson to more carefully read the description and inspect the “detail/close-up” pics. I totally understood and sympathized. After I received the item back, I refunded her. There was no bad energy with this transaction, even though we were both disappointed.

Another lady, who bought a wedding dress, wanted to return it 3 weeks later because it “didn’t fit right”. She said she’d not contacted me sooner because she’d been “out of town”. I told her sorry, but no, and never heard back from her. It sounded like she’d worn the wedding dress, been on her honeymoon, and wanted the cash more than the memento from her wedding.

So how do you prevent being disappointed with vintage purchases?

Managing your expectations, reading the description and looking at the photos carefully, and communicating with the seller before purchasing will most likely prevent you from having a disappointing experience purchasing vintage online. Specifically:

  1. Look at the photos carefully. You can always ask to see more, or to see in natural light, etc.! Especially if it is a higher end item, the seller should be glad to give you more pictures than the 5 allotted by Etsy.
  2. Read the description carefully. Contact the seller if you have questions, or even if you have information to add about a product. Often times, sellers guess at fabrics, condition, and era. For example, I’ve seen seal fur sold as beaver fur, and contacted the buyer with questions to confirm this (and to educate them on their mistake).
  3. Read the seller’s return policy and fine print. If it says “All items sold as-is, no returns accepted”, then you might want to pass on buying items that you have questions about, or contact the seller and get your questions answered, and even then, pass on purchasing it if you’re not 100% satisfied with the response. Read thru the “fine print” about any potential odors, cleanliness, if the items are stored in a smoking home or come from an old lady’s basement…
  4. Listen to your gut, and common sense. Sometimes things are “too good to be true”. Sometimes, sellers, even without negative feedback, are shady. Sometimes, shops that have been around for 5 years with only 3 sales in all that time, are totally legit. Sometimes an item may be photographed beautifully, but your gut goes off that it won’t look so great in your apartment… listen to your gut, because it’s better to avoid purchasing an item you won’t be 100% happy with, than to buy one that you have misgivings about before you even purchase it.
  5. Don’t impulsively spend more than you can comfortably afford, even if it is a “great deal”. I’ve learned that website design clients who are on their “last dime” are the most unpleasant people to work with. Unfortunately for us sellers, shoppers like this don’t carry a sign, and it’s usually impossible to tell desperate/impulsive/bad-buyers like this when you’re posting stuff for sale online.
  6. Browse alot of vintage to get a good idea of prices and the market. Sometimes, somebody really IS selling a 1922 dress with only minor wear for $100 because they need that $100 urgently to pay bills.  Sometimes an item is marked extra high because the seller is personally attached to it and doesn’t care to actually sell it, or because it’s so rare that they enjoy having it “sit” in their inventory for a long time.
    I’ve been approached by several people asking why I price the t-shirts, especially stagehand t-shirts, so high. I’m in no hurry to get rid of them, and I haven’t seen any other “crew” t-shirts for sale, so I may as well set the standard higher than lower! If you have questions about why an item is marked unusually high or low, contact the seller and ask them!
  7. Don’t expect more than the product, unless other reviews comment on the pretty packaging, etc. I generally ship in plain brown paper (which safest for old clothes), and include my business card… but some items just ship differently. Consider fancy packaging, ribbons, and HallMark thank-you notes a nice bonus worthy of a glowing feedback note, but don’t expect such.
  8. Don’t expect the item to come un-wrinkled if it’s bulky. T-shirts are easy to neatly fold, wedding dresses are much more difficult and it’s impossible to not wrinkle some types of fabrics in shipping and storing, especially on bulker garments.
  9. Contact the seller before buying.
  10. Contact the seller before buying.
  11. Contact the seller before buying. 

As a seller, I don’t like to accept returns. Even in the best case scenario, it’s just bad energy all around. I do my best in listing items as accurately as I can to prevent disappointment. Unfortunately, it happens to every single seller that I’ve talked to, and many have worse instances of receiving their items back damaged or obviously worn (and not in the original condition). What do you do at that point? There is no easy answer, and I hope I don’t ever have that kind of bad-shopper experience!

Thanks! You've already liked this