Andrew Smith purchases two Groupons, each worth three sessions with a personal trainer, for himself and his wife. They complete one session and schedule their second. But then Smith’s wife gets sick. When he tries to reschedule the remaining two sessions, he hears crickets from the trainer. At first, Groupon says it will give him a credit for the two vouchers, but at the last minute changes its mind. Can we help Smith get what he’s owed?
Question: In December 2016, I purchased two Groupons for three personal training sessions each, for my wife and myself. The vendor was Fitness Stop. I set up an appointment with a personal trainer for January 5. At the conclusion of that session we made an appointment for our second session for February 6.
However, my wife developed an upper respiratory infection and a severe cough; on February 4, I sent the trainer a text telling him I needed to reschedule the February 6 session.
I received no reply, so on February 5, I texted the lead trainer at Fitness Stop with a screenshot of my texts to the trainer. The lead trainer responded by telephone, telling me that the sessions were supposed to be scheduled back-to-back.
We were not informed of this, nor was this information contained in the terms and conditions on the Groupons.
I then requested a pro rata refund from Fitness Stop, and when I got no response I contacted Groupon’s customer support. At first the Groupon representatives told me I could get a refund in the form of “Groupon Bucks,” but when I asked for that refund, they told me the vouchers were ineligible for refund because I had viewed them. Can you help me get a refund for four unused training sessions? Andrew Smith, Arlington, Va.
Answer: We’re sorry to hear about your wife’s illness, and hope she’s feeling better. It’s certainly understandable that after a severe respiratory infection, engaging in any aerobic activity is ill-advised. We’re also sorry that our well wishes are being given three months after her illness, but that’s how long you’ve been trying to get a refund. And not just trying, but relentlessly trying.
Your story is one of not only self-advocacy, but perseverance to the extreme.
(Before we get to that — full disclosure. Smith is the chief copy editor at Elliott.org. In that capacity, he reads every story our staff composes from advocacy cases. He’s an expert in the editing field, correcting our grammar, spelling and sentence structure. As a matter of fact, by the time you read this, Smith will have had a field day with the original draft of this story.)
But knowing the successful methodologies and pitfalls of taking on companies and winning didn’t get you any special treatment. Our advocate responded to your help request saying, “I am going to advocate this case exactly the way I do others so the first thing I would do is ask you to please summarize the problem in 4-5 sentences.”
What followed was the requested summary, along with more detail than even we expected: Each exchange between you and the various parties of the dispute, both email and text, was time and date-stamped, verified by email headers, in reverse chronological order, with two text styles to differentiate the speakers … Always the editor.
We verified text messages between you and the trainers at Fitness Stop as well as email (with screenshots) of those texts to Traveling Trainers, the email address on the Fitness Stop website.
We read their response that “[the trainer] took another job and only works on the weekends.” That’s when the first “clarification” of the Groupon terms was mentioned by Traveling Trainers:
With Groupon what we normally do with promotional sessions is complete them in one week so things like this do not happen. Since it has spanned out over a couple months I have to find openings in trainers schedule. Thanks and will be in contact with a couple days.
Traveling Trainers should have kept its word. Especially since you reiterated you were “not made aware of that fact until we had already had our first session.” You even provided alternate dates and times you were available.
Traveling Trainers must have traveled on, because the company never responded. You emailed it again, requesting either confirmed dates with a personal trainer or a refund of four sessions that you valued at $100. No response.
On March 24, tired of hearing only crickets, you wrote to Groupon customer support. They offered to allow you to trade in your fitness vouchers for $148 in “Groupon bucks” that could be used within 24 hours to purchase any local deal before they expired.
You wanted to make sure you understood exactly what this trade-in offer entailed. You and Groupon traded several rounds of questions and answers. On April 6, when you authorized Groupon to trade your vouchers for Groupon bucks, they informed you that those vouchers were no longer available for trade-in because you had viewed them.
Still undeterred, you referred to the contact pages for Groupon on our website. You reached out in early April to email the three executives we listed, but received error messages indicating that two of the three email accounts were “disabled.”
Our research team updated the contact page on April 28 with additional information, and you emailed the newly added executive the next day. When you received a response that the account “did not exist,” you gave up and contacted us for help.
We asked for copies of the Groupons to verify the terms and conditions. When you went into your account on May 1 to download them you told us, “I have $74 in Groupon credits, so they clearly refunded one of the two vouchers — but they never told me.”
A few hours after you called Anita Samojednik, Head of Global Operations, directly using the phone number on the Elliott.org contacts web page, you received an email from Groupon customer support. They agreed to take back the Groupon bucks as you requested, and to refund the cost of both vouchers to your original form of payment. You are satisfied with this solution.
This sometimes happens. You may have thought that your emails did not reach anyone at Groupon, but it seems that they did. And Groupon gave you part of what you asked for — but never bothered to tell you. Even though we barely had to lift a finger, we’re marking this case as “problem solved,” with a postscript on the value of persistence and keeping good documentation. We are happy that it turned out well.