Nobody likes being ripped off by an online retailer, least of all me. Most vendors I deal with are very professional, but every once in awhile you run into an absolute nightmare. In order to prevent any other innocent plant lovers from having the experience I have recently had, this is the complete rundown of that nightmare…
I have been growing cacti from seed for over a decade, and I recently decided I wanted to try my hand at grafting. The kind of grafting I wanted to do required a specific type of tropical cacti that I hadn’t been able to find locally: Pereskiopsis Spathulata. I looked around a little and found a site that looked ok. Cactuskingdom.ca located in Toronto, Ontario with a virtual office in Etobicoke, Ontario. They had photos of healthy-looking cacti, and a decent-looking warranty that implied that orders would arrive in good condition or money would be refunded. Here’s the link to the page I ordered from:
Looking back now, I should have been tipped off by the many spelling errors and lack of credible online reviews… Anyway.
I placed my order for ten 5″-6″ unrooted cuttings for $50.00 CAD, including shipping. A bit expensive for what it was, since I know Pereskiopsis grow like weeds, but I figured for that price, my order would arrive safely in a little box and I would be on my way to grafting cacti very soon. I made sure it would ship to my personal PO Box so the cuttings wouldn’t risk being left out in the cold. My order was placed on March 9th, 2018.
At first, things seemed fine. My order shipped promptly, and on March 20th I received an email from the post office saying I had a delivery. Since the email came after they had closed for the day, I went in the following day to pick up my “package”. So far so good. Then the moment came when the postal agent went to retrieve my delivery… From the envelope drawer.
No. Please no. Please tell me these were not shipped across Canada in an envelope.
Pereskiopsis are a prehistoric cacti that resemble a succulent. They have fleshy stems and leaves. There was absolutely no way that ten cuttings would survive any kind of processing in an envelope. The worker lifted a small, plastic bubble envelope out of the drawer and brought it to me. It was flat, limp, had a foul odor, and was stained with green juice. When I picked it up, green goo dripped out of one corner.
I didn’t have to open the envelope to know what the condition was inside. I returned home, peeled back the flap and was greeted with this:
A crushed, gooey sticky mess of very sad cactus cuttings. They had been shipped for $1.80 via lettermail from Ontario to British Columbia. You can imagine how happy I was when I had been expecting to receive this:
I immediately emailed the company expressing my displeasure and asked for a refund. I was shocked that anyone could imagine that sending fragile plants in a bubble envelope with zero protection would spell anything other than a complete disaster. The email exchange that followed was nothing short of excruciating.
The first thing I noticed upon emailing was that the person responding to my email was not the person named on the return address. It was a strange name: Grunsii Echino. The accompanying gmail photo icon looked like a professional shot of a distinguished mature gentleman kneeling near a bed of large barrel cactus. In fact, this was that exact shot:
Something seemed fishy. The name Grunsii Echino came up with zero results in Google. The photo looked a little too professional… I decided to do an image search for it and came up with this page:
Do you notice the latin name of the cacti on this page? Echinocactus E. Grusonii. So that’s where the fake name Grunsii Echino was from. And the photo? A picture of professional horticulturist and multi-award winning gardener Simon Eade.
Very fishy indeed. How long had this person been emailing customers representing himself as Mr. Eade? I contacted Simon Eade to let him know his likeness was being used this way. He was not impressed.
Now, I completely understand that shipping accidents happen. I’ve been running my own online business since 2006 and have shipped out tens of thousands of orders. I always try to pack items carefully but every once in awhile something gets damaged. When a customer emails me about a damaged item, I apologize to them and send them either a complete refund or a replacement, depending on their preference. This is my interpretation of how honest business is done. It may not have been my fault that the order was damaged but it sure wasn’t the customer’s fault. Cactus Kingdom however does not subscribe to this philosophy…
Here is my first email to Cactus Kingdom:
Here is the response:
Apparently leaving factual negative reviews is now considered spamming people with hate propaganda. Truth is, I did contact him first before leaving a few reviews. I admit I was upset and didn’t wait very long for a reply. Regardless of how he was going to deal with the issue, I felt people should know about their shipping practices. My reviews were factual, if stern. I was fully prepared to amend them after the fact if the company responded appropriately and made things right, as I would hope anyone would do for me. My review:
Anyway, many more emails ensued where I was told repeatedly the cuttings were “fine”, “not damaged” and I was just “inexperienced” with this type of cactus. They were simply “a little shocked” from shipping. My continued demands for a refund went unaddressed. Not once did they acknowledge that the shipping method had been insufficient. I will spare you the painful dialogue.
Interestingly, this company which had four Google reviews on the day I left mine, the next day had nine. All the reviews from the second day were suspiciously lacking in detail and contained similar wording. For example:
Anything you’re looking for huh? The entire site has a grand total of ten products for sale. Highly suspicious. The third day they had fifteen reviews, which coincidentally all had a bit more detail added.
Strangely though, these new reviewers (who all seemed to have suddenly jumped from having one review to 3 or 4 in the same day, were all reviewing the same places. “Perfect Collision” in Brooklyn, NY, “Recycle for Life” in Mission Viejo, “Auto Turbo CHRA” in Spain, “Parkstone Equities Management” in Flushing, NY, and “Petah Tikva” in Israel:
How truly amazing that these ten people have all visited and left reviews for the exact same businesses all over the USA and the world! And all within the very same four days? Why, it borders on unbelievable.
(I mean, really. If you’re going to leave a plethora of fake reviews for yourself, you might try being a little more sophisticated.)
The owner of Cactus Kingdom also has another business in Toronto: TorontoDogRunner.ca.
I found this by searching the phone number on his business card. The dog pictured in the image above is his Dutch Shepherd, Roscoe. You can find many pictures of this pampered pooch by clicking on the Instagram button, which leads you to Instagram.com/fitcanine.
Here we can find many posts liked and commented on by an “relgner”, who refers to Roscoe as “her baby” and herself as “Mom”:
How interesting it is then, that one of our newest Cactus Kingdom online reviewers happens to be “Rita Elgner”:
Looks like good old Rita ordered twice in the last month! I don’t know about you, but when I give a present to my close family member, I generally just hand deliver it. They also usually doesn’t leave me an online review… Maybe they should start? Mom?
Well, at least he doesn’t have his dog writing fake reviews for him. Oh wait:
Hmm, the photo in that icon looks a whole lot like this one:
Sigh. Who knew dogs even cared about horticulture? Oh wait, they don’t.
Not to mention that the Google business profile for Cactus Kingdom contains dozens of “borrowed” images of cacti and well-stocked commercial nurseries and he goes by at least three different names on his website registration and business profiles. So now, for my $50 I am left with this:
Lovely yes? If you saw those in a shop I bet you’d be happy to pay $50 for them. Moral of the story: For the love of all that contains chlorophyll do not order plants from Cactuskingdom.ca unless you need an expensive addition to your compost pile and untold aggravation. Shame on you Shaun from Cactus Kingdom, if that IS your real name.