Little Passports subscription – no thumbs up from me

I have been subscribing a year almost and now want to cancel this. If you’re contemplating getting this for your child, I hope this blog post helps inform your decision.

Pros :

– Something new in the post every month

– Fun introduction to a different country every month

Cons:

– Subscription fee is way overpriced for what you receive. I’ll tell you what you receive and you can also Google it online. Some have also uploaded photos of the stuff in every package online. One website like this I think is a Montessori-type website featuring Little Passports. The first month, you get the cardboard suitcase, which makes the mail package fairly large. You think wow, a large parcel box like that is going to arrive every month from then on. No in actual fact, all you will get after that first mailing is a thin padded envelope that will slip through your mailbox easily without needing for you to sign for it. Yes and that’s because the contents in each month’s package are really little.

1) You get a printed piece of A4 paper with activities like word searches and things on both sides of the paper.

2) You get a printed piece of C5 paper which is supposed to be a pretend letter written to you by your Little Passports pretend “penpals”, Sam and Sofia.

3) You get like 4 small stickers to stick on your Little Passports cardboard suitcase and pretend passport.

4) And lastly you get a very small and poor quality toy that is supposed to be from the country of the month – usually the toy would be some piece of tat that breaks easily or is worth no more than £2 in the shops – effectively “party bag fillers”.

Altogether these 4 items cost £13.95 per month. If you have the inclination to do so, just make up your own pretend letter from pretend pen pals (or find real ones from these countries online if possible), make up your own or download and print some worksheets or wordsearches from online sources, research online for toys that traditionally hail in that country and source it on the net or in real shops. Bet you can find ones of better quality. Lastly, make your own stickers with country flags on them or just ditch the stickers if they’re no big loss to your kids. £13.95 a month a package,  with 36 packages in total to collect. That’s £500+ you’ll pay in total over 3 years if you keep the subscription until you’ve received all 36 monthly packages. Is that really the kind of money you think worth spending on a very basic standard of Geography and cultural awareness exposure from purchasing this subscription? I bet if you saved your money, you could buy a tonne of resources to expose your child to more of this subject, and still have money left in the kitty after!

Alright, I am not asking for quantity over quality, I am just asking for quality and substance. Right now, the product lacks quality and quantity, lacks substance. Might be fine for an 8 or 9 year old but way too easy and basic for my 10 year old even, who by the way isn’t even a very academic child.

– What a bummer too that so far, despite attempts by home educators both in UK and the US to secure good educational discount deals with Little Passports for groups of us, Little Passports has been very unwilling to budge from their meagre 15% discount code which they already offer to all potential customers. That’s a pretty poor saving. Their classroom subscriptions for US schools works out at USD$16.50 per month for 30 packages. Now that’s the price home educators want, as we can group together and make group purchases of that number or more. Why aren’t Little Passports willing to do us a deal like they already do with schools? Do they not consider what we’re doing a form of teaching and schooling? Or do they suppose all/most home educators are rich and therefore will spend silly money on this? And if they wanted to play the numbers game, well there are a far lot more of us out there than you think, and we do tend to club together for deals and groupbuys for educational materials. They can easily get 100s of home educators subscribing to them, if they are willing to lower prices for us. Home educators already get a lot of discounts and deals together this way, and word travels fast in our community. We could potentially get you lots of subscribers in a small amount of time. Do you want to do business or what?

– Customer service is generally poor and slow to respond – quick to take your money though! And this is especially risky for non-US subscribers because there is no way to contact them other than by email or social media. They take a day or more to respond to every email. Sometimes quite erratically, they respond on the same day. And the fact it is all email-based makes it quite easy for them to ditch responsibility really. They could just ignore you. And well, what is their contact address should you wish to write a letter of complaint? And how would that work sending a recorded letter all the way to America from the UK? Expenses paid by yourself or them? (The answer is you)

And who can you report them to for questionable business practices if you live in the UK and perhaps have little knowledge of American consumer laws or perhaps because of the fact you aren’t a US resident, you might not get the help you need by law enforcement or the ombudsman? And when the customer service reps do respond, they are good with general politeness and that certain American “peppiness” but at the end of the day, issues remain unsatisfactorily resolved and they don’t budge no matter your objection.

For instance, my child’s package did not arrive on the expected date one month. I was worried it might have gotten lost in the mail and contacted them but all the said back to me was a) wait for it to arrive b) items aren’t tracked (well with the pricing and the cheap quality of materials, it should, really.) so they can’t tell me where the item is other than it has been sent. Eventually the package arrived late by a week or so c) just a sorry from them. Nothing else. If the package had arrived later or never arrived, I have no idea if they will even resend the package. Annoying thing is that they will continue taking the monthly payment from your card on time though.

– Speaking of monthly card payments, that takes us to the next important major cons about Little Passports – their requirement of every subscriber to pass them their credit or debit card details so they can take payment continuously during the entire subscription period. Now did you know that when you give an online retailer your card details to take payment as and when they wish, you have basically lost a huge amount of control on your end as to stopping any future payments, if you should ever feel disgruntled about the product. Basically there is no way you can stop these future payments Little Passports will take from you if they choose to keep taking them, if your bank is unwilling to do anything about it for you. Some banks will insist that such continuous payments can never be cancelled as long as the company keeps taking them, because some banks will tell you once you have given your card details away to a company, you have basically given up control over the matter and there will be nothing the bank can do about stopping future payments. Hopefully your bank won’t be like that. In the worst case scenario, the only thing you can do to stop further payments to be taken is to close down your bank account and reopen another one. Because even if you applied for a change of card number and kept your old account, some banks will just transfer Little Passports’ authority to take payments, to the new card associated with your bank account, so they can continue taking payments from your new card number!

So when you entrust your card payment details to a company like Little Passports, which to all intents and appearances seem to be a fully online company with no physical address nor call centre, you are basically trusting that nothing will ever go wrong as far as dealings with them are concerned, and that nothing will ever happen that could be the reason why you might wish to stop them taking another monthly payment off your payment card. Big, big risk. Especially with the poor level of customer care I have received. My advice to you after my own experiences is never hand over your card details for recurring payments for any subscription. If possible, use Direct Debit or Standing Orders.

– In addition, they have a very odd billing system I find, in which they take your money in advance, usually around 25th of the month, for the next month’s shipment which is expected to arrive around mid-month. Once they have taken your money, if you ask for a cancellation and refund, they will refuse to refund anything to you, saying that the packages are already in the process of being prepared and shipped and they cannot take the package back. What kind of preparation and airmail shipment method from the US takes just over 2 weeks to complete? They are basically saying that from round about the 25th of the month till round about the middle (15th) of the following month, the packages are in the process of being prepared and airmailed to you. Packages that typically contain one tiny toy, 2 sheets of printed paper, and a sheet of about 4 small stickers that isn’t bigger than your palm. I can’t imagine how that could take a lot of time and effort to pack and send. And the US is a first world country and not so far from the UK, so airmail packages from the US typically arrive in UK within a week of postage. In general, it’s all a bit BS really.

– If you’re thinking of purchasing more than 1 subscription for 1 household, perhaps so that each child in the household can have their own package, well I would caution against that. I purchased 2 subscriptions from the start so 2 of my children can have their own sets. Unfortunately the past 2 or 3 of my son’s packages didn’t arrive at the same time as my daughter’s, which affected his enjoyment of the packages – basically the surprise element was gone once he’d seen what his sister had received first. The surprise element of these packages was the main reason why I subscribed to Little Passports. As a home educator, I am used to planning and arranging curricula resources for my children. I could easily have gotten books, worksheets and workbooks or online resources to help my kids learn Geography and cultural awareness. However I notice my kids were more interested in a subject if there is a sensory aspect or a surprise element to it. I tried Little Passports out as it seemed to fit those expectations. Unfortunately it started out fine and then became less satisfactory as time went on due to the above-mentioned issues. When I contacted Little Passports about the lack of synchronicity with the mailing of both packages, I just got an answer that basically meant the company can’t do anything about it. Not only that, the company couldn’t track the packages so if one came late (and once my son’s package did come as late as nearly 2 weeks longer than his sister’s), all the company rep could tell me was they’re sorry and that I must just wait for the packages to arrive.

I felt the company could at least try to ensure that 2 orders from 2 children with the same surname and therefore from the same family at the same address (i.e. siblings) could be sent at the same time so they arrive together. It just makes sense to do so, right? But apparently this is not possible, according to their rep 😕

– And lastly, they have a very poor online  account management system. Below are a few incidents that have happened :

– I forgot my password (or I assumed I did since I tried what I thought was the password I’d set initially and it didn’t work) when I needed to log in one day to halt my shipments for a month. The customer rep I emailed just didn’t address the issue of my password, but she halted the shipments for me.

– When I emailed them to unsubscribe, and according to their online website FAQs, if you want to cancel subscription, all you have to do is email their customer support and give 30 days notice. Well when I emailed customer support to cancel subscription, she said I had to log into my account to do so myself! Well since my online login and password issue still remains unresolved for months, how can I? Why can’t she cancel the subscription herself? Even their FAQs say you just email customer support and give 30 days notice. So why now is she saying I have to log into my online account and unsubscribe from there myself? Conflicting information much? 😕 Below is a screenshot of their company policy from their website on cancelling subscriptions :

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– Once my son tried going onto their online portal to do the “additional online fun activities”, but we couldn’t log in. Emailed their customer reps only to be given login details but the fields for them were blank in the email. Duh… so this didn’t resolve anything. Luckily for us, after examining his Little Passports suitcase “boarding passes” I realised the problem may be the fact I hadn’t keyed in the correct boarding pass code for him. So problem resolved by myself, no thanks to the customer reps who seemed to not even know much about how the company system operates – ditto for my previous point about conflicting advice on subscription cancellation policies.

And just for interest, I went on Little Passport’s Facebook page to look at their Visitor Posts to see if others were having similar issues to mine. Well I found quite a few. To take a look yourself, go to https://www.facebook.com/littlepassports/

Click on the small arrow next to the word “Visitor Posts”  to view the full list of posts made by various visitors.  I’ve indicated it with a red arrow in the screenshot below.

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And below this paragraph are screenshots of the complaints, for the month of January 2017 alone, posted by Little Passport customers on the Little Passports Facebook page. I’m sure there are more if you want to look into their page. Hmm clearly a recurring pattern there amongst the complaints mainly relating to delivery issues, customer service issues, and charging and unsubscription issues.

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I hope this information is useful to anyone considering subscribing to Little Passports from the UK especially. Also, Little Passports, if you’re reading this, you might think this all sounds harsh, but I promise you if you actually manage to get my issues resolved satisfactorily, I will comment here as truthfully as I can about it. All of your usual pleasantries in your emails will sound nothing but insincere if you fail to be able to resolve your customer issues. I await any further emails from you in good faith and I hope you can understand how frustrated I have been at dealing with your company, which is why I want to cancel now.

You could be doing so much better. You have a great concept in your hands. It is on the strength of the concept that customers flock to you. If you really try and work on the issues surrounding your customer service, the quality of your materials, and your online account portal for customers, you could gain a lot more customers and not lose customers like me who have had frustrating experiences with you.

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UPDATE:  I received a final reply from the rep today which sounded as if she didn’t understand the issues I’ve had with the company in the past 10 months. She said she wasn’t able to respond timely because of timezone issues, but she was apologetic and said she has made sure my account has been cancelled straight away. I can’t fault the customer reps when they do respond. Rude is not a word that describes them. However the problems still remain, so it could be a company policy issue. Something the directors should decide. Also I suggest timezone issues affecting customer service rep response should not be present if this company wants to be established in the UK market as well. They used to restrict their business to US-only customers, and only last year they started shipping to UK customers too. But it would improve their UK customer service if they had UK-based reps or at least US ones who can man the customer service systems during daytime hours in the UK. And for goodness sakes, they really need to fix their online portal, delivery methods, and charging issues.

I also called my bank today to explain my situation. Having looked at UK-based online forums where people described their difficulties in getting their banks to stop recurring subscription card payments such as this, I was expecting there could be a chance my request could be refused. However I got transferred by the phone banking customer rep to the right person in the company handling this sort of thing, and this lady was very helpful and understanding. She asked me to describe the details of what happened and why I was wanting the payments to be stopped. I explained and didn’t even need to go into excruciating detail, but she basically replied and said it sounds like this company isn’t interested in stopping the payments, and then told me she will ensure all attempts by Little Passports to claim future payments will be refused as of immediate effect. She also said I should receive a letter in the post soon confirming this. How’s that for efficient and responsive customer service? 🙂

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Toucan Box : Our review

I have since edited my review of Toucan Box, after having been with Toucan Box for half a year. The edited portion is at the bottom of this post, in orange.

I first heard about craft boxes in a subscription format from a Home Education group I belong to. That got me curious, so I did a Google search for more of the same, and I found this one : Toucan Box.

It seemed to contain more projects than the other ones on the market, and I thought it would give my kids a bit more to do since they love working with their hands and crafting. Since I’m not a very crafty mum myself, I thought why not try it out? It does seem a little costly at about £30 a month in total for a subscription for 2 of my kids, but if they enjoy it and I can still afford it, it seems worth it. Oh and the £10 off discount for the first box made it all the more appealing.

I should mention that there are quite a few craft box subscription companies around if you try Googling, and they are not all targeted for the same age group/market. The Toucan Box is for the 3 – 8 year old group, as stated on its website, so I thought it would be good for my 5 and 7 year old son and daughter. It would in fact suit an older child too I suppose (the specified age range is just a guide), but my 10 year old already finds these Toucan Box projects too “babyish”.

When our first Toucan Box arrived, we quickly opened it up…

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It came with a sheet of extra activities to do (materials not included), 4 sealed boxes of kit (each box containing exactly enough for both my kids to complete 1 of the projects), colouring and sticker books, 2 Toucan Box badges (they are collectible and can be exchanged for free gifts from the company itself), and larger craft materials for the projects that are too large to fit into the 4 sealed boxes of kit. The box also came with a listing of educational objectives that show which EYFS guidelines have been achieved by way of completing all the projects in the box. On the back of the box lid, 4 pictures show what each of the projects would look like once completed.

Every month’s Toucan Box has a specific theme for the 4 projects it includes, and for this box, the theme is “Colour”.

As the 4 sealed boxes of kit are all packaged identically, there is no way to discern which box is for which project, so I think it’s meant to be a sort of surprise element for the kids, as in they pick a box not knowing what they’d get in the box until they unseal it.

The first box picked was for a project that involved making “stained glass” out of coloured tissue (that the kids were supposed to rip up themselves) and clear sticky plastic film. It came with some plastic sucker cups with hooks as well, so we could hang the completed “stained glass” on our windows… like this :

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(Pardon the scaffolding behind the window! The builders were at work… )

There was far too much coloured tissue included in the pack but my kids took quite a long time ripping them up (I guess that was part of the fun) so all in all this project took much longer than expected to finish. But the kids thoroughly loved every bit of it.

My son needed help with the sticky film part, but he was perfectly capable of tearing up the tissue paper. My daughter managed to do the whole thing by herself.

Next project was Tie-Dye Bunting. Now this one was a bit messier. We were provided with sachets of Kool Aid in 3 different colours (Yellow, Red and Purple) and little plastic bowls to mix the Kool Aid up in, with a bit of water. This was to be the “dye” for the bunting material. Now Kool Aid is not something commonly found in UK unless you go to American specialty food shops (places where I’m sure the prices of American products are bumped up much higher than what they’d normally cost if bought in the US), so I was a bit surprised to find such an item in a craft box produced in England. But I guess the price we pay for the Toucan Box covers that!

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The kids really enjoyed dyeing their scraps of silky fabric with the Kool Aid mix via plastic droppers (all included in the kit). The fruity (if not artificial) smell of the Kool Aid mix adds an additional sensory aspect to the activity.

Once they were done with the dyeing, we undid the elastic bands and unravelled the fabrics. Then we laid them out on a piece of scrap leather material we had lying around to dry.

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The next day, they were dry and ready to be cut up into triangles for the bunting. My daughter felt a bit sad to have to cut up her tie-dyed fabric as it looked quite pretty on its own – her’s is the one on the left.

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When we finished cutting up the bunting fabric, we attached the triangles to the ribbon and it was complete.

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My son needed a lot of help throughout the process, so I’d say these projects are not all designed to be ones that kids can just be left alone to finish on their own.

The next project was making coloured glasses. This was the project my daughter originally dreaded doing as she thought it was boring (from seeing the completed project picture on the back of the box life). However, once she got started on it, she enjoyed it.

My son needed a lot of help with the cutting aspect and my daughter made it on her own – just about. You see, she made a mistake by cutting out pieces of coloured cellophane that were too small to fit the frames of the glasses. She had to redo all that with whatever was left after we all had done the cutting, and with my help, we managed to salvage enough cellophane to fit her glass frames. So unlike the earlier project we completed – the “stained glass” project – this project did not come with an abundance of material.

The kids were happy with the results :
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The final project was making colour spinners. I’m sure all of us at some point in our childhood have heard of or made one of these. Back then, I’d cut out a circular piece of card, colour it in rainbow colours, then stick a sharpened wooden pencil into the centre of the card to make the spinner.

Well the Toucan Box version of this is higher quality than that. It came with a wooden top for each child. A specially-crafted wooden top that will fit each of the 6 circular cards provided for each child, and the cards all had different geometric patterns printed on them. Each child is given a set of mini felt tips to colour in their circle cards.

The colouring took the longest to do because the surface area of the felt tips were tiny compared to the surface area of the cards. The kids probably took about 20 minutes to colour it all up and I was amazed none of them complained or gave up. My son did have a moment’s rest in between colouring because he said his hand was “sore”. So I suggested he not press so hard on the card as he coloured it. Also some of the areas to be coloured on the cards really were tiny and the amount of effort and concentration the kids (especially my son) put in to colour those areas showed. I realise this was probably a very good exercise for kids to practise their fine motor skills and learn to focus their attention on a task at hand.

Here are their completed spinners :
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And a spinner in action :

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I wouldn’t say they spent a lot of time playing or looking at their completed projects after that, but they enjoyed the process of making and doing something, and that for us was the main benefit of a craft box subscription.

I found myself enjoying the process and even learning some new things from doing these projects with my kids. Yes it’s a bit costly – comes up to about £8 a project for both kids – but I think it is quite useful for parents like me who aren’t as involved in crafts. Yes the internet has loads of free craft ideas, but in my experience, whenever I find a craft project I like online, it takes me quite a while to source the materials and get everything ready for the kids to do. With Toucan Box, everything we need for each project is provided so we can just start making these things. As long as the projects remain fresh and interesting, I think Toucan Box will continue to be a hit in our family (unless the kids lose interest in crafting altogether), so we’re letting the subscription run for another month.

P.S. The new Toucan Box had arrived a few days ago and I’ve opened it to have a look. The projects are quite different from the first box and look interesting once again, so I think we will be continuing our subscription for yet another month.

I’ve also taken photos of some other Toucan Box craft items we’ve made, and put them into my Galleries page. Feel free to have a look.

EDIT (13 Feb 2014): After being a Toucan Box subscriber for about 6 months, I have a few more comments to note about my experience.

In one of the boxes, there was a telling-time book that was designed to be used with a dry-wipe marker, which came with the book. Unfortunately, the dry-wipe marker had already dried up by the time it reached us! I emailed Toucan Box about sending a replacement, and they replied immediately, saying that they were aware of the problem (as it has already been reported by other Toucan Box users), and that they were going to send out replacement pens. A month later, a new Toucan Box arrived, with no sign of the replacement pen. I emailed them again to enquire about this, and once again they replied promptly to say that they are going to send replacement pens after they have ensured that their replacement pens work correctly with the book. Well it’s been 2 months ever since that 2nd reply from them (i.e. 3 months after the faulty dry-wipe pens were sent the first time), and not a word from them since. 2 more Toucan boxes have arrived since then and neither of them contained any replacement pens. I’ve given up and have since bought my own dry-wipe markers from Amazon and Ikea. All of them work on the book. I’m not sure why they have taken so long to find replacement markers that work.  And why the book they sent out initially (with the faulty marker) had passed their quality checks before being sent out.

Another point to note is that half a year ago when we signed up, we were sent Toucan Box badges with each box we received, and there was a flyer in each box saying that if we collect 6 of those badges, we get to choose a present from them, and they supplied us with a list of presents on offer, including space hoppers, mini tea sets, talking plush penguin, etc. Well we collected enough badges eventually, and I emailed them with a photo of my kids with their badges, and they replied (promptly again) that they will send the children’s presents in their next Toucan Box offering. Well about 2 weeks later, I received an email from them, saying “We’ve got some good news and some bad news. Unfortunately, the prize you’ve picked after collecting 5 badges is now out of stock. The good news is you are the first to see our new prize chart, and claim one of our brand new prizes! Don’t worry, though, we wouldn’t have you start from the very beginning! For each badge you’ve collected (and haven’t claimed a prize yet), you’ve already earned 4 Tokens!”

So now I’ve got 2 slightly disappointed kids, who were expecting their chosen presents to arrive with their next Toucan Box in 2 weeks. But okay, there’s a new scheme, and they say that all the badges we’ve collected so far will count towards the new reward scheme as well. Well that means we have enough tokens to claim prizes on the new reward scheme already, since we can convert the  badges we already own, to tokens, by multiplying each badge by 4 tokens (1 Badge = 4 tokens). So last week, I have logged into my Toucan Box account from the Toucan Box website and entered my requests for presents again. I have not heard a word from them since then, so I am not feeling entirely optimistic about this. Well even if they don’t send out presents after all (if this kind of goes belly-up on their end, just like the faulty markers incident), that’s fine. That’s not a deal breaker. And I don’t mean to sound like I’m nit-picking, because these issues are not major issues and they have not caused me to lose a fortune, but from their track record so far (and it’s only been 6 months), they don’t seem to be a very reliable company, even though they always do reply promptly by email. I am sorry – because all that means is they pay lip service to their customers even when they are unable to fulfill their offers.

On the other hand, their projects are still interesting so far, and my 7 year old daughter seems to be enjoying them a lot still, because she likes craft. But I am considering scaling down my subscription with Toucan Box anyway because they have recently introduced 3 different subscription sizes (a Petite box at £3.95 which contains 1 project; a Grande box at £9.95 which contains 2 projects and a book; a Super box at £16.95 which contains 4 projects and a book). They also have stopped sending 2 books with each box, and in the last 3 months, we’ve received 1 story/sticker book in each box instead. They have also stopped packaging each craft project box identically, instead a picture of the completed craft is pasted on it’s respective craft kit box. Now my 5 year old son is kinda hyper and just not really into Toucan Box craft even though we’ve been subscribing for half a year. He would groan a little whenever it’s “craft time” even though my other kids love craft time. Sometimes, he gets into the craft as he does it, and then looks like he is enjoying it. But the next time he would still groan a little again whenever it’s the next “craft time”… so I think maybe he just doesn’t like craft, and I should try something else.

 

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