By Arthur Vidro
There are no villains in this story. Every person was acting with integrity and honesty.
Yet, it is easy for consumers to fall between the cracks.
On Dec. 11, I stopped at Famous Footwear in West Lebanon. I knew what I wanted – duplicates of shoes I had bought from them in the past and had brought with me.
First the Dr. Scholl’s. They weren’t in stock, but the store happily orders shoes you pay for and has them shipped directly to your home.
The man behind the counter ordered a pair from his company’s headquarters in Tennessee. During the process, he informed me the store was running a ‘buy one, get one 50% off’ deal on all brands of shoes. So I ordered two identical pairs of Dr. Scholl’s for a combined $66.92, including shipping.
Then I went browsing for New Balance shoes. I found them, but only in sizes too big or too narrow for me. So I returned to the counter and ordered two identical pairs of New Balance for a combined $89.43, including shipping.
For both transactions, I used a credit card.
A pair of Dr. Scholl’s arrived on Dec. 15, a pair of New Balance on Dec. 20. The shipping of only one pair of each brand left me wondering if my order was falling through the cracks.
So, on Dec. 31, I phoned the store. A female employee confirmed my order and speculated the missing pairs were possibly on back order. But the missing shoes had been ordered and paid for.
On Jan. 2, seeking verification, I phoned Tennessee headquarters. I spoke to Michelle, a polite and patient woman.
She said I had ordered only one pair of each type of shoe, which had been shipped and received. No more shoes were in transit and none would be sent.
I said I had paid for two pairs of each type of shoe. She said their records showed I had paid for each discounted pair in the store and had walked out with them.
I asked if I should send her the store receipt so she could see the order herself. She said it didn’t matter what was on my paper receipt; the only thing that mattered was what their computerized system said.
I added I had not walked out with any purchased shoes, and said the employee who had served me would likely remember me well enough to verify this (My voice is distinctive, my shoe size unusual, and I was pushing a stroller containing a 10-pound Yorkie).
Michelle repeated her regrets and devoted a lot of time to me. But her employer forced her to believe a computer over a person.
I phoned the store again, spoke to the manager, Allan Davidson, who said he himself had waited on me, he remembered me quite well, and yes, he could confirm I had exited the store without any purchased shoes.
I asked if he would be willing to say so to corporate headquarters. He said yes but that it wouldn’t matter, because headquarters was interested only in what its computerized system said.
He was right. Mr. Davidson and his store deserve high marks for honesty and professionalism.
I phoned my credit-card company to dispute the charge, which wasn’t easy. On both transactions, I was not disputing the charge in full, but only the portion of each charge that covered the 50%-off pair of shoes. I was given conditional credits of $33.46 on the Dr. Scholl’s and $44.72 on the New Balance. These were conditional because the credit card company had to investigate before making a final decision.
Then the credit card company mailed me a form to fill out, saying it needed more information to help them investigate.
The form had only two boxes to check – either I didn’t authorize the transaction at that amount — which wasn’t the case — or I had been quoted a different price by the merchant — which also wasn’t the case.
Ignoring the form’s setup, I typed up a full explanation – saying yes, I had authorized each transaction, but each was for the shipping of two pairs of shoes from Tennessee, whereas corporate headquarters insisted each transaction was for one pair of shoes.
I also sent copies of the sales slips and said the store manager could corroborate my report, but corporate HQ was concerned with only what appeared on its computer screens.
At the end of January, I received confirmations that for each dispute, the conditional credit had been made permanent.
Note that if payment had been made with a debit card — or even cash — I might have been forced to absorb the loss. It helps to have a credit card company on your side.
The fates sometimes mistreat us consumers. We can get the shaft no matter which way we turn.
But sometimes a prepared consumer can fight back.
This was one of those times.
If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro in the care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.