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Consumer Alert

Third party may help in disputes with small merchants

Q. I purchased a child’s Cape Cod bracelet from Goldfinger Jewelers in Hyannis for my niece’s 7th birthday last year. It did not fit. I called Goldfinger and was told that as long as the bracelet was not damaged (which it was not), I could return it for a bigger size and to include a check for postage. I returned the bracelet. My check was cashed Dec. 21, but still no bracelet. I called Goldfinger and was told they were behind in Christmas exchanges. I have called multiple times and have sent an e-mail. No word. I still would like the bracelet or my money back.

LISA COLBURN, PLYMOUTH

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A. Merchant disputes are never fun. Plus, they can get drawn out for a really long time. Communications might indicate progress is being made, but the resolution doesn’t come.

And dealing with a smaller operation, it doesn’t take much for things to break down. One person forgets to tell another, or someone simply doesn’t do what they’re supposed to. In this situation, it’s not entirely clear what went on, but it didn’t take much more than asking to get a resolution.

Julie Fagin of Goldfinger said the delay was a misunderstanding. She explained that the store normally has a 30-day exchange policy, but extended it in this case and then waited for the check and bracelet — receiving them four months after the original order was placed. That payment was processed “during our busiest week of the year,” she said, and then the store closed for two weeks in January.

Fagin said the store’s records show the replacement was shipped in February, but since no signature was required, she can’t demonstrate that it was received. After being told that it wasn’t, she immediately shipped another one.

It’s tough to know when it’s time to involve a third party in a dispute. Generally, after a couple of weeks of not getting the desired result, it’s worth asking the Better Business Bureau, the state Office of Consumer Affairs, or the attorney general’s office to get involved — or lodging a credit card dispute. Many logjams get broken with initial notification to the business that a complaint has been filed.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers for two decades. He also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. He can be reached at ConsumerNews@ aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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