Sunday, June 5, 2011

If You Receive the Wrong Product via Online Orders

Every once in a while I receive the wrong item in an order. When I call the sender's customer service department to notify them of their mistake, occasionally one tells me I can keep it, but more often than not, they ask me to return it, and they immediately send the correct item to me. Only one online retailer ( has made me wait until after they receive their mistake before making good on my order (which I have already been charged for). I have already posted about my frustration with their customer service, which I recently updated (unfortunately, not with a happy outcome from Chanel).

Almost two years ago, I ordered one lipstick from Bergdorf Goodman and they sent the wrong color. I was annoyed because shipping was half the cost of the lipstick. When I called, they said to box it up and put it at my front door, and FedEx would pick it up the next day. Since I wasn't being made to pay for the return, I thought that was reasonable. But then I wondered what they would do with that returned item and why they were spending more than it was worth to have FedEx come get it.

This isn't a complaint against Bergdorf Goodman. They had a replacement out to me the next day, but I asked them if makeup I order from them could conceivably be a return that someone else had received, opened, looked at, touched, sneezed on, waved through air filled with dust motes and animal dander, whatever. If they can't resell it, why make me return it? Forget about economical, is it even ethical?

Their answer was not only to let me keep the mistake, but they reversed the original charge, PLUS shipping. Sometimes people make mistakes and BG was willing to own up to it, making me a very very happy customer.

As it turns out, the reversal of charges was an extremely nice gesture made in goodwill, but letting me keep it was not something special. All returned-makeup cooties aside, did you know that if you live in the US and someone sends you the wrong product, they can't make you return it.

From the U.S Code site at Cornell University, Title 39 Part IV, Chapter 30, Section 3009:
§ 3009. Mailing of unordered merchandise
(a) Except for
(1) free samples clearly and conspicuously marked as such, and

(2) merchandise mailed by a charitable organization soliciting contributions, the mailing of un­ordered merchandise or of communications prohibited by subsection (c) of this section constitutes an unfair method of competition and an unfair trade practice in violation of section 45 (a)(1) of title 15.
(b) Any merchandise mailed in violation of subsection (a) of this section, or within the exceptions contained therein, may be treated as a gift by the recipient, who shall have the right to retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender.

(c) No mailer of any merchandise mailed in violation of subsection (a) of this section, or within the exceptions contained therein, shall mail to any recipient of such merchandise a bill for such merchandise or any dunning communications.

(d) For the purposes of this section, “un­ordered merchandise” means merchandise mailed without the prior expressed request or consent of the recipient.

I do not know if this protects US consumers from products we buy overseas, such as from European e-tailers or those frustratingly discontinued, hard-to-find items we buy on eBay that often come from Asia. I suspect not.

So the next time someone sends you an item by mistake and wants you to return it -- especially at your cost -- refer them to the above law and open a dispute with your credit card if you have to. The law is on your side.


  1. Too bad about Chanel! It was cool that the one company let you keep the lippie. :)

  2. This is one instance I'm actually happy to have a company not ship to Canada as I've heard nothing but bad things about

    I have always questioned the rationality of companies paying to have an item shipped back to them. I know Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman have exceptional online customer service. I don't know what I'd do without them!

  3. I'm saving this post. I didn't know this at all about returns. I got the wrong product from Nordstrom today but I can drive over to see what to do about it. It will be interesting to see what they do though.

  4. this is a very useful thing to know. I've never had issues with receiving the wrong product because I do not purchase online very often.


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