My Year and a Half with Milford

It was a cold and rainy winter morning in March 2012 (actually it was so long ago I don’t remember, but “cold and rainy winter morning” always makes for a better story beginning) when the Groupon arrived — a new online spice company called Milford Spice. I browsed their website and found a lot of interesting things, and who can’t always use some spices — especially at 50% off? It was near my birthday, so I treated myself to the Groupon and got shopping.

Bourbon barrel smoked sea salt, looks good doesn't it?

Bourbon-barrel smoked sea salt, looks good doesn’t it?

Here were many things I could use — saffron, Malabar black peppercorns, Middle Eastern zahtar, vanilla beans — and interesting things I’d never heard of before like bourbon-barrel smoked sea salt and toasted onion cane sugar (!). I was like a kid in a candy store, and put my order in.

I had been wondering what happened to my order, and few months later, I got an email back. Here’s an excerpt:

Dear Valued Milford Spice Customers,
As you are well aware, our Groupon experience hit us like a bolt of lightning.  In less than three days we had over 10,000 new orders, and were expecting 200-500.

It went on in this vein for some time before apologizing for not delivering the “lickety split” service I had been expecting. I wrote the overwhelmed owner of the company, Laura, to tell her that there was no hurry and wished her well in sorting out her 10,000 Groupon orders. She wrote back to thank me.

A few weeks later, I received an email that said that my order had been processed and I would receive a shipping order shortly.

That would be the last I heard until a full seven months later, now October 2012, when I received another apology, this time with a special gift code for my “patience” worth 20% off if I wanted to order something else. So once again I browsed the Milford Spice website and found another product that I could use, fennel pollen, so I ordered some.

Fennel pollen, another phantom product at Milford Spice

Fennel pollen, another phantom product at Milford Spice

It was five months later, March 2013 — the first anniversary of my original order — when I received an email apologizing and telling me that my fennel pollen would ship soon.

October 2013, first anniversary of my second order with Milford Spice — enter Courtney, customer care specialist hired to help Milford get their orders sorted out. I received a very nice and personalized email from Courtney letting me know my original order had now been cancelled, and I was being given a credit for the full amount that I could now use to order from the “new great products in our in-stock inventory”!

Sure, I’d give it a shot — I’d come this far with Milford. I emailed her back to thank her, and went to the website to see what was available. In most of the two dozen or so categories, I got no results. An item called “vinegar salt” kept popping up in several of the categories — Just In!, Bestsellers, Fancy Finds and Interesting Salts among them. Also showing up in numerous categories was something called “Chet’s Choice”, accompanied by an image of a question mark. It didn’t tell you what it was, but it was on sale for $56.

Milford Spice's "best seller," vinegar salt.

Milford Spice’s “best seller,” vinegar salt.

The Italian category had one item — an Italian salt mix — as did the Indian category, with a spice called “ajowan”. One spice in the Indian category? Exploring all the various categories, I found five or six “rubs”, a handful of salts and a few random loose spices. The “Chili and Chile” section had a guajillo pepper for sale.

A second email from customer care specialist Courtney informed me that she had discovered I had made a second order with Milford Spice (“Crazy, huh?” I replied to her), and was going to include that in the total amount of my credit. I also got another “patience” gift note for $3.50. Except this one was not taken off the total amount of my purchase, but rather off the total amount of my credit — which was now worth $3.50 less than the original amount. She thanked me again and hoped I would enjoy my shopping experience with Milford Spice.

I sent Courtney the following email:

Thanks Courtney,

I understand the difficulty of your new role.
I checked the three or four things available on the website, and since I’m not in the market for vinegar salt or a guajillo chili right now, I think I’m going to pass.
Consider my $79.91 a donation to help those nice folks figure out their business model.
*   *   *
Sometimes you’ve just gotta take the high road.

24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 00:46:23

    That is beyond civil and without question I would think one of the few letters they received that was close to civil. I don’t know how keen of a business man you are but at least I raised a gentleman. Mom


  2. Andrea thimpson
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 02:11:30

    Hee hee. A mother and her adult son.


  3. Jessica Williams
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 04:25:14

    Sent from my iPad



  4. Jessamine in PDX
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 07:40:10

    That is ridiculous! I applaud your determination for making it that long. Also I’m too am really curious about the toasted onion cane sugar. Sad you never got to try it!


  5. linnetmoss
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 11:51:18

    Is it only me, or does anyone else see an analogy to Obamacare?


  6. Benjamin J Thompson (@ThompsonBenjami)
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 17:24:55

    My wife has had similar debacles with Groupon. (We’re overrun here as it’s a Chicago company.) I bet you’d have some better luck going directly to Groupon and not the business. Might I suggest a purveyor I’ve been using for years: The ‘Bicentennial Rub’ is a must have for a delicious diversion on your Thanksgiving Turkey.


    • scolgin
      Nov 15, 2013 @ 22:20:10

      I’ve had some great experiences with Groupon, and some super sucky ones. We have a Penzey store here that I have a gift certificate for I need to go use. I actually have some Bicentennial Rub which I’ve never rubbed on anything. I guess I should.


      • Benjamin J Thompson (@ThompsonBenjami)
        Nov 17, 2013 @ 19:32:07

        I highly suggest the turkey route on Thanksgiving for the Bicentennial Rub. It makes absolutely delicious turkey and drippings for your gravy. If you Google Bicentennial Rub and turkey you will find many who agree. I put enough rub on the turkey to coat the entire bird on all sides. Just something about the dried orange peel and turmeric that really works well.

      • scolgin
        Nov 18, 2013 @ 14:17:22

        I’m gonna deconstruct the turkey this year — turkey confit with the legs/thighs, breast flattened and rolled with proscuitto and pecorino… but maybe I can figure out an in for the Bi-Rub.

  7. rachelocal
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 18:09:35

    I went to their website and it is rather sparse. Maybe that $79 will allow them to put a description of “Chet’s Choice” on there. I’d like to know why I should pay over $50 for it.


    • scolgin
      Nov 15, 2013 @ 22:16:44

      I think “Chet’s Choice” is going to become a cult thing. People will pay thousands of dollars for it without even knowing what it is. And then you’ll be thanking your lucky stars that you got it for just $50!!!


  8. Leo
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 22:31:34

    I see that they put vinegar salt on sale. They are certainly fighting hard to get your business Sean.


  9. Greggie
    Nov 16, 2013 @ 00:27:32


    You’ve done more than just take the high road (sarcasm or not.) You’re on the road to being able to enjoy your grandchildren without daily doses of multiple medications. Not many people (including some other friends) would have reacted as you did. I’ve heard other Groupon horror stories especially with restaurants.


  10. Michelle
    Nov 16, 2013 @ 03:07:25

    Are you sure it didn’t start with “a dark and stormy night”? You have made me glad that I haven’t ever tried the Groupon thing, despite many entreaties.


  11. Glennis
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 00:08:40

    I remember years ago there was mom-and-pop heirloom vegetable seed company in Idaho that had the greatest catalog, and the buzz went round the gardening and food community about how great their stuff was, so I finally placed an order with them. And, sadly, that year their popularity out-paced their capacity, and they melted down in a rather spectacular way. Unfortunately with vegetable seeds, you really can’t ship later than planting season. I wonder if they survived?


  12. pico
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 18:29:21

    so this shows how groupon not only helps some business but can destroy others.


  13. pirco
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 18:30:01

    so this shows how groupon can help some businesses and destroy others.


    • scolgin
      Nov 20, 2013 @ 20:19:51

      Yeah, as much as Milford bungled their response, I was kinda thinking some of this was on Groupon. They should have a better vetting process, or allow businesses of a certain (small) size to only sell a certain number of Groupons, etc.


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