If a dishonest or unfair merchant has victimized buyers, but they do not relish going to court for a remedy, they have several alternatives. If the merchant is clearly the party at fault, there are many assistants whose aid buyers can enlist. Before taking action, however, they must be sure that they are completely truthful and accurate in their claims. Here are some suggestions to alternative measures to litigation:
- Try to learn whether the offending merchant is a member of a trade organization (most belong to at least one trade group); buyers can complain to the organization.
- If customers paid for the item or service with a credit card, they can refuse to pay the bill when they get their statement from the credit card company. When they dispute a bill, their credit card company will usually give them an immediate credit for the amount in question and then reverse the credit it gave the merchant for their purchase. It will then ask for an explanation from the merchant. In some cases, a merchant will give up rather than take the time to write letters and participate in a credit dispute. If they claim they never received the merchandise for which they were charged, or that it was damaged or defective and they sent it back, the credit card company may refuse payment completely, regardless of what the merchant claims.
- Customers can contact the local Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.
- Customers can contact their state, county, or municipal consumer affairs department. A telephone call followed by a letter to these organizations can be very effective at getting action from a recalcitrant merchant.
Most merchants just want to do business. They do not want to lose business. They want to make money on sales, not by cheating customers. Likewise, most merchants will not stand to be taken advantage of, so customers need to be sure they have their facts straight and that the disagreement is not merely a misunderstanding. But a merchant who refuses to adjust the matter or even to be reasonable about it may have an ulterior motive.
Before customers take these steps, it is a good idea for them to inform the merchant about what he intends to do. Sometimes, just informing the merchant of his intentions to pursue the matter is enough. But sometimes it is not, in which case the customer should be ready to follow through on the plan of action. Before the customer sends a complaint letter to a consumer or regulatory authority, the customer might want to consider sending a copy of the letter to the merchant, in advance. They can advise the merchant that the letter will be sent in five business days if the matter is not resolved. Sometimes, the mere threat of action can bring about resolution.