A merchant wants me to get a refund from Groupon and pay him directly

When Doreen Shoba tried to use her Groupon, she found that the merchant wouldn’t honor it. And her attempts to self-advocate her case have failed. Now Shoba wants us to advocate for her — but with the wrong party.

Shoba’s case is a reminder to consumers to read the fine print in any contract extremely carefully before accepting the terms. Otherwise, like Shoba, they may find themselves at the mercy of companies that exploit contract provisions to avoid otherwise-binding obligations.

Shoba purchased a Groupon for Skyline Cleaning Services in Newark, N.J. But when she tried to use it, she was told that the Groupon was valid only within a 25-mile radius.

She then contacted the owner of Skyline Cleaning Services, who told her that her address is outside the service area covered by the Groupon, and that he was willing to offer her the cleaning service she had purchased at the same price she had paid Groupon. But she would have to seek a refund from Groupon for the payment she had already sent.

Shoba then tried to contact Groupon at the “Customer Service” toll-free number listed on its website, only to receive a message that the number is no longer in service. The message also directed callers to contact Groupon through its customer support page. But three attempts by Shoba to seek help through the website proved unsuccessful.

She next tried to call and fax a letter to two executives of Groupon, Andrew Mason and CEO Richard Williams, but could not reach them. Having no success at reaching anyone at Groupon, she then contacted our advocates. (Executive contact information for Groupon can be found on our website.)

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Shoba told our advocates: “Your response is the first I have received, and I thank you for that.”

Unfortunately, our response wasn’t what she wanted to hear.

We told her that this is a case we didn’t think we could successfully advocate for her.

First, we felt that she didn’t have a case against Groupon. Its terms of use contain the following disclaimer:

You are solely responsible for your interactions with Merchants and other users of the Site. To the extent permitted under applicable laws, you hereby release Groupon from any and all claims or liability related to any product or service of a Merchant, regardless of whether such product or service is a Merchant Offering available through the Site, any action or inaction by a Merchant, including, without limitation, but not limited to any harm caused to you by action or inaction of a Merchant, a Merchant’s failure to comply with applicable law and/or failure to abide by the terms of a Merchant Offering or any other product or service purchased or obtained by you from the Merchant, and any conduct, speech or User Content, whether online or offline, of any other third-party.

So Groupon accepts no responsibility for the refusal of third-party merchants to honor promises made in offers purchased by customers such as Shoba.

In addition, Shoba told us that she didn’t read the fine print of her Groupon, which contains the 25-mile service area limitation, and that all of her communications with the merchant were by telephone. She has no documentation of those communications.

We generally can’t assist consumers who want more than they are entitled to. Because Shoba lives outside the service area, which was listed in the fine print of her Groupon which she didn’t read, she doesn’t have a case against Groupon. It also doesn’t help that she contacted the CEO of Groupon directly before first trying lower-ranking executives.

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We advised Shoba that she might have a case against the merchant, who wanted Shoba to pay him in advance for his services at the same rate as the Groupon she purchased, and then seek a refund from Groupon. This is a position that, to us, isn’t kosher. Our advocate offered to contact the merchant and ask him to honor the Groupon, because we feel that he should not be receiving the benefits of Groupon (bringing in new customers) while not paying Groupon for them.

But Shoba decided to drop the matter altogether and accept a loss of her payment to Groupon.
We’re no longer involved in her case. But we’re asking our readers:

Should Doreen Shoba have attempted to pursue a refund from the merchant?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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