Really steamed about a quilt he can’t return

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Christopher Elliott

Ed Phillips/Shutterstock
Ed Phillips/Shutterstock
Question: I ordered a quilt from SmartBargains.com recently. I’ve ordered from them before and always been very happy both with price and quality.

This time, the quality of the item was very poor. I contacted SmartBargains in writing and within 48 hours of receiving the item via their website for a return authorization. Their site says you must have a return authorization to return the item. No response.

After about one week, I contacted them again. No response. A couple days after that I sent yet another email, stating that I was a loyal customer and that they were alienating me by not getting back in touch. No response.

I just want to return this item and get a refund. They are ignoring me. I don’t know what else to do. I am doing this in writing so that there isn’t a “he said she said” regarding phone calls. Unfortunately, the emails to them is through an online system on their site, so I don’t have records of my emails. I’m really steamed. Can you help?

Thanks again for everything you do. — Peter Zapalo, Colorado Springs

Answer: SmartBargains.com’s return policy looks fairly standard. It says you need a so-called “Return For Inspection” number before you can return merchandise, which is more or less the same thing as a return authorization. The key to making this work is that the site actually must respond to your request for a RFI number, which apparently didn’t happen.

I wouldn’t be so quick to judge SmartBargains. Sometimes, RFI numbers and other refund-related emails are automatically generated by an inventory system, and the email you received from the company may have been accidentally tagged as “spam.” Unless you specifically “whitelist” SmartBargains.com, you might have not seen the email, which is not the company’s fault.

But making it difficult to contact the company was within SmartBargains.com’s control. Finding someone higher up the food chain proved to be something of a challenge. With a little sleuthing, you’ll learn that SmartBargains is owned by a company called Rue La La. More digging will reveal that Rue La La doesn’t really go out of its way to connect with you, except maybe if you want to buy one of its products or to tell it how much you love it via social media.

In trying to find the right contact, I tracked down several previous owners, including a large investment firm and eBay, but the conclusion was inescapable: Unless you’re a journalist who wants to write a flattering story about Rue La La’s business model — and there are apparently plenty — they don’t want you to have an easy way to reach them.

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In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the company has gone to great lengths to not hear from its customers, based on the number of complaints I see online.

I decided to walk through the journalist door and contacted Rue La La on your behalf. The company responded immediately to you and this time its email reached you without any trouble. Unfortunately, since you didn’t return the merchandise before 30 days, SmartBargains will charge you 20 percent “restocking” fee.

I don’t think that’s too smart, but then again, it’s better than making you keep the shoddy merchandise that you should have never received in the first place.

Did SmartBargains do enough for Peter Zapalo?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Tokyo.

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