Special order blues continued

Hello Orchid, Writing just to clarify my special order problem and
to thank those who have written in so far–. For example, at my
last show I had a customer who loved a pendant but she didn’t buy it

  • 5 minutes later another customer came in and bought the pendant.
    Of course the first customer came back and now wanted the pendant I
    had just sold, so I agreed to make her one. I had a picture and a
    drawing so I duplicated it to a T. I sent it to her and she called
    me back and said it was “not as luscious as she remembered it” She
    then proceeded to tell me everything that was different about it and
    none of it was true. I made exactly what she ordered – she just
    changed her mind and I don’t feel like I should be the victim of
    that. And, in addition, she has yet to return the pendant!!

Now, here is my question. I know I should have something in writing
spelling out my terms but in addition to asking what most jewelers
consider fair terms, I am wondering what are terms that you can
actually inforce. I may be wrong, but I was under the impression
that technically any item that is purchased with a credit card has
to be returnable. Does that sound right?? I have another friend
who went through a very similar experience and she took the piece
back and refunded most of the money but kept a very small deposit
and she just recently received a nasty letter from the customer’s
bank disputing the charge.

How binding can your little form with the customer’s signature be
and what recourse might you have when the customer chooses not to
abide by it. The charges are hardly ever worth a legal battle or
hassle yet I am not a department store and cannot afford even small
losses, let alone the wasting of my time.

Again, always welcome your input. Thanks, Grace

i would say for custom orders you expect a non refundable deposit-
you may still have to spend money during the process fixing whatever
they don’t like about it- but you could also prevent that by having
them sign off on a drawing- . let them know it’s binding. then,
merchandise in your case (inventory) might have a full money back
guarantee…so you do a little of both to protect yourself. o.nelson

Grace - I suspect it depends on your agreement with your credit card
processor. Mine says I must have a formal return policy, and it
must be prominently displayed. Eventually I want to have it printed
on my sales slips that the customer signs, but right now it is on a
sign I place by my check out area. This is not an “open” return -
whenever or for however long - but it is for whatever you have openly
specified up front. Therefore, with a custom order, if you had the
customer sign an agreement which specified under what conditions a
return would be accepted, I would think that would work. You should
check with your bank or processor to be certain.

Best wishes.
Beth in SC

Perhaps the reality of the situation is that when you are dealing
with a worm of a customer, they will probably find a way to beat you
out of the money. I certainly would not allow a refund without the
merchandise being returned, and if someone demanded a charge card
credit, and went as far as disputing it through the bank, I would
insist on having the piece. The core of that is provability, I
suppose. And if it comes down to one person’s word against another,
the customer will usually prevail. It simply isn’t worth the
expense of cash, time or reputation most of the time. I see very few
cases in our store of the customer trying to beat us out of our
money. We have a clearly stated policy of no cash refunds, exchange
only, and not even that on special order/custom pieces. But, when we
have to deal with someone who is only concerned with themselves, and
not the concept of fairness, it can be awfully tough. None of us can
afford to lose either time or money, but you need to ask yourself
something. In the long run, what will cost you more, a bit of time
and material, or legal fees and bad publicity? Often if disputes
make it to court, the merchant ends up being the ‘bad guy’ in cases
like this. Only if there is clear fraud or thievery on the part of
the consumer do they get the public roasting. Jim

  1. Laws will vary state to state so you need to check the rules and
    regs for your individual state.

  2. I know that a customer who goes back to their credit card
    company and disputes a charge can often get them to make a
    chargeback, however I believe they talk to both sides first. If you
    are able to provide them with regarding your terms, that
    the customer agreed to, I think you would have a fighting chance.

  3. There are organizations like the Better Business Bureau that
    offer conflict negotiations for members and customers who might have
    a problem. You might consider joining one.

  4. Ultimately, however, if a customer is going to make a really big
    stink (or hire a lawyer which would necessitate legal expenses far
    higher than most can afford) it is sometimes easiest to just refund
    the money. I don’t recommend it, but occasionally it might be

  5. I might point out also, though, that in this particular case you
    weren’t making up something to a customer’s specifications–you were
    remaking a design exactly of your own–one that surely you can sell
    again (I mean it’s not like it had the customer’s initials cut out
    and laid on top or something)—so it might be something that it
    would be better to take back. I always tell customers that if they
    let me make up something I like, the way I like to, I am much more
    amenable to redoing the piece as I know I can always sell the first

Daniel R. Spirer, GG
Spirer Somes Jewelers
1794 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140

I require at least a 50% deposit on all custom orders and state
clearly on my invoice forms that “Deposits on custom orders are not
refundable. All sales are final.” It is important that you make sure
that all communications with a customer are clear. It is also
probably unavoidable, that you will run into the occasional customer
who will be unhappy, no matter what you do. Don’t take it personally,
these people are just generally unhappy with life. Nothing that we
can do about that. Joel Joel Schwalb @Joel_Schwalb

Hi Grace, I was just having a chat with several merchant companies
about credit card processing, and the question of returns was “on my
list” of questions. All of them told me that under the “buyer
protection plan” terms most items purchased by a consumer using a
credit card must be returnable. But some items are not returnable
(for example, pierced earrings in the state of PA are not supposed to
be tried on before purchase and are supposed to be non-returnable for
health reasons – however, I’ve seen merchants allow try-ons and
accept returns on them so I don’t know how enforced those codes are).
Any item that is non-returnable (special orders, bathing suits,
whatever) must be clearly indicated as such on any receipts and the
buyer must be notified of the fact as well before the purchase is

In the case of items being returned, it is the merchant’s discretion
whether to issue refunds (and in what tender) or to restrict to
exchanges or store credit. If an item has to have something done to
it in order to make it immediately resaleable (cleaning, repolishing,
repackaging, sanitizing, etc.), then charging a “restocking” fee is
becoming increasingly common and is perfectly legal. Restocking
fees, like refunds, are determined by the merchant’s policies and
must be communicated to the customer prior to purchase (can be posted
signage, wording on receipts, etc.).

In any case, if a customer keeps a piece and refuses to return it,
they’ve effectively bought it. If they then try to challenge their
payment for it, you have the right to reclaim the piece using
whatever means are appropriate up to and including a collection
agency or “repo” service. Usually, I’m told, a formal letter on
legal letterhead or on your behalf from a collection agency is enough
to get the piece returned or the challenge dropped.

Having said all that, there are a couple of important adages to

  1. 87% of dissatisfied customers will buy from you again if you
    immediately work to resolve their complaint.

  2. 90% of dissatisfied customers will tell 7 - 10 people about
    their complaints if you don’t resolve the issue in a proactive and
    timely manner.

  3. Some customers will NEVER be satisfied, no matter what you do.
    But you can’t tell which ones they are unless you proactively try to
    resolve the issue.

So it’s a tough call for small business like yours and mine. I rely
on person-to-person contact, referrals, and satisfied repeat
customers. I really can’t afford many disgruntled customers running
around spreading crap about me and my services, so I bend over
backward to make sure that I’ve addressed everyone’s issues as best I
can. Sometimes that means bending my own rules, but other times it
means cutting my losses and recognizing a futile fight (thankfully,
very few times!).

Hope any of this helps!

Karen Goeller
Handcrafted and Unique Artisan Jewelry

Hi, all, This, again, is my experience from another field, but I
think it may be relevant. I was general manager of a very high-end
tree “care” company in an area where people paid top-dollar for
"aesthetic pruning" and/or view restoration. We belonged to the
Briarpatch Network–a local “right livelihood” group–and after much
debate, we followed their advice and added the following to the end
of our (rather elaborate) contract: “We guarantee our work 100%. If
you don’t like it, you don’t pay for it.”

Mind you, this is a service company with a crew and we’re talking
jobs that could last 2-3 days, where t6he billing could be over
$10,000, and where everyone but the owner got a paycheck regardless.

Only once, in the years I worked there, did someone refuse to pay,
and she was someone we never could have pleased–and it would have
put us through too many changes to go after the money. People often
asked us to “fix” things, but I have a feeling that Briarpatch was
right: our customers saw us as an “open, honest business” and
responded in kind.

But remember, we also had a very carefully constructed contract…

Lisa in Benicia
and at SNAG, in a couple of hours!

   Grace - I suspect it depends on your agreement with your credit
card processor.  Mine says I must have a formal return policy, and
it must be prominently displayed.  Eventually I want to have it
printed on my sales slips that the customer signs, but right now it
is on a sign I place by my check out area.  
 Beth, I already posted today about an experience I had, and credit

card companies don’t care what is posted on your wall or your
forehead. Call your credit card company and have your policy printed
on your credit card receipt before it costs you time , money, and
frustration. It takes about 10 minutes.

A sign posted in your store is okay if they pay by check or cash,

credit card is a whole different. story, as in credit card companies
do not operate according to your state laws.

They are a force unto themselves, and they have much more power that

we realize or understand. We do not use money anymore, we use
electronic transfers and we are subject to their rules and
regulations. They control the “curency” of our nation.

Richard in Denver

I had a fight with American Express, as I had been doing casting for
a customer for a year and a half, and she placed the largest order
she had ever placed. She always took the castings not polished.
Usually ordering in silver, she placed the order in gold, it was
$660. She returned the order saying it was not to her standard. I
took the pieces to another person who does custom gold and platinum
work, showed it to him and asked him if they looked like typical gold
castings, he said they did. I had polished a small area on a large
flat piece, known to be the most difficult, usually resulting in
porosity. Tried to call the customer, she screened her calls from
that point on and would not talk to me. She paid with a credit card,
Amex reversed the charge. I contested, sending past invoices for
work done over time, told them that it was a service, my policy is to
do the work over if not done right as it was a custom order. It was
her original piece I duplicated, a mold that had been used to produce
work that was acceptable in the past, and the pieces that were made
were identical to her original. They decided to charge back in her
favor. I canceled my bank account, so they could not charge my
account and told them if they were going to make a arbitrary
decision not based on fact that they were going to suffer the loss.
They put it on my credit report. I contested it with the credit
agency, and Amex wanted to settle for half, which I did. My personal
belief was that this customer was lazy and did not want to do her own
finishing work, or she was intimidated by taking a risk of that
dollar amount. The end result is, check with your credit card
company, because mine told me if I add my policy “return for credit
only within 30 days” on the credit card slip they sign, I will have a
betterchance of prevailing. Still don’t take Amex. One last thing, if
you have to deal with them, you never, ever have the chance to talk
with a person, all done by letters and faxes. Richard Hart