Shopping woes: 'He took 10 weeks to return my money!'
To say that this reader had a less-than-satisfying shopping experience is an understatement.
We recently carried the tale of a reader's unpleasant shopping experience and invited you to write in with yours. Here is the another response from reader G Padmanaban:
In early September, I moved for my new job to Ankleshwar, a small town between Baroda and Surat in Gujarat. When I told my estate agent that I was looking to buy an LCD TV, he took me to Preet Music, a big electronics shop near the railway station. I purchased both the TV and a satellite dish from there. The shop-owner said the TV would cost Rs 29,500. After some bargaining, he said that I would get the dish set-top box (worth Rs 2,000) for free. When the time came to pay up, I gave him my Bank of America credit card (I had just returned from the US), so he said he would have to charge two percent extra. That was the first shocker...which major outlet charges service fees? I went ahead with it, however, because I would have had to pay an ATM transaction fee anyway if I were to withdraw cash using my US debit/credit cards.
I bought the TV in time for the start of the Champions League Twenty20 cricket series. But there was a lot of delay when it came to getting the service started. The installation guys from the shop weren't competent, which caused a delay of five days (and they had said I would get all channels within two hours of installation!). A few days later, I got a call from the shop-owner saying that he was yet to receive the payment on my transaction from his bank. I checked my credit card payment history and it had duly been deducted from my account. So I told him about it and asked him to wait for some time, or then ask his bank to come through with it. He called a couple of days later and asked me to come to his shop. I went and he said he still hadn't been paid. This has never happened to me anywhere, during more than 10 years of using credit card. Nevertheless, I thought that I would enquire with the Bank of America, as they stop large transactions sometimes if they suspect a scam. I made an ISD call to the Bank of America credit card department and they said that they had approved the transaction. That call alone cost me over Rs 150. I told the shop-owner that my bank has cleared the transaction, so there was no problem from my side.
Into the first few weeks of my first job in India, I received several calls from him saying that he hadn't received the money. He even threatened to take back the TV and dish. It was mental torture for me. I contacted VISA and informed them of the problem. They got back to me saying that they had nothing to do with it and that the merchant's bank, which had supplied the card-swiping machine to the store had to be contacted. I passed the info on to the shop-owner but he wouldn't listen to me. He shouted on the phone that the non-payment was a loss for him and he wanted that money from me 'somehow'. I got fed up and thought of asking him to take away the items even, but getting my deducted money reimbursed from my bank would be a tedious process -- I was in India and it would take a long time. So I contacted ICICI Bank's cards division and explained the issue to them. I got no response.
In the meantime, I got my first salary and I thought it my moral responsibility to make sure that someone from whom I had bought something should not suffer, so I gave him a cheque for Rs 31,500 (Rs 2,000 extra -- he said that was the price of the TV and dish and my shopping bill was misplaced in my new home, in the middle of moving. I managed to find it a couple of days later).
The very next day, he encashed the cheque and within minutes I got a call from him saying that he had received the cheque from ICICI Bank for my card payment just that day. I regretted not having waited just one more day (it had been four weeks sunce the purchase); I also thought this turn of events too coincidental. Anyway, I asked him to return my second payment, so he asked me to come to his shop the next evening to collect it. From that moment on my real anguish and mental torture began, at the hands of an atrocious, professional fraud of a shopowner.
He gave me a post-dated cheque for Rs 31,500 and asked me to encash it after two days. I deposited it and the cheque bounced, citing insufficient funds! When I contacted the him, he asked me to visit him with the bounced cheque and collect another one. No apologies. And I had to wait for a week before the bank returned the bounced cheque -- I lived alone and no one was home to collect it when they sent it to me. After a week of waiting and numerous calls to the bank, they told me to collect it from a branch. I did, and took it to Preet Music. The shop-owner said he didnt have money then and asked me to come after a few days when he called me. The tremendously patient guy that I am and not being fluent in Hindi, I had neither the skill nor the energy to argue with him at the end of a long working day. After several calls to him, a week later he asked me to come to his shop and collect the money in cash. When I went there in the evening, he said, "I asked you to come during working hours when my bank is open, so that I can withdraw the money."
I said that I was working and I couldn't meet him during working hours from Monday to Friday. I asked him to collect the cash from his bank and keep it ready so that I could collect it from him after I returned from work. Despite me telling him that, whenever I called him, he would tell me to come 'anytime between 11 am and 3 pm'.
Then I told him to give me a cheque. He said he would call me and let me know when to come. Again for a few days no calls. When I called him the next week, he asked me to come the next evening. This time, he gave me a cheque for Rs. 10,000 and said that he would pay the next installment after two days. On the cheque he wrote 'self' instead of my name and couldn't be cashed. Then he said he would pay by cash, and asked me to collect it from a salesman, Chandresh, at his shop, as he was leaving town for a few days. The next day, when I contacted Chandresh, he asked me to come in the evening. When I went, he told me that he didn't have the cash and only the 'malik' had access to it. What the hell!
I finally complained to the estate agent who took me to the shop in the first place. He contacted the owner and returned with Rs 10,000 -- 50 days after my double-payment. Then I received another cheque for Rs, 10,000. As he was writing 'self', I stopped him and told him to write my name instead, which he did. That cheque bounced, saying the 'correction required authentication'. He had just scribbled the 'se' of 'self' before he had to strike it off, but his bank wouldn't have any of it. Again I went to him and he gave me another cheque. This time, I wrote my name on it myself. It bounced again, saying the signature didn't match. What a set of cheaters! When I told him that, he gave me a cheque for the remaining Rs 21,500, which also bounced, citing 'payment stopped by payee'.
I started losing my patience then. Over a month had passed since the first payment of Rs.10,000, and he was simply playing cat-and-mouse with me. Finally, he returned another Rs 11,500 and asked me to collect the rest in two days. When I went to the shop, he said that his assistant would come to my house after the shop closed and give me the money. He asked me to leave my address, phone no etc with him. I told him that I would be waiting for him at home and despite calling twice that day, nobody turned up. With this new tactic, he delayed it another week.
I contacted the agent again and he claimed that he had shouted at the shop-owner. I was asked to visit the shop in the evening to collect my money. When I went, he wasn't there. He had gone to his other shop, 2 kilometres away and told me that it would be too late for him to return, so he asked me to come the next day. I shouted at him for the first time then and told him that I wouldn't leave his shop without my money.
During the 75-minute wait at the shop, I took out my anger on his employees, who were all accomplices to the whole scandal. When another customer came asking for money due to him, I realised what they were doing. I asked them, "Are you doing this as a side business, involving other people's money?" They tried to shut me up by raising their voices, but I started shouting even more and they kept quiet.
A few phone calls came from the owner to the shop, asking if I was still there. In hushed tones, they would tell him that I was still waiting. He knew that I had lost my patience. He came at last and asked me to go by bike to the other shop and collect the money. Coming from the same shop in his Honda City, couldn't he have brought the money? I went there and finally got the last installment of Rs 10,000. I was relieved!
The whole incident taught me several lessons. My final points are:
- I don't think there was anything wrong with my credit card payment. He would have got it, and it could be his modus-operandi to get a double-payment from his card-paying customers, to generate more money floating around the shop.
- Not once did I get an apology from him or his staff, during my dozens of visits and hundreds of phone calls.
- The shop-owner, who wouldn't stop calling me on the phone before I made my payment, never once returned my calls despite saying 'I'll call you back' -- and he would rudely cut my call without even waiting to hear my response.
- I lost time, quite a bit of money and energy in order to get all my cash back over the period of two and a half months, not to mention the four weeks when he made me visit him for 'non-payment' of his money.
- His bank, Ankaleshwar Udyognagar Co-Operative, simply dances to the tunes of its wealthy customers. Otherwise why would they reject the cheques from the same guy so many times? 'Signature not matching'? When I examined the bounced cheque, he had put the same goddamn sign on all the cheques. 'Payment blocked by payee'? Did he cancel the cheque after giving it to me the previous day, or does the bank enquire with him, "Bhai, money is leaving your account, albeit legally -- should we allow it or not?"
Have you ever been misled by any store? Or, had a bad customer service experience? Write in to us about your worst shopping experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: 'My shopping nightmare') and we'll publish your entries right here.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh