Doing Business Online?
I get calls every day at work regarding internet fraud because they keep getting routed incorrectly to my desk, but in the process, I've come to realize that many people really aren't aware of their rights when it comes to online merchants, so here's some basic rules to go by.
1) Prior to making any purchase online, make sure the website lists the companies physical address and has a valid contact phone number and more importantly, that someone is there to accept yor call. Constantly getting voicemail and no return call the same day during business hours could be a sign of the service you'll receive as a customer after the purchase and it might be best to find another company to deal with.
2) When ordering, verify that the item is in stock and ready to ship, and get a firm time for shipping. It is unlawful in most states for any merchant to offer any item for sale without it being in stock and ready to ship without disclosing this fact to the consumer. In stock means in the merchants possession and control. If the merchant has the merchandise dropped shipped from a source other than their company, this needs to be disclosed prior to purchase. If the item is confirmed by the merchant as being in stock, get a firm date for them to have the item shipped by.
If the item is not shipped within the time frame stated by the merchant, or as the case may be, it is discovered that the merchant does not actually have the item in stock, you have the legal right to cancel the order and receive a full and complete refund period. If it is refused, then you should contact your card issuer and request a chargeback for fraud. A merchant can not fall back on the failure of his supplier as a defense regardless. The merchant is directly answerable at all times to the consumer.
3) Get the terms of warranty for any merchandise offered prior to making a purchase. If the merchant attempts to deviate from those terms should a warranty claim be neccessary, the merchant is guilty of fraud and you should contact your states AG and the AG of the state the merchant does business in for fraudulent practices.
4) Once you make a purchase, insist on a form of online tracking to verify shipment by the promised date. UPS, Fedex and DHL all provide this service, the USPS offers tracking ONLY on Express and higher levels of service, they do not offer tracking on 1st Class, Parcel Post or Priority. They do offer a delivery confirmation service, but this is different from a tracking number. Delivery confirmation does not verify when the item is shipped, the number may indicate no record until the item is delivered to you, or it may state the item is "expected etc" on a certain date. This is not verification of shipping, just that a label was processed.
5) If the package fails to arrive after ordering it within a reasonable amount of time (dependent on the service) the merchant is responsible for delivering what was ordered and paid for regardless of whether or not the item was insured by you or the merchant. The merchant can not force you to wait for either a refund or new shipment pending a claim with the shipper, any claims for lost shipments are between the shipper and the merchant. If the merchant can not provide a replacement upon determining a loss in shipping, you have the legal right to cancel the order and receive a full refund. The only exceptions to this are in cases where the merchant states his policies clearly prior to the purchase.
6) If the merchandise arrives damaged, you must notify the merchant immediately. The merchant must ship a replacement upon return of the damaged merchandise, if they are unable to, it is your right to cancel the order and receive a full refund or to wait for replacements. Any claims for damage are between the merchant and the shipper, the only exceptions are where the shipping terms are clearly laid out prior to purchase.
7) If you receive a defective item, the merchant is generally required to replace the item, so long as the defect is reported immediately upon receipt. ALWAYS inspect the merchandise immediately upon reciept for damage and/or defects and report them the same day. The merchant can not call it a warranty issue and require you to deal with the manufacturer or third party. It is his responsibility to replace the item. The exception would be if the defect is discovered after a significant period of time, which makes it imperative that all shipments be inspected immediately.
If the merchant refuses to accept a return for defects that were immediately reported, you can request a chargeback from your card issuer, just be prepared to return the merchandise to the merchant with trackable insured shipping.
Legally, the merchant is not required to pay for your return shipping costs in any case, but most legitimate merchants will as a matter of good service.
Should it be neccessary to file any complaints regarding any transaction, keep good documentation of any communications regarding the transaction with the merchant and provide copies in your complaint.
As to the appropriate agency for filing a complaint, most state AGs have consumer protection divisions, the state you reside in and the state the merchant does business generally have jurisdiction.
You can also in most cases file a complaint with the postmaster general, your local PO will give you the information needed for that procedure.
FTC complaints may be filed as well, but dependent on the circumstances, may require you to wait for a specified time period to file.
The BBB also accepts complaints, however they have no enforcement powers other than disciplining the merchant if they are a member, but they do maintain public records in regards to a particular merchants record of complaints and their resolution.
If anyone has a problem concerning an online or mail order merchant and would like help in filing appropriate complaints, PM me and I will assist you in any way possible as to where to go and what to file. I am not an attorney, this should not be construed as legal advice, just guidelines I've come up with based on FTC rules and state laws and my own adventures in capitalism.
If I were an attorney I'd simply say it may or may not be legal depending on who did what and whether or not there was a full moon when it happened :)
very good information.
First class article which should be made sticky. Great work.
We need a follow up on:
- arbitrating broken warranty agreements
- false advertizing
- false pre-sales trolling on iNternet boards
- rude and/or threatening customer service
- dealing with vendors including sponsors of boards who fail to satisfy a customer
- warnings of equipment that has been breaking too regularly to be coicidental
- how to deal with these issues without placing a legal liaility on boards like APC
Great information -- thank you!
On a side note -- don't you just love those incorrectly routed calls? :evil:
The best way to deal with liability is to not allow grievances to be discussed period, but obviously that doesn't help people make informed choices.
I used to have faith that as long as what was said was true, or that there was a reasonable belief that it was true, the poster and the forums would be blameless, but a certain "jailhouse lawyer" proved that the courts can be used to legally harass people into silence without ever having to address the actual merits of the case.
In my non-expert opinion, the best way to deal with bad merchants is to educate people as to how to go after them in a manner that will achieve results, unfortunately, due to the variances in peoples standards as to what is fair and reasonable, public discussion of them isn't all that effective. I've seen unreasonable people post before even trying to work it out, and I've seen merchants including sponsors viciously attack people with legitimate compaints.
One thing that might be a solution is to require the users of this forum to agree to hold the forum owner blameless as a condition of use. But I'm not sure if it could be done in a legally binding way.
However, education is always the answer, posts such as this are a good start. It only takes one or two customers with a legitimate complaint following the right procedures to get a bad merchant in a big mess with people and agencies they don't want on their backs.
In reality, publicly posted complaints on forums don't seem to affect merchants all that much where it counts, even when the complaints are founded. And I've seen customers sit back and take it up the tail pipe when they should be standing up for themselves. Why anyone would let a merchant give them the excuses and run around I've seen some engage in, I can only think that the customer really doesn't know he has viable avenues of recourse.
Knowledge is indeed power, and consumers really do have the power to fight back, even without David Horowitz (which dates me if you know who David Horowitz is) :)
Where would the majority see it?
I'll sticky it there
In the General Discussion forum as a sticky.
Great article! Very good points made.
I stuck it on the Announcements forum since it seems most appropriate there. Mods feel free to change it if I'm mistaken.
The only thing I would contest in your statement is that you say the dealer is responsible for warranty issues and replacing product under warranty. That is simply not true. Some manufactures insist that the dealer NOT be involved, and will not honor the warranty if the dealer becomes involved. Some manufactures of electronics have authorized warranty stations that can do repairs, or some dealers are authorized by manufacturers to accept merchandise in return, but not often in this industry. Stock and inventory is a tricky and sticky issue. The customer always has the right to cancel an order, and a credit card should not be charged unless there is a reasonable expectation that the order will be shipped within a short time frame of the card being charged. Partial shipments with items on back order are perfectly legal as long as the customer has the right to cancel it. In the same vein however, when the customer places an order online they are entering into a legal binding contract. The customer can cancel the order without monetary obligation if they give the vendor sufficient notice, or if they did not enter into an agreement where the vendor special ordered product specifically to fill that order. Imagine ordering a thousand dollars worth of flowers for a wedding and then cancelling the order the day before the wedding. You still pay. Cancelling the order the day before it is due to ship, or after it has shipped, or refusing the shipment is not fair to the vendor who is ultimately responsible for the shipping cost and labor cost, and can be considered a breech of contract by the customer, even if the credit card company honors the charge back. It can still be considered a deliquent debt, and go on your credit record if reported.
Any merchant that offers mastercard or VISA is required by the CC companies to display on their WEB site a phone number, address, and a clearly stated return policy and terms of doing business. Many people do not read the "fine print". The best course is always to try and work out any problems with the vendor before taking more drastic measures or making assumptions. Some of us get bull headed, make mistakes or screw up, and sometimes we try to draw a line in the sand, but in the end I think most of us vendors want to accomadate our customers.
In regards to "Where to put this as a sticky", my vote would go for in BOTH the General Interest Forums and also the Fish for the Planted Aquarium forums. That way people will see it in either forum if they are contemplating ordering from a retailer.
EDIT: After a bit more thought, it may be a good idea to post it in the For Sale/Trade forum also. I suppose it could always be removed if it is not being accessed in a certian forum.
That is of course if it can be a sticky in more than one forums.
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