‘Amazon embarrassed me when I tried to return a Christmas present’

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Sally says: 

We have all been there: full of expectation while unwrapping a Christmas present, only to find it is something that does not fit, is a ghastly colour, we have one of already or, as in your case, we would never use.

You were touched to receive such a generous gift of an Alexa virtual assistant with a screen attached from the family of a pupil, but you knew realistically it would just sit in a cupboard gathering dust. The giver knew the risk, which is why a gift receipt was included. This was so you would not know the cost immediately but could find out later at the shop and tactfully switch the item for something more to your taste – with the giver none the wiser.

The staff at Amazon 4-Star clumsily blew your cover by automatically refunding the purchaser’s card. It was less the loss of cash, and more the embarrassment you had suffered, that was the biggest problem. You were rightly miffed but could not get anywhere with sorting out the mistake in the store or via its online customer service system later. The £5 token felt like a measly brush off.

I contacted Amazon on your behalf to see if it could untangle the error and put things right. Although it was already too late regarding your mortification over returning the unwanted gift, I thought you should not go empty handed over the blunder.

On my request, Amazon looked into what happened and soon established a mistake had indeed been made and that you should have received the credit. The firm got in touch with you directly to apologise. It refunded the cost of the original purchase (£35.99) in the form of a credit on your own Amazon account plus an extra £35.99 for your trouble.

As a teacher you must have been pleased to be given its assurance that it has “re-educated” staff at the store, so that if anyone returns an item with a gift receipt they follow the Amazon policy, which is not to automatically refund the money to the purchaser’s card.

Staff on the online chat service were also instructed that they should have followed up your complaint rather than dismissing it. You said you were happy with this outcome and hoped it would prevent the same mortifying situation for others.

Martyn James, of complaints website Resolver, said: “The whole point of a gift receipt is to spare a person the embarrassment of having to confess to not wanting a gift. No one’s feelings get hurt and everyone wins.

“Although gift receipts have been around for decades, there’s surprisingly little legislation around how they operate. That’s because they’re basically an additional extra that shops offer to keep you loyal”.

Mr James added: “Ultimately, the shop should follow its own rules on how the scheme operates. So if the refund is supposed to go to the recipient of the gift, that’s what should happen. And if the business gets it wrong, then it must correct the mistake.”

He also reckons businesses should take into account the additional embarrassment involved and when the cat is out of the bag, not only hand out some compensation (which Amazon did in your case) but maybe send a bunch of flowers to the gift giver as well.

I liked this idea, but decided not to press Amazon on the flowers gesture on this occasion, just in case by a stroke of luck your giver had not noticed the refund had been made.

If the giver had not produced any kind of receipt with your gift, you might well have been stuck with it, as it can be a struggle to return an item at all without showing any proof of purchase.

It can be awkward to go back to a giver and ask for a receipt, and it certainly would not have been an ideal option for you. Your only way out would have been eBay or regifting the item to a tech-loving friend or relative.

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