Consumer Rights – Your $$ Update

When last I wrote, I shared my tale of customer service woe about a e-tailer’s gift certificate that somehow couldn’t be used in conjunction with a discount.  The long version is here.  The short version is that I went to happily spend a gift, only to find Shoebuy.com wouldn’t let me use my gift certificate and the site-wide discount even though the checkout page had two distinct fields for it.

After repeated attempts to hear back from the company, my email that included excerpts from state consumer protection laws regarding gift cards and certificates led to me hearing from a customer service representative.  While agreeing to make an exception in this case and manually configure my order to allow both the discount and the use of my money (in both forms: the gift certificate and my credit card), the Shoebuy representative explained the reason the company doesn’t allow both to be used, saying some gift certificates are bought at a discount.  Well, my gift certificate has a unique code attached to it so couldn’t the company attach a real value to the code?  Why put the recipient in the position of the sour feeling about the gift?

Further, the representative explained, the gift certificate buyer should have seen the fine print telling her that the gift would not be allowed to be used with a discount.  Sure.  I know when I give gifts, right after the thank you’s and the hugs the first thing I know I want to say is “You can’t use it with any of the site’s discounts” or “If you go into the store and you want to use it on something that’s on sale, you can’t,”  I know I do that a lot.  And I have a small bet that the Shoebuy rep doesn’t do that when she gives gifts either but I didn’t hassle her about it because she was trying to help and judging from this site, she has her work cut out for her.

There are two endings to this saga I’d like to share.  First, the physical upshot: I used the gift certificate to get my son a great pair of dress shoes and I was able to convince the company to allow the discount to be honored.

Second, during our conversation, the Shoebuy rep expressed her disappointment that I’d shared my story.  Perhaps she has Google alerts or is a regular Chapelboro reader or was contacted by either The Consumerist or The Haggler of The New York Times, both of which received details of my disconcerting interaction with her company.  Again, I didn’t respond directly to her expression of disappointment because I was looking for resolution, not conflict.  But had I not been a squeaky wheel, I doubt I would have achieved what I feel is fair resolution.  My attempts to reach and reason with the company went unheard before I began finding relevant laws and consumer watchdogs.  Isn’t sharing my story the only reason I was?

That was some savvy spending of my time and effort.  Have you ever fought for your rights as a consumer?  Please share your story below or comment on mine.  If you prefer to write to me directly do so at Donnabeth@Chapelboro.com.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/consumer-rights-your-update/

Does a Gift Certificate =$$?

A friend from out of town gave me a gift certificate for an e-tailer dedicated to one of my passions: shoes!  I received the gift a few months ago but our recent cold weather had me hungering for boots so I visited the site to see what I could find.  

Imagine my delight when upon my visit to Shoebuy.com, I found not only a pair of boots I liked but also a site-wide promotion for 20% off.   With my gift certificate, that would still leave a small balance remaining for me to pay but that was fine.

The website form wouldn’t accept both the promotion and the gift certificate despite there being two clearly marked and distinct fields in which to enter them.  Oh, a tech problem, I thought.  I called.  Talked to Rodney.  Nope, he said, pleasantly, you can’t use both.   “But I’m not trying to use a second discount,” I explained.  “It’s not a coupon.”  Yes, he said, but he couldn’t help me.  He suggested I write an email, which I did, and call back, asking for one of two people, which I did.

I never heard back from that email and when I called back was never able to speak with the two people I was told to seek out.  Instead, I was told that my gift certificate, which I understood to be my money, was no good on the site if anything was discounted. 

If any of you reading this are retailers and/or e-tailers, please weigh in:  If I want to buy something you’ve discounted and I want to pay a partial amount with a store gift card, you wouldn’t blink an eye, right?  After all, that’s money someone gave you so that I could spend it in your store- how I see fit.  

I’m fairly sure this isn’t legal.  Attorneys, also feel free to weigh in below.  I researched gift certificate/card laws for both NC and the state where it was purchased (NY) and forwarded relevant details to Shoebuy.com.  It took a few days, but this email someone deigned to answer, writing that “the matter is under review”.    In the meantime, as a web-based business, I’ll have to look into the state where it’s located and also find out what interstate commerce laws may apply.  Again, if anyone knows, please comment below.

My outrage over this is not built on the loss of the amount of the gift certificate.  It’s a question of consumer fairness and what’s right.  My friend bought me a gift in good faith.  It is not being honored in good faith.  No one can be a savvy spender when one side isn’t playing fair.   

This was a gift from out-of-town and the internet has, mostly, made that easier.  But if ever there was an argument to shop locally, I believe I’ve made it above.  Do you have a consumer story to share?  Especially after this past shopping spree of a weekend for much of our nation, it’s a good time to think about savvy spending. 

http://chapelboro.com/columns/savvy-spender/does-a-gift-certificate/