Monday, March 16, 2015

Response to Optics Planet

NOTE: Due to HL Human's recent beginning, I did not use them in the comparisons below, though do believe everything I write about my other affiliates applies to them; they are simply too new to have a page at the business review sites. 

I did not expect to get a post from Optics Planet in the comments section, but I am more than willing to lay out a response.  I really want to give them every single benefit of the doubt, to make it as fair as possible.  Also, while I didn't appreciate the way the call was handled, the customer service rep was not the main problem--Optics Planet web design and their "dynamic pricing" are the main culprits. 

Add to Cart Problem

Optics Planet's response to the complaint about the add to cart issue was that you can check availability on every product by clicking a hyperlink.  This is true.  But it also misses the point.  The Internet is a very competitive marketplace.  Most places get ahead in one of a few ways--different and exclusive products, superior customer service, or low prices.  That's it.  Unlike a brick and mortar store that can lure you in with a pleasant shopping experience (folks in New England know--Jordan's Furniture is fun to go to even if you aren't looking for a couch).  Optics Planet might have some exclusive products, maybe, but not in the product categories we are interested in.  They also don't have rock bottom prices.  So the last thing is superior customer service and here, they are clearly lagging behind.  It wasn't just the hang up though--that is a person having a bad day and that happens to everyone and is really pretty blameless--it was the add to cart process.  

Go to one of the affiliate links on the right hand side of the page.  You know what you will find?  REAL time inventory.  Blade HQ, Knives Ship Free, and E2Field Gear are great about keeping their website updated.  If a product is sold out, they let you know.  They don't take your money and tell you later that  "oh yeah, we aren't getting the thing you bought."  BHQ and KSF both have in stock inventory counters.  You can see them go down over time and if you are worried you can buy that Indian River Jack before supplies get low.  So Optics Planet, if you want to compete in the hyper competitive marketplace that is the internet, you need to implement something like this.  The click through status marker is bullshit.  It is a way to encumber a customer and make it harder to find out information.  It is literally HIDING information.  Now, of course, you can un-hide it, but if you go to the affiliates I have carefully vetted over the years, you don't have to do this bullshit.  So that's the first response I have to the Add to Cart problem.

The problem goes deeper though--its not simply that the status was hidden.  It was the fact that the confirmation email never mentioned the lack of stock.  I got the email and it told me that my product was being shipped and that I would receive a shipping email later.  See, here is the thing, that is more than just bad customer service--that's a lie.  Its a lie in the Watergate-what-did-you-know-and-when-did-you-know-it kind of way.  When that email was sent, Optics Planet knew that what it told me was untrue or at the very best, exceedingly misleading.  My product wasn't being processed for shipping.  It wasn't even in stock.  And that is problem number two.

I am not the only person to complain of this.  Here is the feedback page for Optics Planet on Consumer Affairs.   There are multiple complaints dealing with orders not going through and at least one that had the exact same issue I did--ordering something, paying for it, and later finding out it is out of stock.  Here is the feedback page on Yahoo and again there are multiple complaints about orders not being shipped and again some folks experienced the exact same issue I did.  The Better Business Bureau lists them as A+, but if you look at the complaint section, found here, there are, again, multiple verified and responded to complains regarding stock and delivery of items.  I am not alone in complaining about this and Optics Planet's response did nothing to address my concerns and the concerns that, apparently, many others have had.  

Dynamic Pricing

So this is an interesting thing, this dynamic pricing.  Here is how dynamic pricing works--a retailer monitors its stock of an item, the price, and the price and stock of competitors.  The price is altered in response to the stock they have, the stock their competitors have, and the demand from consumers.  Its relatively new in retail, but it is something that merits discussion.  

First, to my knowledge my affiliates (except for Amazon) do not use dynamic pricing, other than the normal stuff-goes-on-sale sense.  They do not adjust prices based on algorithms.   

Second, the typical model for dynamic pricing usually requires an item to be in stock and being sold to work.  It requires the ability to measure supply and demand.  With no supply, how can you adjust pricing to meet demand?  Maybe they are using some kind of new dynamic pricing software.  It is entirely possible.  But this particular application of dynamic pricing seems weird.

Third, and here is where things start to get stinky--dynamic pricing seems to violate the Surefire vendor pricing policies, which strictly guards their MAP (mandatory advertised price).  Here is an email from a vendor regarding MAP.  I reached out to some friends I have in the gear business and they confirmed what you can find on Candlepower Forum (which started out as a Surefire forum).  Surefire's pricing structure is VERY strict.  They basically say to vendors "sell this at price X and if you don't that will be taken into account when we decide if you are going to be a vendor in the future."  These friends also confirmed that while there used to be smaller margins between MAP and wholesale costs, Surefire has recently made the difference bigger.  This seems bad for consumers and normally it is.  We have a history of problems with industry controlled pricing in this country.  I am not a fan of monopolies, and I like competition.  But, when you have a company like Surefire with such a long history of price stability, you kind of assume it is going to continue.  MAP enforcement is helpful in another way--you can count on a light being the same price across the board.  You don't have to hunt.  You can just go to your trusted website, and buy a Surefire light.  Having bought Surefires when this MAP policy has been in effect for more than a decade, I basically don't worry about where I buy Surefire lights.  The fact that the price changes at Optics Planet is quite strange, in light of the Surefire pricing structure.  Maybe with the increase in the difference between cost and MAP, they can do some dynamic pricing, but I am not sure.  This isn't a problem per se, but in light of what I found next, I am not sure if this is true "dynamic pricing."

But things get it fair to a customer, even when you are using dynamic pricing, to sell an item at one price, not ship that item, and then drop the price the next day and not inform the customer who has yet to receive their item?  In the travel business, when you buy a hotel, you may not stay right away, but your rights to use the room at a certain point attach instantly.  This is a quirk of dynamic pricing as applied to retail that doesn't apply to other places where dynamic pricing is used.  But then when I called Optics Planet on the change, they hung up.  

Okay, final piece here--scouring the 'net I found lots of complaints about Optics Planet changing their prices in seemingly unfair ways.  Here is a screen cap of a forum post that reveals something different than dynamic pricing--this is deceptive pricing:

There are multiple sources (here, here, here, and here specifically Barry from Charlestown MA) that tell of stories that include price alterations and incorrect charges that harm the customer.  One particularly deceptive version of events includes issuing a coupon for a product and then increasing the price equal to the discount from the coupon.  I have no experience with that at Optics Planet, but the fact that others have makes me think my experience is not an isolated one.

Dynamic pricing is an issue we are going to have to contend with in the gear world.  But there is a difference between dynamic pricing and deceptive pricing and that this point I cannot conclude that what happened to me was the result of dynamic pricing and not something more deceptive.  Surefire needs to know that Optics Planet is doing this and I have already reached out to them on this point.  


In researching this response I discovered an overwhelming number of bad reviews for Optics Planet, with a huge majority being due to the Add to Cart problem.  There were a number of reviews claiming that they shipped used stuff as new, and then the general complaints.  A few, a small percentage complained about pricing shenanigans like the one I was dealing with in this case.

There was also the sheer number of complaints.  Any business with any volume will have some dissatisfied customers, but the number of complaints regarding Optics Planet is pretty staggering.  I know that Optics Planet is a big site with a huge volume of sales, but even accounting for that the number of complaints in various places was staggering.  On the Better Business Bureau, for example, there were 194 total complaints regarding Optics Planet.  Blade HQ has 3 in the same time span.  Knives Ship Free and E2Field Gear have zero.  ZERO.  Here are the complaint and review sites for Optics Planet and my three affiliates:

Optics Planet

BBB (194)
Consumer Affairs (21)
Reseller Ratings (7.63 out of 10 with 6,016 reviews)

Blade HQ

BBB (3)
No complaints on Consumer Affairs
Reseller Ratings (9.43 out of 10 with 3534 reviews)

KnivesShipFree (searched as KSF and Bohn Distributing)

No complaints on any of the three sites

E2Field Gear

No complaints on any of the three sites

Those numbers are just bad.  Its not simply that Optics Planet is a bigger site--they screw up, or more accurately piss people off more, and if my experience is representative, it is easy to see why.

In a marketplace with folks like E2Field Gear, BladeHQ, and Knives Ship Free, there is no reason to bother with Optics Planet.  You can find everything they sell elsewhere without the tricks, gimmicks, and hassles.  This is a small issue, a small complaint and not a big deal, in the grand scheme of my life (or yours) but in a world with so many options, why waste your time and money on buying stuff from Optics Planet when you can support good businesses that clearly do things the right way?  I appreciate the timeliness of their response, but in the end, the research I did proved to me that this was a whole lot of talk and very little walk.  Go with folks you can trust and reward people that are running businesses the right way--folks like Derrick at Knives Ship Free, who started a great Knives for Kids program, or Blade HQ that supports AKTI and helps with knife legislation, or Mike over at E2Field Gear who is a small site, but still puts his money where his mouth is.  I am done with Optics Planet.  I hope I laid this out clearly enough that you can at least evaluate the reasonableness of that decision on my part.  

I guess this means that Optics Planet and I aren't going to be friends and that they aren't likely to sponsor the site or the podcast, but I don't care.  I do this for fun and not for a living so losing some support is okay, plus, and most importantly, I have to inform you if some business isn't worth shopping at because in the end, the only thing that really matters to me is the trust of my readers.  My review policy is strict, my affiliates are carefully and personally vetted, and I go out of my way to research things and give people the benefit of the doubt.  That's because your trust matters to me.  I hope this response does nothing to alter that.  


  1. You make at least two overwhelmingly strong points, T:

    1) "The click through status marker is bullshit. It is a way to encumber a customer and make it harder to find out information. It is literally HIDING information."

    2) "I got the email and it told me that my product was being shipped and that I would receive a shipping email later. See, here is the thing, that is more than just bad customer service--that's a lie."

  2. I hope Optics Planet will change both practices.

    1. Hope is futile when it comes to Optics Planet

  3. had a similar experience with OP couple years back and have not shopped there again

  4. Unless something is clearly marked as a "pre-order," you shouldn't be able to put something in your cart if its out of stock. Period.

  5. Outstanding consumer advocacy work.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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