Open letter to Collis Ta'eed, CEO of Envato, regarding Themeforest

Subject: Open letter to Collis Ta'eed, CEO of Envato, regarding Themeforest
From: Mark H
Date: 7 Apr 2016

Dear Mr. Ta'eed,

I am writing regarding issues I have encountered with your quality services team.

As a web designer, I have long admired many templates found on Themeforest. In 2013, I signed up myself to purchase one. Unfortunately, your payment processing system is far from ideal, and has actively discouraged me from purchasing templates from you for many sites. More on that later!

Last year, a client wanted a hairdressing website, and I showed her many options. We initially went with a Wordpress theme, but it turned out to be rather difficult to get it looking right. There was a nice HTML template, Cutting Edge, but the WordPress version kept getting disabled. Rather ominous. Even the HTML template author didn't know what was happening and hoped it would return soon.

Come September, my client was eager to get something in place, so I purchased the HTML template. Despite the poor manual with the template, it was easy (so long as you have reasonable HTML/CSS/PHP knowledge) to customize the template. However, there were two issues - the contact form was sending e-mails in a strange fashion and the promotions section had a concertina format that omitted some of the text on mobile devices. I reported the issues via the comments as instructed, but the author ignored me - and other users. A couple of months later, he still hadn't replied and I had fixed the e-mail issue myself, so again I commented, giving the solution and requesting a fix for both issues. Yet again, there was no reply and no fix, but the author had been answering questions about a forthcoming WordPress version (it had not come back online). I was concerned that I didn't have long left on my support contract for the template.

Consequently, I contacted Envato support via e-mail for further assistance on 21 February. I received a reply from Scott Barlow on 26 February (I should add that he apologized for the delay and his response time has been excellent since). Initially, his solution was to ask the author to contact me, which did happen. However, when I told the author in detail what problems I was having, he didn't reply! On 2 March, Scott offered a refund (I didn't want this as the site is live and had been highly customized) and reported the author to the quality team. I gave details, and the quality team replicated the issues on 3 March and gave the author 7 days to fix them. The update was published on 11 March, fixing the e-mail issues but not the responsive problem! I reported this to Scott, who confirmed on 17 March that the quality team had found this issue and gave the author five days to fix it. I told Scott that the issue was also present in the WordPress port of the theme and he assured me he would "add this to the author notes for the quality team to check" on 18 March. The template was disabled on 23 March. However, the WordPress theme was not disabled.

Scott asked me to check the updated file on 29 March. I did so on my Galaxy S5, using the default browser. The site remained the same! I told Scott, and ever since then have been checking several browsers and platforms, sending screenshots to Scott and describing the issues in detail. He keeps telling me that the quality team don't find the issue and I have to once again repeat myself. I've spent many hours chasing this up, including finding a few people with Apple devices to confirm issues (that your quality team denied existed). At one point, the quality team sent a screenshot to Scott to show me that they can't replicate the issue I was having on the default browser. The screenshot was of Chrome, which is a browser that must be downloaded on an Android device - unbelievable! Do your quality team not even know what browsers are available for Android, and the difference between them? Incidentally, I found an issue when using the live preview button on your site on iOS Safari - the issue was not present when viewing the author's preview site without your top bar, so was probably caused by your website code, not the author's! However, your quality team refused to acknowledge this as an issue, despite me reporting that three people found the fault! I have now sent them video evidence, which I hope they will review.

I must say that Scott has been marvellous - his replies are always punctual and polite, even sympathizing with the lack of response from the author and the quality team giving him extra time to resolve matters. It is a shame Scott has to be the middle man between your customers and quality team, as I'm sure he will find some customers venting their frustrations with the quality team on him! Why do you not have the quality team respond directly to the customer once the issue has been given to them?

With respect, it is not my job to test a $15 template that you sell. I purchased it in good faith, as it was marked as "fully responsive design", "quality checked by Envato" and "well documented". The files received were not well documented (they didn't even explain where to add your e-mail address for the contact form to work!) and the template clearly hadn't been quality checked. I have spent countless hours doing your quality team's job because they either ignore my reports or say they can't replicate the issue. I have had to repeat myself many times to get an issue looked at. I was told the WordPress theme has been disabled, but it is still live and (being based on the original version of the HTML theme) still has the responsive issues on all mobile browsers! I shouldn't have to spend so much time and effort proving to your team that there are issues and repeating myself to get them to look at them. I don't want a refund because I have now spent more time on this template than it is worth - it was only $15 but has cost me hundreds in lost time. My client loves the design, so I have to stick with it... and designing or purchasing and customizing a new template would be even more time lost.

Furthermore, the author of the WordPress port (a different author) has cloned the original page for the theme including screenshots, but the live preview uses very different fonts that are, quite frankly, ugly. Again, this theme is checked for quality by your team. How, therefore, did it pass with the theme not looking much like the screenshots on the product page? This is false advertising.

As for the payment system, I do appreciate that you have some cheap assets for which payment processor charges would swallow any profit, so you set a minimum $20 credit purchase. However, most items are not multiples of $10, which leaves a surplus trapped in customers' accounts. They've paid you the money and it is sitting in your bank account earning you interest, but they cannot use it. Bizarrely, you only offer credit in multiples of $10. Why is this? When a user has purchased $60 worth of credit for a $59 theme, they have $1 sitting in their account. The logical thing would be to allow them to purchase $58 worth of credit, then they can purchase a theme and zero their balance. Instead, they have to leave the $1 there, and another dollar is added to it! This means your customers have to either find a low-value asset (that they probably don't want - especially if they only purchase, for example, WordPress themes that are far more expensive) or purchase several items before they can get access to their money.

Furthermore, your system only sends out one reminder e-mail a month before the credit expires, which is easy to miss if you receive lots of e-mail. I'm told your system now gives a visual reminder within 30 days, too - but it still doesn't give you an at-a-glance method of seeing how long it is until your credit expires. The PayPal method of payment, whilst a way around this, attracts a surcharge. This becomes expensive if buying several items, so the credit system would be the more attractive method if surplus money wasn't trapped by it. Even weirder, customers can add credit via PayPal and you don't charge them to do so! Surely a credible company should accept credit card payments? It seems odd that you have a system for authors to withdraw earnings, but there is no way for customers who buy assets to withdraw the surplus cash left in their account.

I understand that the non-responsiveness of the author is not your fault, but it took your quality team a long time to sort the issue out, and they only seemed to ask him to look at one of the reported elements, when I was told all issues had been replicated! More than six weeks later, the theme has been disabled again and we await a fix. This is an unacceptably long time to get a fix - my client is getting irate and it looks bad on me.

Whilst Scott has been great, I feel really let down by your quality team and your crazy payment system. If it were not for Scott, I would not be using Themeforest again, but I am willing to give you another chance. I hope you can make improvements within your quality team, as there are clearly issues in communications between customers and them.

Amazingly, since writing this last night, I have had a reply from Christian B, one of your Help Team Leaders, regarding my escalated complaint. Christian didn't apologize for the issues I have been facing once, which was unbelievable. In fact, his e-mail took a rather defensive stance which went on to accuse me of confusing your quality team with lengthy replies. He clearly didn't bother to read through my e-mails, as I repeated the issue that still remains over six weeks later no fewer than eight times! On many of these occasions, they were either the only subject of the e-mail in question (which was only a few sentences long), distinguished from other issues with a separate paragraph with a bold header or listed in short bullet points. However, Christian excused his "diverse" team based all over the World, as "in many cases English is not their first language." With respect, this illustrates that you would rather hire cheap labour than pay hard-working Australians (or Westerners) an honest wage to deal with issues in their native tongue - fine if it doesn't cause communication issues... but it clearly does. He went on to say I should list the remaining issues in bullet points - there are only two of them and I've mentioned them several times previously including as bullet points - clearly, Christian didn't bother reading the history! He also only answered some points of my complaint, so hadn't even addressed the complaint properly. I am astonished that any member of your customer services team would talk to a customer with a complaint in such an unfriendly manner, let alone a Team Leader. It is, quite frankly, completely unacceptable.

I thank you for taking the time to read this open letter, and hope it will help identify issues within your organization.