Dear Ashton Kutcher, where are my T-shirts?

Tech companies, however glamorous, sometimes fail. Last week, this fate befell Ashton Kutcher-backed Pickwick and Weller. However, did the company bother telling its loyal customers? Ah, no.

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Wonder where he got that t-shirt. Jay Leno/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

I got seduced by Ashton Kutcher.

No, I'm not the first person to have ever said this, but in this case he caught me at a weak moment. (I have even more than you.)

The only reason I'd heard about a T-shirt company called Pickwick and Weller was that it was launched last year with a large fanfare and the name and money of the man himself.

As with a lot of online retail stores, I thought I'd try it.

What could be the harm in spending $26 on a T-shirt? It might turn out to be a nice T-shirt. It might even turn out to fit. Many T-shirts, after a couple of washes, feel and look like they're someone else's.

However, when I tried on my first Pickwick and Weller T-shirt, it was a very pleasant surprise. It fit. It felt soft. I even caught myself stroking it once or twice. (I mentioned the weak moments, right?)

So I ordered a couple more.

The site had simple, tasteful navigation. The T-shirts arrived nicely rolled up in a cardboard tube, which slipped perfectly into my mailbox.

Soon, I persuaded myself I needed various colors. They kept on coming. I kept on stroking them.

Earlier this year, however, I began to see that quite a few designs in many of the colors were unavailable.

"Goodness," I thought. "This brand is really popular. That Ashton's a genius."

I'd already had this thought, as he was also the name behind Warby Parker, whose online-only eyewear comes just (far) ahead of Google Glass on my nose.

Ashton Kutcher is clearly a rarity. He knows how to make me happy. If he was a girl, I'd ask him out on a date. We'd sit in the back room at San Francisco's Aziza restaurant and talk about the nuances of dating Eastern Europeans.

Naturally, I kept on ordering T-shirts. Never too many at once. But they were always such a pleasant entrant into a mailbox often filled with postcards from realtors and coupons from Safeway.

At the end of March, I ordered three T-shirts. On April 1, I received an e-mail notifying me of their shipment.

When they arrived, they were not in my mailbox. The cardboard tube had been tossed onto my doorstep by a man from FedEx. I picked it up. Both plastic ends of the tube were missing. One T-shirt was soiled with something that looked like oil. Another, I discovered, had a rip in it.

I got straight onto Pickwick and Weller's customer service.

I received an email from Mari on April 9. It read: "Thank you for contacting us and my apologies for the issue you experienced with delivery. We will go ahead and resend today. Please let me know if you have any questions in the interim."

Now that's the sort of customer service you should expect from a fine, growing online apparel company.

I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

I did, indeed, have questions in this interim. I wrote to Mari again. Now she didn't reply at all. I wrote one more email. Still no reply. This seemed odd. Could this fine, growing online company be experiencing pains?

I went onto the Web site.

"All Good Tees Come To Those Who Wait," it said. It added: "Pickwick & Weller is taking an extended staycation so we can come back with the best t-shirt. Ever."

It turned out to be all good tease comes to those who wait.

Last week, Pickwick and Weller shut down. (But the "come back" message is still up on the Web site.)

As Pando Daily reported, the CEO and several other members of staff had already started new jobs, many with a company called ZenDesk.

"We built a good brand and a great product, with loyal customers, but where we really struggled was in unlocking healthy enough customer acquisition to scale it to a point where it made sense. We simply ran out of time and runway," founder Ryan Donahue told PandoDaily.

Well, guess whom he never bothered to tell? The customers. Perhaps he told Oprah, who had declared Pickwick and Weller T-shirts one of her favorite things in the world. (She has many, it's true.)

Of course, those who champion online everything insist that this is just another example of e-commerce being very difficult. It is.

Pickwick's management claims it simply couldn't grow the business and acquisition of new customers became too expensive, even though 35 percent of those who did order were, like me, repeat customers.

But why give a mendacious impression on your Web site that you will be coming back with a bigger and better product, when you've already taken a new job and left customers hanging in your empty closet?

Why not, at least, inform your customers and thank them for their loyalty? Businesses used to do that. They even posted "going out of business" signs. You never know when you might see those customers again.

Though Pickwick and Weller got my money, I never got my replacement T-shirt shipment.

Of course these are only T-shirts. Tech companies come and go like T-shirts. But customers, to many tech companies, seem often to be merely virtual repositories of cash. They're there for the taking and when the roundabout stops, the people doing the riding get off, while the horses they rode in on wonder what happened.

I think I'll wear my either my permanently dirty or my slightly ripped Pickwick and Weller T-shirt out to dinner tonight.

You know, just in memory.

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It's not coming back. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

 

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