A Disgusting Experience with CookUnity

Last week, I was referred by a friend to a food delivery service called CookUnity. Basically it ships 6 boxes of frozen meals for $72 (pre-tax). The meals looked quite good, and its $50 new user discount is definitely attractive, so I gave it a try.

The meals taste good, at least better than my expectation for frozen food boxes. But they come in very small portion. They look more like snacks than meals, and $12 seems quite overpriced. I’m also a bit doubtful if three chunks of beef could really contain 950 calories as it labelled.

So I decided that I will not order again given the poor cost-efficiency. And I never logged back in to their account.

“Your order has been processed successfully”

Then, today, I got a surprising email starting with a line saying “Your order has been processed successfully”, followed by a list of dishes. The food are completely different from my first order: the order list just seems to be randomly generated. And to sort up the facts:

  1. I have never used CookUnity since my last order, not to mention to issue another order.
  2. I registered on CookUnity with my gmail account, which has a strong password and never had security issues.
  3. I have never received any email from CookUnity since my last order. This is my first email received from them.

I have no idea what happened, so I tried to log in and cancel the order. Then I realized I can’t. So I contacted their support.

Fabricated order is not a bug, but a feature

According to the support, the order is automatically “created” by the system for me, because “I have signed up for a subscription plan” (which I have never seen a prompt for). And the behavior that the system will create an order for me if I did not issue one is "explained by their terms and conditions". And they cannot cancel it because I contacted them “after the cutoff” (despite that I contacted them only 30 minutes after their email arrives).

Okay, so they are admitting that they are fabricating orders filled with random items on my behalf, and then charging my card. And they refuse to cancel it citing some nonsense reason (come on, the shipping date is still 5 days away!).

As Per Terms and Conditions? Really?

Since their support pointed me to their terms and conditions, I took a read. I did not see their claimingly-existent term that the system is allowed to create orders on my behalf without my consent.

But interestingly, according to their terms, the cancellation date is “5:00PM, 4 days prior to delivery date”. My delivery is on Aug 30 and I sent my email on Aug 26 12:XX PM, which is before the deadline. So yes, they cited the terms but they fail to follow their own terms.

Update

I received some valuable feedbacks and comments, suggesting that I have overlooked that CookUnity is subscription-based, and that I do not understand how meal plan companies work.

So I took a look at their website again. I found the setence in FAQ saying that the company is going to order for me if I don’t do anything, though it’s hidden in a bunch of text. Okay, I’m wrong on this part.

And I admit I might have not paid enough attention to realize that it’s a subscription system.

However, it is clear that CookUnity acted with bad intentions:

  1. They chose to send their first email only after it is impossible to cancel the order. Indeed, when I request to cancel, their customer support responded almost immediately with a pre-formatted email, swiftly rejecting my request. Clearly they are well prepared for such inquiries and they have determined to refuse all request to cancel.

Why wouldn’t they send emails earlier? It hurts customer experience if a customer forgets to order by deadline and gets random food, right? Well, the only explanation I can think of is that, customers who did not intend to subscribe will cancel the order, and CookUnity just wants its last dip of milk. (I actually suspect they only do this to new customers only.)

  1. Multiple places in the subscription system is designed to facilitate such “accidents”.

Is it that hard to imitate Amazon’s matured and straightforward UI and email notification system on subscription? It’s not rocket science… Well, I guess they chose not to.

  1. The last straw is that I get random food. Not even my last week’s menu. I really can’t find a word other than “bizzare” to comment: this is a lose-lose move… The customer is already presumably unhappy for getting an unwanted delivery that he/she cannot cancel. And CookUnity decided to make the customer more angry by sending random food, instead of the food that the customer has ordered before (and presumably enjoyed). I really cannot understand the motivation of doing this…

And seriously, I won’t have written this rant if they had sent me my last week’s menu. Their food is actually quite good (as a snack at least), and I’m happy to just pretend that I spent $72 buying some expensive snacks. The thing is, I did not even get my desired snack in the end. Seriously, it just feels like… Somebody set up a trap, you got into the trap and lost some money. The offender could just take the money and leave, but he decided to chant “hey you stupid” at you before he leaves, even if that’s not giving him any extra benefit.

And since CookUnity has decided to chant at me after I got into their trap, I decide to post this rant online.

Lawful?

CookUnity’s behavior is clearly unethical. But is it lawful at all?

After a bit research, it appears to me that two potential laws probably apply. The first one is California’s Senate Bill No 313 which specifically regulates behavior on utomatic renewal and continuous service offers. It seems to me that they have violated a few terms. For example, their website never explicitly mentioned that the service is a subscription (except hiding deep in their terms and conditions, but the law requires a “clear and conspicuous manner”). And I have never received an email notification about the upcoming subscribed delivery. At the time I get an email, clearly they have determined that they will not allow me to cancel it.

Second, does the law allow a shopping website to create random orders “for” customers without customer consent nor authorization, and then charge their credit card? It seems absurd if the law would allow that, even if the behavior is explained in their terms (which CookUnity didn’t anyway). Otherwise shopping websites can just put tricks in their terms and sell a bottle water for a million bucks. Perhaps it even constitutes credit card fraud, but I’m not sure.

Anyway… I would recommend all readers to stay away from CookUnity.
They have done unethical (and maybe unlawful) things like this.
Before deciding to use their service, are you certain that you won’t step into another trap some day?