My mother just wants her damn vase.
May 18, 2010 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Last November, my mother ordered a decorating piece online. It never arrived. We have been trying to reach the distributors with very little success. My mother seems unable or uninterested in disputing the credit card charges. If she continues to refuse this route, can I pursue any other options that will compel this company to deal with us?

My mother ordered a decorative piece from an online site, but she incorrectly listed the zip code of the shipping address when she placed the order. Unsurprisingly, the piece never arrived. She also deleted the order number and, apparently, any email from the distributors confirming her order. However, her credit card was charged for the piece and even though it's been months since the order never arrived, it hasn't been refunded.

The site lists a customer service telephone number, but cautions: "We are currently experiencing problems with our phone system please contact us through the webcontact on our website." This has been the case since the order never arrived, and the phone goes straight to voicemail. Her emails (and mine, since I'm a bit more web-savvy) have unanswered for a month. Finally one woman in customer service wrote my mother back, asked for the order number, which my mother didn't have. Subsequent email inquiries to this address have also gone unanswered.

My mother has issues with depression and a general malaise regarding forces she thinks are beyond her control, but she is apparently quite upset about being charged for a piece that never arrived. She talks about it constantly. I keep telling her to call the credit card company and dispute the charges, but she just doesn't do it. I am considering writing a strongly worded email to the woman in customer service who first wrote her, and/or seeking outside recourse. I cannot call her credit card company for her, right?

I absolutely understand that most of the problem lies with my mother's complete refusal to take matters into her own hands and call the damn credit card company herself. I am trying to reason with her on this front, but she is enormously stubborn and bizarrely opposed to disputing the claims, as she claims she wants the vase, not a refund. I have told her multiple times that registering a credit card dispute will really get the ball rolling, but she demurs. As such, I am hoping that I can escalate the urgency with this company via email or somehow get around the email-only communication route (and the woman who initially contacted her doesn't have a phone listed in her email). The website sells middle- and higher-end goods and doesn't seem to have a reputation as swindlers and crooks.
posted by Viola to Grab Bag (16 answers total)
Just contact the Better Business Bureau for the area where the business is located. Tell them the whole story and they will pursue it. You'll likely get a call from the business shortly after offering you a full refund. I've always had success going this route.
posted by jardinier at 3:20 PM on May 18, 2010

File a complaint with the consumer protection arm of the state attorney general's office (the state in which the company is located). A lot of them have online complaint forms.
posted by December at 3:21 PM on May 18, 2010

Can she log onto the shopping site and get her order number or file a claim there?

If she doesn't want to call her credit card company, can't she log onto their site and instigate the chargeback there?

She goofed up (twice), so I don't see why "strongly worded" anything is needed here.
posted by sageleaf at 3:23 PM on May 18, 2010

Last November? There may be a window in which she could have disputed the charge (if she wanted to, of course) that may have now closed.
posted by Brian Puccio at 3:42 PM on May 18, 2010

Last November? How much was the vase? I might just buy her another one (from somewhere else if possible) and call it a day.
posted by grapesaresour at 3:44 PM on May 18, 2010

How would this company be swindlers and crooks if your mother didn't give them the proper address? If they shipped it to her at the given address why should they give a refund? Why should they respond to a demand for a refund with no order number? Unless the vase was returned to them as undeliverable they upheld their part of the agreement to ship the vase to the address as provided by the purchaser.

I'm confused.
posted by leafwoman at 4:17 PM on May 18, 2010

Response by poster: The zip code my mother provided usually works with our address because the house is on the border between codes. My mother, in her advanced age, forgot that it occasionally gives us trouble. Again, I'm not blaming the company for a mere shipping issue. However, we've tried many times to let the company know that my mother was charged for a package never arrived. We're currently quite frustrated because we can't even seem to reach anyone at this company to effectively communicate with them and see if we can reach a consensus.

I realize that my mother goofed up, but I don't think she deserves pay a lot of money for a package that did not arrive, at least not without a proper explanation from the company. I've worked retail for many years and know that companies with online services can absolutely track down orders based on credit card numbers. My mother's order should be in their system - the problem is simply reaching someone on the other end.

In the meantime, I contacted BBB.
posted by Viola at 4:40 PM on May 18, 2010

A couple of questions: What is the total value of this vase (in other words is this a fight over wealth or principle?) Is there a street address on their website to which you might address a registered letter? What about the earlier suggestion of your buying the same piece and having it miraculously delivered to your mother (in other words are you more concerned with her feelings or with making it "right?") I ask this last question because there is a chance that you might get the money back and your mother would still be upset that she didn't have her damn vase.

What do you most want to fix?
posted by leafwoman at 5:05 PM on May 18, 2010

She talks about it constantly. I keep telling her to call the credit card company and dispute the charges, but she just doesn't do it.

What if, next time she brings it up, you say, "Let's call your credit card company right now and dispute the charge--it's the only way to resolve this since we can't get ahold of the company"? Most credit card companies have 24-hour customer service, so it isn't as if you're limited to business hours to get this done.

Alternatively, you could get your mother's credit card info, her social security number, and whatever else the credit card company might ask for as identification, and call in saying you're her.

Ultimately, though, if it's upset her this much, you may keep hearing about it even if you're able to resolve the issue with the retailer. It might behoove you to just start cheerfully changing the subject--and maybe buy her a different vase as a gift.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:08 PM on May 18, 2010

Response by poster: A couple of questions: What is the total value of this vase (in other words is this a fight over wealth or principle?)

It's more than I'm able to spend right now, let's put it that way.

To clarify: while I'm fine changing the subject on my mom, I am a bit frustrated that the company has gone utterly MIA given that the situation, while the customer's fault, is certainly not impossible to solve or at least respond to. Their customer service, which seems to be a West Elm/Crate and Barrel wannabe, is certainly not a one-man eBay operation and should be able to accommodate the simple task of emailing me and my mother, even if it's to explain that their store policies dictate that any user-related error in shipping information cannot be refunded.

Dealing with my mother involves a whole host of larger issues involving her stubbornness, irrationality, and paranoia. Right now, however, I'm just trying to think of how to solve the situation by approach the company itself.
posted by Viola at 5:22 PM on May 18, 2010

Response by poster: Whoops: The customer service company, which seems to be a West Elm/Crate and Barrel wannabe,
posted by Viola at 5:24 PM on May 18, 2010

At this point, it's way too late to dispute the credit card charge, and you're unlikely to have much luck getting a refund from customer service, but you might still be able to get another vase. My guess would be that somewhere on this company's website you'll be able to find a very strongly worded policy regarding errors in shipping information, and that, unless you get in touch with someone on the phone and are really, really nice to them you're out of luck. Your mother entered the wrong address on the package, and the reality is that it's her fault it didn't arrive, and it was her responsibility to correct the address once she realized her mistake.

That said, if you can talk to someone and explain the situation without treating them as though it's their fault you haven't been able to get in touch with anyone there (because there's almost no chance that you'll talk to the person who is responsible for the fact that their website contact form and phone system suck), and without threatening a chargeback, you may be able to get them to ship you a new vase. Keep in mind, though, that they may have shipped the vase out in good faith and not gotten it back, so you're asking them to do something extra for you.

I'm sorry you have to deal with this! It sounds like a doubly frustrating situation.
posted by dizziest at 5:44 PM on May 18, 2010

You can try contacting your local news stations. They usually have a consumer investigative reporter on staff. I know on some sites, you can submit consumer stories online.
posted by spec80 at 6:03 PM on May 18, 2010

Unless there's a genuine ambiguity in the address (ie. your mother's exact same address exists in the ZIP code that she wrote down), the post office and/or UPS should have either corrected the address (adding a few days to the delivery time) or returned the package to the sender.

Do you have a tracking number? Can you prove that the merchant ever shipped the item, if it was delivered, where it was delivered, and if anybody signed for it?
posted by schmod at 7:29 PM on May 18, 2010

If she received emails from the company, she likely created an account. Go to the website, put in her email address and click "forgot password." Then login and get the order number. Having the order number will let the company look it up in the way they always do. Right now it would be a special project to hunt down a months-old transaction.

Maybe you can even get tracking information from the website to see if it was delivered to a different house, or returned to the shipper.
posted by reeddavid at 10:59 PM on May 18, 2010

Do you know the state where this company is located? In New York, the Department of State has a website where you can look up information about registered businesses, LLCs, non-profits, etc. As far as I can tell, any business with a physical presence in the state is on there (and other states may have similar search engines). The content varies, but you can get a mailing address, and sometimes they have the name and address of the CEO. If you're desperate for human contact, you could try sending a registered letter. I have sympathy though--the company sounds completely incompetent.
posted by Jemstar at 7:20 AM on May 19, 2010

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