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The Case of the Missing Watch

posted to writings on feb 16th, 2016 with tag rant, last updated on feb 15th, 2016

On January 8th, I bought a Withings Activité watch direct from Withings after finding a 25%-off coupon for their site. I had recently sold my Apple Watch and thought I'd try out a more analog watch.

I received the watch on the afternoon of January 13th. As soon as I opened the box, I could tell that I was not going to like it. If you look at all of the pictures of the watch on their website, you might not notice that they never show you the side profile of it. Much like the newer iMacs, the Activité has a huge tapered hump on the back that they hide in marketing materials to make it seem much thinner than it is. Combined with the unappealing appearance of the long and thin straps of the watch, and some frustration at difficulties pairing it with my phone, I was having a bit of buyer's remorse and decided to return it.

At this point the watch had been out of its box for probably an hour and had not left my desk. I put the watch back on its piece of cardboard and tucked the straps back under the elastic loops. The board was put back in its box along with all of the other materials, the box back in its plastic wrap, and that put back in the shipping box which was only slightly bigger than the watch box. I had only opened the shipping box on one end to slide out the watch box.


I contacted Withings through their website to initiate the RMA process and they replied by e-mail the next day. I printed out their return slip, folded it up, slid it in between the shipping box and the plastic-wrapped watch box, taped the one open end shut with packing tape, and then affixed a UPS label to the shipping box.

The next day on the 15th, I dropped the package into a UPS drop box in the CVS parking lot near my home. This drop box is located about 10 feet from the doors to the CVS, next to a FedEx drop box. After dropping the package in the box, I opened its door again to make sure my package had fallen well inside the box, as I always do.

Google Street View

The UPS tracking for the package shows it was picked up that day at 7:37 P.M. and made its way to Withings' return department in Boston by the 20th.

So far so good right?

Suddenly, an Empty Box

That evening I received an e-mail follow up from Withings:

Nick D., Jan 20, 20:56


We received a sealed parcel from you, but it did not contain the item for return. It only contained the packing slip. May I ask if you might have forgotten to include the device when setting up the parcel?

I was a bit perplexed how they could have received a "sealed parcel" with no watch inside, and a bit panicked that my return had been lost.

I replied explaining that I did pack the watch properly and asked for clarification on what they actually received. The next day, I got a reply:

Nick D., Jan 21, 21:29


We only received the outer cardboard box, with a piece of paper (the packing slip) inside. It did not appear to be tampered with from what we could tell.

We would encourage you to contact UPS regarding this. For reference the tracking number on the parcel was: (redacted)

If we can assist further, please let us know.

Did I actually forget to put the watch box back in the shipping box? I distinctly remember putting the watch back in its box, inside the plastic wrap, and inside the shipping box. It never left my desk and there is no watch anywhere here. I also would have noticed the weight of carrying an empty box on my way to the drop box.

Could someone have stolen it from the UPS box in between me dropping it off and the UPS driver picking it up? Though this is Chicago, this would have been done during the day near a busy intersection, right near the doors to a 24-hour CVS. Even if someone did break into the UPS box to take the package out, they would have just ran off with it, not carefully open it, take the watch out but leave the packing slip, and then tape it shut again and put the nearly empty box back into the UPS drop box.

Could it have fallen out during transit? The box was taped shut, and the flap for the side I opened had to be tucked back in between the watch box and the shipping box, making it nearly impossible that the box could slide out on its own without someone untucking the flap. If the watch box had somehow slid out, the packing slip would have most likely gone with it. They received the box "sealed" and it still had the packing slip inside.

Could someone at Withings have misplaced the box after receiving the package? Who knows.

Since Withings was not going to be of any further help, I initiated a claim on UPS's website on the 21st. I hoped they would at least be able to determine what the package weighed during transit. I filled out the claim form and checked the box indicating that the item was missing (not damaged).

UPS Claim

On the 28th, I received an e-mail from UPS that they had made multiple attempts to pick up the package from Withings but it was not available and they were giving up and closing the claim.

I e-mailed Withings on the 28th, asking for an address and phone number where UPS could pick up the package since the address I sent the return to was apparently not right. Withings e-mailed back on February 1st:

Nick D., Feb 1, 16:54


I'm sorry for the delay. It looks like we had received a shipping label from UPS for a damaged item claim. The documentation requested that we send them 1 watch, but as we had not received this item we had nothing to send. You may need to follow up with UPS to see what they would recommend in this case.

Why they would not at least provide the empty box for inspection, I don't know.

After running through the maze of UPS's phone tree, transferred from one department to another, I finally talked to someone in the damage department (not the claims department) who said they wouldn't even need to pick up the empty package, just inspect it. Why weren't they able to inspect the package on the four times they attempted at Withings' address?

UPS made another attempt at inspecting the package at Withings and after finally doing so, proceeded with the claim.

While waiting for UPS, I went to the CVS and spoke with a manager to ask about the security cameras in the parking garage. If someone had broken into the UPS drop box and taken my package out, maybe at least the police could look into it, but CVS won't review or release the camera footage without a warrant, but I can't really go to the police with no information.

Hindsight is 20/20

On February 10th, UPS formally issued the claim, and after not being able to find the watch anywhere, approved the claim on February 15th. Unfortunately since I didn't add extra insurance on the package, it was only covered for their default of $100, $237.50 short of what I paid Withings for it. They are mailing out a check shortly.

I still don't know what happened to the watch, whether it miraculously fell out during transit or whether some cat burglar with the skills to quickly steal a package from a locked UPS drop box, remove the contents, and seal it back up is now running around tracking his steps while stealing other packages. I would hope Withings is able to flag the serial number or Bluetooth MAC address of the watch so when they see it registered through their systems, they are able to identify it as being stolen.

I suppose the moral of the story is to always spend the extra money to insure things with shipping carriers for the full amount, and/or to never use a UPS drop box for anything over $100.

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