Pet store sold me a sick puppy

August 20, 2015 20:02 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

My mother purchased a puppy from a pet store for $2000.  She signed the store's "no refund" policy during the check-out process without reading the paperwork.  But, during the sale of the dog, the sales clerk referenced several times the store’s 48-hour return policy, which says that they will offer an exchange within 48 hours.  However, it was not at all clear to my mom that they did not offer refunds during this time period.  My mom went back to the store within the 48-hour time period because the puppy was showing signs of illness.  The store personnel directed her to speak to a third party over the phone about what steps to take next, and only after getting home did my mother learn about the store’s no refund policy.  Is there any protection for consumers in this case?  We have since learned that the pet store in question has a very bad reputation for selling sick animals, so offering an exchange is not a great option.  

Consumer Ed says:  

Your mother is in a difficult situation. While the store is certainly obligated to provide consumers with the terms of its return/exchange policies before the consumer completes the purchase, your mother was given those policies and has acknowledged receiving them. 

There is no universal right to cancel purchases. A three-day right to cancel exists for only a limited number of consumer transactions. These transactions are limited to credit or cash transactions of $25 or more that were initiated through face-to face contact, e.g. door-to-door sales, away from the seller’s regular place of business that results in a written agreement.  Georgia does not have any law that requires a business to provide a refund or accept returns; this means that a business may set its own return policy (including setting time limits on accepting returns), and may offer consumers cash, in-store credit, exchanges, or no adjustment at all.  While a retailer isn’t generally required to post its policies, it must honor any refund or return policies it does have.  From what you’ve said about your mother’s case, the store in question actually provided her with a written return/exchange policy, which she then signed (but didn’t read).  Under these circumstances, it’s unlikely the store would be required to do more with regard to giving the appropriate advance notice of its return/exchange policies.

Nevertheless, your mother may still have some recourse.  The papers she signed may have contained written warranties about the condition of the dog, and she should review them carefully to see what they say. However, even if there were no written warranties, there may be warranties that the law will imply in the context of a sale of goods (these warranties do apply to pets). Basically, the law implies that goods must:  (i) pass without objection in the trade; and (ii) be fit for the normal and ordinary purpose for which such goods are used.  It follows that a sickly dog would generally not pass “without objection”, and by selling an animal that is unhealthy, the pet store could be said to have violated this implied warranty.  

To find out if your mother may have some recourse, you should consult an attorney who specializes in these matters.  You can also learn more about consumers’ rights in purchasing pets by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/and-they-called-it-puppy-love.


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Can online retailer refuse to ship item and then charge a restocking fee?

June 10, 2015 19:20 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I recently purchased a pool cover online.  My credit card was charged immediately.  Two weeks later, without any notification, the company refunded 95% of the purchase price.  When I discovered this, they told me they kept 5% because they don’t ship to where I live. Is that legal?

Consumer Ed says: 

Likely not.  Generally, a company must sell goods as advertised, and have a reasonable supply of those goods available, subject to certain disclosures.  At the very least, a company must disclose any limitations as to the availability of its inventory (including whether it can actually be shipped to a purchaser’s location).  Even though the company selling the pool cover may not be out of stock, the fact that it cannot ship the product to you is a limitation that, had you known of it, you certainly wouldn’t have ordered or paid for the merchandise.  Therefore, this means the limitation was one the company should have disclosed before you completed your transaction.   When you purchase an item over the Internet, it is assumed that the seller will ship the item to you within a specified time, or, if no time is specified, within 30 to 50 days depending on the method of payment.  If shipment is delayed and the seller cannot ship to you within this time—or in your case, cannot ship to you at all—the seller must give you an option to cancel your order and receive a full refund.  Because you paid by credit card, you should receive your refund within one billing cycle for the full amount paid.  This means 100%, not the 95% returned to you.  Had you paid by cash, check or money order, you should have received the refund within 7 business days.

The company may tell you that the 5% it retained covers a restocking fee, or other shipping and handling costs, but you are likely protected. First, any such fees must be displayed clearly and conspicuously on the company’s website, and in a manner that ensures a shopper will see it before the purchase is completed.  If the company didn’t sufficiently disclose these fees, it may be in violation of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act. The same could be said if the company knew at the time of your order that it did not ship to your location, and didn’t disclose this on its website.  Even if the company could ship the item to your location, any restocking fees or shipping costs may still be unfair if there is no evidence the company actually attempted to ship the pool cover.  If the seller neither placed an order with a manufacturer, nor took affirmative steps to ship the pool cover to you, then there’s no reason for any costs to be charged to you at all (i.e., if the company’s stock never left, then there’s no reason to charge you to restock it).  For more information, you may want to view our previous Consumer Ed column regarding restocking fees.

If, going forward, you cannot resolve the problem directly with the company, there are several options available to you.  Because you paid with a credit card, you may be able to dispute the remaining charge with your credit card company.  You could also contact the Better Business Bureau to see if they can help mediate a solution between you and the company.  Finally, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov, and/or with the Office of Consumer Protection by visiting www.consumer.ga.gov (or by calling 404-651-8600).

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Can a hotel take 30 days to refund my deposit?

May 13, 2015 13:41 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I reserved a hotel room in Georgia and paid a one-night deposit of $200 using my credit card.  A week prior to my scheduled check-in date, I cancelled my reservation.  According to the hotel’s cancellation policy, I am entitled to a refund of my deposit less a $50 fee. The hotel said it would take 30 days to process the refund.  There is nothing in the hotel’s cancellation policy about it taking that long to issue a refund.  Meanwhile, I will incur interest on this charge.  Are they allowed to take that long to process my refund, and am I entitled to be reimbursed for the interest accrued? 

Consumer Ed says: 

The short answers to your questions are yes, and no.  Under these circumstances, Georgia law generally doesn't require companies to provide refunds, nor does it require a time frame for the business to process the refunds.   However, if the business has a refund policy, then it must honor those terms.  If the hotel has a refund policy that promises refunds will be processed within a certain time frame, and if you abided by the terms of that policy, then the hotel is obligated to issue you a refund according to those terms.  You mentioned that the hotel’s cancellation policy did not specify a time frame for the refund to be processed.  If this is so, the hotel was not acting outside its stated cancellation policies.

One reason that businesses often take time to issue refunds is that they sometimes process the refunds in batches to avoid paying several transaction fees.  For example, if the business uses a merchant account to process its transactions, it may have to pay a transaction fee every time it transfers funds out of its merchant account; accordingly, it may choose to process all the refunds once in a particular period to save on the transaction fee.  Often, credit card companies charge merchants per transaction fees for charge-backs, so the hotel may have used the same reasoning to avoid paying multiple individual charge-back fees.  Along these lines, the hotel also wouldn’t be required to reimburse you for any interest accrued for the charge on your credit card while you were waiting for your refund (unless its stated cancellation policy provided otherwise).

If you booked the hotel through a third-party website, you should also consult the website’s cancellation and refund policy.  For example, Orbitz.com provides that your refund should post to your credit card within 7 days after cancellation.  Additionally, some credit card companies may offer trip cancellation insurance to compensate you for the losses.  In circumstances where the business keeps a deposit, consumers who pay with a credit card can also dispute the charge for the deposit with the credit card company—but the decision as to whether a refund would be granted would then be up to the credit card company.  The bottom line, however, is that in Georgia, there’s no formal legal right to a refund of a hotel deposit, absent a written policy granting you that right.

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