Geoffrey Burton was very pleased with the oak sideboard he’d just bought from Oak Furnitureland – until he unwrapped it and saw an unsightly woodgrain blemish that stood out like a sore thumb.
The retired RAF officer from Waterlooville had previously bought a dresser, dining room table and chairs and a storage unit from the company online and had been completely satisfied.
So when he was looking around for a sideboard, he had no hesitation in heading for its Portsmouth store to see what was on offer.
On looking around the showroom, he finally settled for a £259 sideboard from the Mantis Light range of dining room furniture.
Geoffrey particularly liked the multi-coloured woodgrain finish.
But when it was finally delivered, the firm’s drivers promptly left before he could remove all the packaging.
To his dismay it didn’t take him long to discover his brand new sideboard had a prominent unsightly discoloured area of woodgrain on the right-hand door.
The extensive flaw completely marred its appearance. It made it look as if it was second-hand and had been damaged.
Geoffrey, 71, immediately got on the phone to Oak Furnitureland’s customer service department and expressed his disappointment in no uncertain terms. He also sent photographs to back up his complaint.
He said: ‘I spoke to the customer service who told me it happens all the time with this type of wood. If I looked on the internet at that range I’d find all manner of marks, so I checked all 41 items on the website but couldn’t find one.
‘I went back to the Ocean Park showroom to take a look for similar marks and there were none there either, so I said to the receptionist that I didn’t accept what I’d been told and wanted to speak to the manager.
‘He gave me the same story, but when I told him I wasn’t happy and what was he prepared to do about it he said he wasn’t prepared to do anything.’
‘I phoned the receptionist back later and asked to speak to the manager again, but was told he didn’t want to speak to me. His decision was final – end of conversation.’
Unwilling to accept the brush-off, Geoffrey went back to the showroom again, determined to find the salesman who sold him the sideboard. He showed him the photographs of the blemish on his phone.
The salesman immediately agreed it completely blighted the appearance and went beyond what was acceptable. He wouldn’t want it in the store because he didn’t think he’d be able to sell it.
However, Geoffrey says that when he asked the salesman if he could help him out with his complaint, it immediately drew a blank. There was no way the decision would be reversed.
A further complaint to a customer services manager was equally ineffective. As the sideboard wasn’t defective, the company would only replace it if he’d accept a £50 handling charge, which Geoffrey thought outrageous.
He didn’t accept he had to let this go. He just wasn’t the kind of person to sit back when he felt he was the victim of an injustice, so he called in Streetwise for help and advice.
We had to confess surprise at Oak Furnitureland’s apparent refusal to back down. We’d never received a single complaint about the company in all our years of reporting examples of unfairness or indifferent customer service in the home furnishing business.
Not only was he a previous very satisfied and loyal customer, we couldn’t understand why they’d dug their heels in and ignored him.
We put it to the firm that although it was widely agreed that merchandise made from natural materials would inevitably reveal blemishes, it was a matter of degree whether it met the legal rules of acceptable quality.
We asked the firm to reconsider its decision on the grounds that Geoffrey wasn’t able to examine the sideboard for appearance and finish before deciding to buy it, and didn’t have the chance to reject it on delivery.
Within a few hours of Streetwise making contact, Geoffrey received a very positive response from the firm apologising for his bad experience.
A spokesperson for the company said: ‘We are very disappointed and concerned to hear of Mr Burton’s customer service experience at Oak Furnitureland.
‘We have apologised to him without reservation, and admit that we got it wrong on this occasion.
‘We offered to replace the cabinet and Mr Burton has accepted.
‘We take any customer complaint seriously and we strive to constantly improve our customer service standards. Thank you for highlighting this case.’
Geoffrey was impressed with the company’s prompt response and delighted with the outcome.
He said: ‘I don’t know what you said but it worked.
‘I had a call from an Oak Furnitureland customer relations manager, who apologised for the way my complaint was handled.
‘He’ll unpack and check a new sideboard, then arrange to swop it for mine at no cost.
‘I’m most grateful for your intervention and many thanks again for your help.’