Business Opinion

Consumer Diary: ‘King’ Cake

Here’s the King Cake (see the tiny plastic baby which comes with each cake?) compared with one of our regular-size bagels. Photo credit: Harlan Levy

Consumer columnist and West Hartford resident Harlan Levy has more than 20 years of experience writing stories about everyday experiences that anyone could encounter.

By Harlan Levy

This is a consumer story about a minor item, but it’s kind of funny, so I’ll tell you what happened.

My wife took a weekend trip to New Orleans in early January with our daughter, her husband, and our 2½-year-old granddaughter. There they savored copious Louisiana meals and live jazz in the streets. As souvenirs, they decided to bring back two iconic New Orleans King Cakes, a local delicacy – Danish dough, cinnamon, and sugar iced in green, purple, and gold, the traditional Mardi Gras colors.

Our daughter needed these as gifts for friends, though, so my wife decided to order a small one – on Amazon – for our neighbors. When it arrived, we opened it with a surge of anticipation, our taste glands beginning to salivate. And there it was … no bigger than a donut! We both laughed uncontrollably for an instant. Really? A donut?

It was unsatisfactory as a gift, my wife felt, so we ate it. It was savory. But it warranted a complaint to the merchant, as Amazon requires with third-party sellers.

“I must tell you that I was extremely disappointed with the small King Cake you sent me,” she wrote Cartozzo’s Bakery. “To call this a ‘cake’ at all is very misleading. The entire thing is the size of a bagel! Had you termed it a King Cake donut, I would not have been so totally underwhelmed. I might not have ordered it, either, though, for the hefty price of $15.25. I think $5.25 would be more appropriate. At most. At least it’s tasty. And it arrived in reasonably attractive condition. But it is a travesty for you to charge that much for what is essentially a frosted Danish pastry. I think a $10 refund would be appropriate. Or better yet, send me two more free of charge!”

Cartozzo’s bluntly responded the next day. “The listing states that it is a 4 oz. cake,” they wrote. “The cake itself is not expensive, however the shipping that we pay is more than the cake. This item is priced with shipping and Amazon fees included.”

Here’s the photo of the King Cake on Amazon. My wife knew it was small but figured it was enough for two. A 3 1/2-pound cake costs $60.

“Did this solve your problem?” the Amazon site asked.

No, my wife said. And she promptly posted a negative review, then texted back to the merchant, saying she would not have done that if they hadn’t responded so condescendingly.

She says she would never have ordered it if she had read reviews. (Reviews like: “It was really a ‘Little Prince’ cake good for two servings”; “Extremely small, smaller than a bagel. Dry with gooey icing”; “Cake did not look like the picture. Frosting was melted off, sugar was wet, and the colors had run together”; and others.)

My wife admits the problem was partially her fault. She ordered the item in haste because she wanted it to arrive quickly. Usually, we both read reviews thoroughly before ordering anything. She had just learned the hard way what can happen if you don’t.

This past Saturday night she was still stewing every time she thought about it. My wife felt it was too small an issue to complain about. Yet she still felt that the company had taken advantage of her and others.

Cartozzo’s should have been more explicit, we agreed. The product’s photo is deceptive: It’s a normal-looking cake box with a small window showing some cake, but there’s no way to judge its dinky size.

So, with my encouragement, she decided to call Amazon customer service. She reached Rachel and told her the whole story, adding that she had intended the cake as a gift for our neighbors, but it was too embarrassingly puny. She also noted that she was a very regular Amazon shopper, but this purchase had made her reconsider shopping there quite as frequently.

“So is there anything you can do for me?” she asked Rachel, who then put her on hold for a few minutes.

“We’re going to give you a $10 refund to be used only on products sold directly by Amazon,” Rachel said when she returned.

“That’s fair,” said my wife, a satisfied customer at last. She is very glad she decided to make a fuss. She has also decided not to order another cake … or donut. She’s going to bake one herself.

Lesson 1: Always read reviews! Lesson 2: Don’t accept unsatisfactory responses. Call or write. You’ve got nothing to lose. After all, the customer is king.

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