How to Deal With an Unsatisfactory Purchase


As a consumer, you have the right to assume that a product will work as advertised. This is the product's implied warranty. It doesn't matter whether you bought something through mail order, over the phone, online or at a brick-and-mortar store. But if something does go wrong, there are a number of ways you can get satisfaction.

See <a href="" target="_top">How to Make Returns</a>.

Arm yourself with information before you buy. Make sure you know where to direct a complaint in case there's a problem. If you're getting an item delivered, be sure you know the retailer's policy on shipping and on merchandise that's lost or damaged in transit. Review the warranty on an item (see <a href="" target="_top">How to Buy Extended Warranties on Appliances</a>).

Visit the store with the item and receipt. For an online purchase, e-mail customer service and include your order number. In a friendly but firm tone, explain the problem and your desired solution. If this fails to remedy the situation, call customer service. Most Web sites list customer-service phone numbers (in their "About Us" or "Contact Us" section). Or, call (800) 555-1212 for the toll-free directory.

If a store salesperson doesn't give you adequate help, or isn't able to remedy the situation, ask to speak to a supervisor. If the supervisor won't help, ask for the name of the store manager or owner. Continue up the chain to a regional manager or the manager at the national headquarters.

Be persistent but polite on the phone, and get the name, title and direct number of each person you speak to. To avoid aggravating disconnections during transfers, and getting stuck in the voice mail quagmire, always ask for the number you are being transferred to. Address the salesperson by name in a friendly manner and make it clear that you are confident that, although he or she is not personally responsible for the problem, he or she will want to rectify the problem and reward your loyalty to the company.

Be prepared to ask for a resolution. If the company admits fault, ask how they intend "to make it right." For example, if a bank screws up your account, ask for free checking for a year. If Sears fails to deliver a washing machine in a timely manner, ask for 50 percent off the unit. If you're stumped for a specific request, ask the sales representative, "What can you do to make this right and restore my faith in your company again?"

Contact your credit or debit card company, if you used it to make the purchase, and request in writing that the merchant be "charged back." Credit card companies protect consumers from unauthorized charges, incomplete orders, defective products or false advertising.

Write a letter if your efforts fail to get results. Get the name of the person who will handle your complaint (preferably someone in management). Go online to the Consumer Action Web site ( to see a sample letter and get tips on crafting an effective complaint. Send the letter by registered mail or by overnight delivery to confirm the company receives it.

If the company still fails to fix the problem, report your complaint to a local or state consumer protection agency, with a copy to the company. For interstate sales, contact the Federal Trade Commission. The Consumer Action Web site will help you find the proper government agency.

At the same time that you complain to a government agency, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau ( or for online purchases) and with any trade organization that regulates the industry or retailer.

Consider mediation or arbitration, small claims court, or legal action as final remedies. The Better Business Bureau will help mediate disputes. Small claims court is a do-it-yourself legal recourse. Hiring a lawyer should be considered only in extreme cases where damage or injury exceed $20,000 since your legal fees will mount quickly.

Let a manager or supervisor at the company in question know that you intend to go public. Almost every local television station has a consumer reporter or a "consumer rip-off" feature. Contact them with a letter detailing your grievance and asking for help in finding a resolution. Companies hate bad press-- even the threat of it can whip them into behaving.

Tips & Warnings

  • If a retailer is unresponsive, contact the product's manufacturer directly either on its Web site or in resources like the Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations.
  • Document everything. Write down names, titles and phone numbers of people you speak to, plus the date and time. Record what they tell you. Keep a file of receipts, warranties, correspondence and photographs.
  • A courteous and pleasant approach will aid your efforts. Avoid becoming confrontational or emotional.
  • Try to get retailers and service representatives to see your point of view. A good question to ask is "What would you do if you were in my situation?"

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