Jenny Andrews of Chichester went shopping for an evening dress and found a lovely pale blue V- neck ankle length chiffon number from an online site called JJ’s House.
The 38-year-old care assistant was very impressed at the slick-looking website with a reassuring .co.uk address promising the very latest and best in cocktail, wedding, and evening dresses.
The occasion was a friend’s wedding reception where she wanted to look her best. She anticipated having to spend around £200 or more, but what really caught her attention was the £69 price tag.
Jenny didn’t take in at the time their office address was on the other side of the world, in Hong Kong, and applying British consumer rights law to quality and refunds could prove to be tricky when dealing with a Chinese manufacturer.
What was on her mind was party frocks, not looking up addresses.
‘It really was a great looking, she said. ‘Just my cup of tea being an older woman, and I was confident it wouldn’t look out of place.
‘So in mid March I ordered it online, and was impressed when they confirmed despatch would be within five days.
‘I really should have seen the warning signs of things to come when I was told I’d have to pay the firm who delivered it £18 import tax.
‘There was nothing about the tax on the website but I wasn’t too miffed. It wasn’t as if I was paying a fortune for the dress in the first place.
‘It arrived as promised, but I was really taken aback when there was a customs declaration on the package to say the contents were worth US$35 - a long way short of the total of £87 I’d paid for it.
‘When I unwrapped it I soon found out the $35 was a overstated exaggeration of its real value.
‘To say it was a bitter disappointment would be an understatement, it was truly awful. I can’t even begin to explain my disgust.
‘It didn’t look anything like the stunning dress I saw on the website. Parts of it weren’t even stitched onto the main body of the dress and just hanging loose. It was best described as a bundle of rags.
‘There was no chance I could wear it at a wedding reception. I wouldn’t be seen dead in it.’
A furious Jenny was determined not to be taken in, but despite contacting the firm’s web chat service and letting them have a piece of her mind they made it abundantly clear they weren’t disposed to take it back.
They insisted on her jumping through a number of hoops, including getting someone to take a photograph of her wearing the dress.
Despite the dress being the wrong size, her sister Liz took several pictures of her in the dress, including photos showing the unstitched seams, but all were dismissed by the firm who refused to make any comment.
Finally after refusing all their demands to keep the dress, a determined Jenny was so furious she repackaged it and sent it back for a full refund.
In what turned out to be a crucial move, to be sure it got back to its Hong Kong destination she’d been careful to send it recorded delivery.
That sparked off a regular exchange of emails over the next four months with JJ’s House denying they’d received the dress and Jenny insisting she had a signed delivery note.
When the firm took to not responding a determined Jenny decided she wasn’t going to be fobbed off and called in Streetwise for help.
We first cautioned her about her expectations when dealing with a company not bound by EU-wide consumer law about fitness for purpose or refunds.
It was our experience over the years that the quality of bridal and special occasion dresses bought from many Far East websites left a lot to be desired.
We’d had dealings with a number of online Chinese garment websites before, many of whom ignored complaints, and refunds were a no-go area.
Attempting to get problems resolved and help from customer services was challenging and about as likely as winning the National Lottery.
When we got in touch with the firm there was little doubt of their determination not to speak to the media.
However we persisted in laying out the circumstances in meticulous detail and stridently insisted Jenny had irrefutable proof she’d returned the dress. She wanted her money back.
We were initially given the same cold shoulder treatment, but made it crystal clear trying to ignore us was not an option.
We insisted it was as plain as a pikestaff Jenny had returned the dress, and doing the right thing by her in refunding the money wasn’t a choice, but unequivocal adherence to UK law.
We demanded compliance - and it worked.
The £69 Jenny paid for the dress via her credit card was reimbursed without explanation, but as expected the £18 import duty wasn’t recoverable.
It had taken four months to resolve but persistence had paid off.
She said: ‘I’m a regular reader of the Streetwise column and I’ve always taken on board your “persistence pays” advice.
‘By fighting my corner and emphasising I wasn’t prepared to take no for an answer you achieved in a week what had absorbed hours of my time over the last four months.
‘I just can’t thank you enough for fighting my corner and standing up for me.’