A Note on Consumer Justice


Remember my lamps? These lamps? I’m not surprised if you don’t—I mentioned them over a month ago, when I thought the chaos was over and the refunds were coming. But they didn’t come, at least not right away. However, last week, I finally got the fiscal end of things straightened out.

It was a long process—about 8 weeks long, which is way too long, in my opinion, for something like this to drag out. Too long to keep track of phone calls, emails, people I’ve dealt with. Too long to try to remember what happened last and who I should email. Too long to keep staring at the ugly lamps in my living room thinking about how things could be different.

But I did it. I followed through. I kept my lists and my order number and knew which email was sent last. I pursued them through an unfair settlement and finally got things in order. And that’s what I have to say to all of you who are looking for some sort of settlement on the consumer level: stick with it.

Nope, it’s not fair. Nope, you shouldn’t have to. But sometimes you do have to in order to get your money back. Sure, you have to decide how much it’s worth to you, but think about it this way: Big Online Retailer A has 100 people every month who have mistakes made against them, for an average of $50 per mistake. If even half of these people choose not to pursue Big Online Retailer A, that retailer makes $2500 dollars. Now, that’s not so much money. But it’s quite a lot to make for making mistakes.

Now me, I don’t think that’s fair either. I don’t know how this works out for most companies (and I know I’ve heard that some stores lose a lot each month in thefts), but I don’t want anyone making money off of me like this. So I pursue retailers when mistakes are made, and I encourage you to do the same.

You’d be surprised how often you get what’s yours.

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Philip Brewer's picture

A friend of mine attended a company training session on quality problems, and was shocked at one statistic. I don't remember the exact number, but a large fraction--well over half--of people surveyed said that if they bought a moderately priced item (such as a toaster) that turned out not to work when they got it home, they would not persue the matter, except that they'd quit buying things made by that manufacturer. This, of course, terrifies manufacturers--if they let something with bad quality slip though, they could lose over half their affected customers without even knowing anything was wrong.

Companies with smart management know that for every customer that calls with a problem there's others out there with the same problem, but not speaking up. The ones who speak up are the ones that they still have a chance to keep as a customer.

Guest's picture

It hasn't happened often at all for me but when a transaction goes bad and the other party isn't immediately responsive I simply challenge the charge with my credit card company. I have had the charges reversed 100% of the time. Just another advantage of paying with plastic.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I like that benefit as well. You really have some extra muscle behind you that way, and it helps when trying to play ball with service departments that otherwise may not be willing to go the extra mile to help you.

Good for you for sticking with it, Sarah. It can be exhausting finding yourself turned into what to me feels like their secretary when they already have a full freaking staff. Following up and documenting can take so much time, depending on the issue.  

Guest's picture

Fantastic Plastic may be appealing to some, but I prefer saving and paying cash. I used Paypal to pay for something on the internet. After several attempts to contact the company I made the purchase from, by phone and emails, I finally resorted to Paypal. They investigated, found in my favor, and then "regretted" to inform me that they were unable to obtain my refund. That makes me a lot skeptical about dealing with them to pay for things. Since then, I have sent unanswered emails again to the company I bought the software from and, to date, have still not had a reply. Where does one turn to now. It seems like a futile effort to keep trying to get my money back. It was less than a $50 purchase.

Guest's picture

Paypal 'regretted' to help me, too, when I had a dispute. The seller claimed he had been 'hacked' and lost all his transactions, etc. But Paypal - and ebay - postured themselves as safety members, as well as the supposed 'safe harbor' section of ebay.


Now, I buy with money orders. It takes longer, it's inconvenient, but I'm safe.

Guest's picture
John L.

I had a similar problem with PayPal where they couldn't/wouldn't help get my money back. Fortunately I had used a Credit Card with PP and disputed the PayPal charge with my CC Co. I received the credit to my cc and was notified by PP that they were not too happy that I had done that. So now I always use a CC when using PayPal for paying, even tho they always try to talk me into using the direct Checking Account transfer.

Guest's picture
Banker Chris

Just a quick note about charge backs and PayPal..

There is a big difference between the payment methods.

PayPal is really just a glorified western union service. PayPal simply takes your money out of your checking account holds it in a separate account on their system and then makes a transfer the funds for you to whomever you specify much like a bill pay service or wire. They send cash and do not have an ongoing credit relationship with anyone. PayPal is transaction based designed for a one time money transaction. This is why when they investigate they have a much harder time getting your money back than Visa. They have to first convince Target that there was an issue and then wait for Target to transfer funds back to PayPal so PayPal can give the money to you.

When you pay with any card that has a Visa/MC logo on it you have the protection and backing of Visa. The reason you get your money back immediately is because of Visa's agreement with the retailer. Basically Visa tells Target that this charge is invalid for what ever the reason and charges Target back for the lamps you purchased and the amount shows up on their settlement statement at the end of the month. Target either has the option of giving the the money back or contest it with Visa . If they decide to challenge it they have to prove to Visa that it was a valid purchase and if they do Visa will then just eat the charge to keep Target and more importantly to keep you happy.

Both Target and Visa look at it from the perspective of an operating loss. They would much rather give your $50 back to you than upset you and lose your business or more importantly your banks business if you are paying with a debit card that has a Visa logo.

If you are worried about using your checking account to pay for things online I'd recommend opening up a separate free checking account that has no minimum balance requirements and comes with debit card to pay for things online. That way you can monitor the account with your online banking and only transfer money into it when you purchase something online. You can sleep better knowing that you are not putting out your main checking account debit card on the internet, you have paid for things in cash rather than charging it and you have the safety and protection of Visa.

My 2 copper on the subject.

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