It’s been over a year since Virginia Cepero returned the dining chairs she purchased from the Pottery Barn website. The company insists it refunded its money months ago, but Cepero can’t find it.
What do you do when it’s a company’s word against yours? And how do you defend your position when the company launches a favorite defense tactic?
The more I dug into the Cepero case, the more convinced I became that America’s new favorite corporate strategy for keeping your money is still largely a secret. I’ll tell you about that in a second. I’ll also reveal how to avoid a chaotic return like this and get your money back from Pottery Barn.
Why did she return her chairs to Pottery Barn?
Cepero purchased two solid wood dining chairs from Pottery Barn in late 2020. Made of kiln-dried rubberwood, they seemed perfect for his dining room. The models she chose, the Aaron dining chairs, are made by “skilled craftsmen”, according to Pottery Barn. They feature an X-shaped back designed for “precise” symmetry. Contoured seats and curved backs offer subtle flared details.
But they didn’t fit well with Cepero’s dining room. Pottery Barn offered “easy returns” (his words). Specifically, “You may return eligible item(s) within 30 days of receipt of an order or 7 days for Quick Ship upholstery items for a refund of the merchandise value.” So she quickly sent them back and figured she would get a quick refund from the company.
Cepero waited and waited. And the money never arrived.
A credit card dispute – and the start of a confusing quest for a refund from Pottery Barn
Cepero’s response was understandable. Having not received her money, she filed a credit card dispute. She showed her bank that she had returned the chairs but had not received a refund from Pottery Barn.
The company fought the dispute and tried to charge her for the furniture again. So Cepero refused to pay his credit card bill.
“Pottery Barn now says I still owe it for the chairs,” she said. “I also have interest and late fees on Capital One, my credit card. My credit is negatively affected because they show the account is delinquent. »
How did it happen? The answer will probably melt your brain. (OK, that almost melted my brain.)
What happened after she returned the goods?
It turns out that Cepero had purchased three items – the two hardwood chairs and one other item, which she decided to keep. This created some confusion. Then she received a partial refund, which she did not acknowledge. So she filed a credit card dispute for the full amount.
Pottery Barn fought this dispute, leaving her with incorrect charges on her credit card. So she simply refused to pay the bill while she fought the charges. (Refusing to pay your credit card bill is not an effective litigation strategy.)
How confusing has it all become? I reviewed the correspondence between her, her bank, and Pottery Barn. It got so confusing that I couldn’t follow all the charges. My fellow lawyer, Dwayne Coward, an expert on complicated credit card fees, took a look at his case and figured it out a bit more. But in the end, he was also overwhelmed by the complexity of this case.
One thing was certain: Cepero had returned the chairs but had not yet received a full refund. We were still on the case.
Is complexity a way to keep your money?
Is this a secret strategy to keep more of your clients’ money? One thing is certain: my advocacy team is seeing many more cases like this.
Companies seem to do their best to confuse customers until they give up and walk away. They add restocking fees and surcharges or take a percentage off the refund for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.
How confusing was that? At one point, a company representative had to create a fee and reimbursement spreadsheet for Cepero. Of course, that didn’t match Cepero’s own accounting, so she kept fighting.
But imagine that! I pay you $349 for a dining chair, then send it back to you for an “easy” refund – and you send me a spreadsheet as to why you can’t refund me?
Yet this is what more and more consumers are faced with. This desire for complexity is a proven strategy. I don’t blame the good Pottery Barn employees; these are systems that the company creates, knowing full well that confusion will allow it to pocket more money from its customers. Employees are just working in the system.
What went wrong with this refund from Pottery Barn?
A closer look at the paper trail between Cepero, his bank, and Pottery Barn reveals a third party added to the confusion.
Pottery Barn says it issued a partial credit, but its refund was $755 because Cepero wanted Pottery Barn to cover Capital One’s late fees and interest. When she didn’t receive the refund she expected, she initiated a credit card dispute.
And that made things even worse.
Pottery Barn’s Disputes Department contacted her and presented her accounting of the purchase, return, dispute and refund. According to his records, he had already repaid her in full.
Our advocacy team looked at the back and forth between Cepero and Pottery Barn. There were layers of fees, charges, chargebacks, and partial credits. In the end, it wasn’t clear who the source of the confusion was – only that everyone was very confused. And that includes us.
A credit card dispute should be one of the last things you do when disputing a company’s charges. I like to call it the nuclear option. If your bank finds in your favor, you get all your money back. But if not, you may need to go to Small Claims Court for relief.
Also, the usual customer service channels may be closed to you once you file a dispute. So be careful when going this route.
I don’t know if refusing to pay your credit card bill is the way to resolve a dispute like this. After a year, Capital One had accrued late fees on Cepelo’s account, and his credit rating had begun to suffer.
There is a better way to solve this Pottery Barn refund problem.
How to get a refund from Pottery Barn
Getting your money back from a company like Pottery Barn is relatively simple – if you know how to navigate the shoals.
- Request your refund in writing if possible. Pottery Barn accepts online and in-store returns, according to its refund policy. If you are returning your merchandise online, be sure to keep a written record of your request, a UPS tracking label and an acknowledgment of receipt of the item. If you are returning the item to a store, get a receipt.
- Also get your refund amount in writing. It is not enough to have a receipt for the item; you also need to know how much you will get out of it. This is especially important when the company changes the price of an item. Will they refund the price you paid or the sale price? Little known fact: If you receive a promise from a company to refund an item, and they don’t, your credit card company will treat the correspondence as a debit note and support you in a dispute.
- If you made a credit card purchase, be patient, but not too patient. Two to three billing cycles can seem like an eternity. This is the average time it takes for a company to reimburse you (in a perfect world, it would be much, much faster). If it takes longer than that, be prepared to fight for the refund. It’s an easy victory for you since you have all the documents!
How to reach Pottery Barn when you have a problem with a return
Sometimes a short but polite email to an executive can get your complaint reviewed by someone at a higher level. We publish the names, numbers and email addresses of Pottery Barn officers on this site. (Williams Sonoma owns Pottery Barn.)
I recommended Cepelo try to contact Pottery Barn in writing.
She carefully and politely laid out her case as to why Pottery Barn still owed her $755.
“The same day I got a call from someone at Williams Sonoma, and the credit was issued immediately,” she says. “Capital One immediately waived late fees and interest. My account is now at zero.
There you have it, a seemingly unsolvable consumer problem that’s solved with a simple email to the right person. This is the kind of resolution my advocacy team dreams of, because we all care about consumer empowerment and self-advocacy. But what is unresolved is the endless complexity that people still face when asking for a simple refund. Who are we writing to about this?