Weaseling out of a sale is uncoool
February 10, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

What should I do about a jewelry company trying to back out of a sale which I already paid for? I ordered online a small piece of custom gold jewelry this week, paying the price coded into the seller's own website. Now the seller's "customer service" staff has emailed me to say the price of gold went up and they can't sell me the piece at the price I paid.

This is the email (typos verbatim) from customer service:
"In regards to your order #[redacted], unfortinately there is a price conflict with the custom [redacted] that you ordered. Gold constantly fluxuates so it hard to keep up with monitoring the price. However just resently gold a risen emmensely to ~$1700.00 an ounce and we have the price qoute for your custom piece at ~$1200.00 an ounce.

Therefore our price for the gold and manufacturing of the piece is $249.99 and we only charged you $189.99 which has a difference of $60.00. If you still would like the piece we will sell it for our cost and would need an additional $60.00 or if you do not want the piece at this time then we can refund you..."

And this is the response I sent:
"I am very disappointed in this email. Please provide a phone number where I can reach a supervisor to discuss this issue. I would like to receive the product I ordered, at the price your company advertised on your own website. [Company] has already been paid for the order, as the money was deducted from my bank account on Feb 8 2012.

I must respectfully disagree with your reasoning for changing my order. Gold has not risen recently, and has not been $1200/ounce since July of 2010. In fact, the price of gold has GONE DOWN since January this year. [ http://www.goldprice.org ] Again, I would like to speak directly with someone about maintaining this order and fulfilling the sale per your listed pricing and the payment I've already made."

-- I was pretty annoyed with the seller's email and my first emotional impulse was to warn everyone I know away from this company and post it on Consumerist. But... I would really like to keep this order, because I haven't been able to find the product with the features/sizing I need anywhere else. Given - this place does have a good price. But I think it's pretty unethical for a seller to list a product at a certain price then try to weasel out of a sale when a customer buys it, because they apparently didn't realize their advertised price was less than they thought it was. I realize there are probably no laws requiring a seller to fulfill the sale if they refund me, but I don't want to be refunded. I want the item. How to best ensure that happens?
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy to Shopping (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The best way to ensure that they send you the item is to pay the $60.

Though considering their reply, even that might not do it. Seems like a scam to me, I'd just ask for the refund and pray that you get it.
posted by Grither at 11:19 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

What do the terms of business you agreed to say? Is there any provision in there for variation of the price?
posted by essexjan at 11:20 AM on February 10, 2012

Is this a reputable company? It screams scam to me. Typos in customer service emails combined with requests for more money are both red flags.

Hard to decide how to advise you without knowing that information. If it is an otherwise reputable company then consumerist should be your means of last resort. I don't think you have a reason to go there yet until you hear more from the company in question. I would also precede a consumerist posting with one of their (consumerist's) patented Executive Email Carpet Bomb if things don't get resolved to your satisfaction pretty quickly.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:20 AM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

What makes you think you'll get real gold and not gold plated jewelry, or fake gems, etc.,if you go through with this transaction??

Get your money back and RUN.
posted by jbenben at 11:21 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

This site disagrees with your numbers.

Gold price in 2011 (starting at 1400 USD per ounce, peaking at 1900, and back down to 1600 in December), and Gold price in 2012 (so far, peaking at 1750 near the beginning of February, dropping a bit down since then).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:22 AM on February 10, 2012

They're not my numbers. They're the numbers of goldprice.org. But the price of gold is irrelevant. What is relevant is that a company is selling a product at a given price, then trying to cancel sales of that product after the customers have already paid. I really don't care what the price of gold is right now; I just want the item I purchased. Is it not the right thing to do for a seller to fulfill his end of the bargain?
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 11:25 AM on February 10, 2012

Is this a really small studio? If it's a really small studio, they simply may not have the capital to buy the gold and make the piece. They may not have a warehouse full of the item you want ready-made or even a pot full of gold ready to make stuff. I bought a very pretty pair of silver earrings from someone for whom this was the case - we didn't have any concerns about price, but she did make pieces on an as-ordered basis and did not have a stockpile of precious metals.

Unless this is a giant company with lots of inventory sitting around, I don't see this as a giant concern at all. If the company had a reasonable reputation, I'd just pay the $60. And if it really is a very small studio, I might regret the price jump and wish that the seller had made prices higher initially to allow for fluctuations in the price of gold, but I wouldn't feel resentful.

From your post, I feel like you're really hung up on 'being cheated' and the letter of the law (rather than the spirit) instead of the price of the item. It reads as though you feel that you deserve to get something for less than its value just because the seller made a mistake.
posted by Frowner at 11:32 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd put a flag on the transaction with my bank in anticipation of them not responding to your email.
posted by spunweb at 11:33 AM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

(Oh, I forgot to write - this doesn't sound like a professional way to handle the transaction which is what makes me think they may not have a real customer service person - I feel like it's an appropriate request on their part, but should have been made politely with a better explanation and an apology.)
posted by Frowner at 11:40 AM on February 10, 2012

Stay classy in all communications with them, give up on the idea of what's 'right' and what's 'wrong', and keep pinging them.

Drop the argument about gold prices, you can't and shouldn't be discussing that with them anyway. This is about your purchase and it's price.

Bear in mind that's how internet retailers can do what they do to a certain degree. If you would have bought this in a brick and mortar and walked out the door, what is the chance that the manger would have called you a few days later and said 'oops, sorry about that, we need more of your money'? Zero, right, I agree. However, brick and mortar stores have overhead costs and stock costs that this retailer doesn't have to deal with so the prices are different for one and the other.

If it's a small mom & pop shop or custom made retailer that is in a pinch you should really consider that differently than if this is Z@13s-0U7137.net trying to squeeze you/scam you.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:46 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

The retailer is perfectly within their rights to refund your purchase and send you on your way. If you want this piece, you will need to pay the $60 difference.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:51 AM on February 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

They're not a mom & pop business: It's one of the more popular sellers of this type of jewelry with their own distribution business (they sell some other things besides jewelry also). They've been open since 1999 as wholesale distributors & retail jewelers with a prominent online presence. They keep some gold in stock but they contract out to other vendors to custom make some of the less common pieces. I do have a hard time believing they "just made a mistake" by not updating their site to reflect price fluctuations since 2010. On Better Business Bureau they are shown with an A+ rating but also have 14 closed BBB complaints regarding delivery issues and problems with product/service. To be honest I do feel a bit cheated, yes.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 11:57 AM on February 10, 2012

Ask for a refund (and pray), flag the transaction with your bank, and use a credit card instead of a debit card in the future for anything online that seems remotely suspect. Better yet, only use credit cards. It's just easier to cancel or challenge a cc transaction than to recover dollars that have been hoovered out of your bank account.

It's one thing to say the price has changed - if they had written you before your card was charged. If it was the small, honest mom-and-pop idealized above, I think they would have written you with a revised price before they charged your card. Or they would have reversed the charge already, and then asked.

A decade ago I ordered the hottest new laptop at the cheapest price I could find online, via Google Shopping or whatever its equivalent was. A month later there was still no laptop; I called to say I was canceling the order, and they protested that they were sending out the laptop that very day. And they did. Thoroughly sketched out at this point, I filed a claim with my credit card and refused the delivery. Pop of this mom-and-pop computer vendor actually called me up and yelled at me for refusing delivery. Nothing like this ever happened to me before or since. I learned my lesson pretty well that day. I also wonder if they actually sent the right computer, but I wasn't about to accept delivery and find out.

BBB complaints are like cockroaches; for every one one you see, dozens more are lurking.
posted by ziggly at 12:01 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but I read the Consumerist, so take this with a grain of salt.

Contract law is not really cut-and-dried when it comes to price changes after ordering. First you need to see if you agreed to a Terms of Use when you placed the order - if it exists it will almost certainly cover their responsibility in this matter.

In general, simply pressing the "Order Submit" button on your end does not mean that the seller has agreed to that contract - did you get any kind of order confirmation between submitting the order and receiving the price change email?

then trying to cancel sales of that product after the customers have already paid

Have you really, honestly already paid? As in that money has been removed from your checking account or credit card? I think that charging your credit card is definitely a positive sign that they have agreed to the contract price, but is this something that is worth taking to court? Only you can decide that.
posted by muddgirl at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2012

as the money was deducted from my bank account on Feb 8 2012

From the OP fwiw.
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:12 PM on February 10, 2012

Yes, that money has been removed from my checking account. I am quite positive. I used a debit card which functions like a credit card. And I received two order confirmations: one immediately after it was submitted, and one a day later saying the order was in process. Nothing on their site says they may change the price after the sale, nothing in the confirmation emails implies this, and both confirmations say "all sales are final." Excerpted from the confirmations they sent me:

1) All Sales are final.
2) Unfortunatly you can not cancel any orders.

1) We do not offer Refunds.
2) We do offer Exchanges.
4) Please Call us or email us for further details.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 12:13 PM on February 10, 2012

I think my point is that there's not some magic legal incantation you can say to get them to honor their contract - your options (if, after you have written them a certified letter stating that you expect them to honor the sales contract and they refuse) are either the pay the money, to take the refund, or to sue them.
posted by muddgirl at 12:21 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

...and suing them likely won't get you the item, either, but rather fair replacement value for the item.
posted by muddgirl at 12:21 PM on February 10, 2012

Cuddles, I get that you're mad. I get fucking furious about this sort of thing. My blood is boiling just reading about it.

What I have learned is that no matter how mad you get, life isn't fair. So you can call and be polite, you can call and yell and scream (the option I frequently end up taking...), you can write angry emails, you can ask metafilter. No matter what, the company will say, "too bad, policy." You can make a BBB complaint but no one ever checks those unless they've already been scammed.

Your options are as muddgirl suggests above. Unless you're really popular on Twitter, I guess, at which point you can complain there until something gets done.

It's infuriating. I hate being a consumer.
posted by AmandaA at 12:27 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

"All sales are final." cuts both ways. I'd at least draw their attention to that.
posted by rhizome at 1:48 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used a debit card which functions like a credit card.

But it doesn't. If you had used a credit card, they wouldn't have your money right now.

In fact, I'm willing to guess that the reason they're pulling this is they know you have virtually no recourse.
posted by sageleaf at 1:50 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

(Well, I should say, virtually no easy recourse. Obviously, you can sue, or you can attempt to negotiate with your bank, the card issuer and the seller, but all of that will be far more time consuming and possibly less successful than a credit card chargeback would have been.)
posted by sageleaf at 1:59 PM on February 10, 2012

The type of card I paid with is not germane to this question. Yes, I'm sure it works like any other credit card with all the usual c.card protections and I've successfully done c.card chargebacks in other situations. Sellers have no way of knowing it's a debit card. I'd rather not do a chargeback and I'm not worried about that, I just want the jewelry. I found the owners' email addresses, I think my next step will be a polite yet clear email directly to them, since I think I can frame my point clearer in writing than on the phone.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 2:07 PM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think people are under the impression that debit cards have very few protections.
posted by rhizome at 2:34 PM on February 10, 2012

THe company is allowed to do this. Now you just have to choose whether you want to pay the 60$ or get a refund. Too bad, so sad.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:47 PM on February 10, 2012

I sympathize with your impatience and anger. But you can't make them sell you the piece for the original price. Even if you took them to court. And would that even be possible?
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:22 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

According to this page, Visa does not allow merchants to bill your card before they ship the item. If your debit card is a Visa and it was charged before the item has even been made (much less shipped), I'd include that in any communication with them. That's not cool.
posted by soelo at 5:39 PM on February 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would ask for the refund. It then puts them in the position of having to decide if they want to lose the total amount of money and a potential future customer or honor the original agreement.

What they are doing is bad business.
posted by myselfasme at 7:24 PM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

To tag on to what Soelo posted, it's actually against FTC regulations to charge you until they item ships - they can put a hold on the funds (an authorization), but that typically expires in 5-7 days, depending on your bank. It sounds like they actually charged you, which is very definitely a big no-no.
posted by dotgirl at 8:40 PM on February 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Following up with what happened. FWIW, the seller is Painful Pleasures www.painfulpleasures.com. Because I do want the jewelry, I emailed & accepted their terms of the $60 price increase, but I let them know why I was displeased with the situation. They responded by cancelling the order, then when I requested a refund, the owner said they had already refunded it. Which was untrue, and the money was not returned by that point. I'll be following up with my c.card in that regard; but just wanted to point out to anyone considering buying body jewelry from this place, that (to put it kindly) they may not offer you a retail experience you will be happy with. They also have very poor reviews online; my fault for not checking before ordering from them. Lesson learned.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 12:50 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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