The £36 refund - which took four months to process due to international stonewalling
Eighty-four-year-old Rita Muston was driven to distraction after unsuccessfully chasing a refund of £35.93 from online catalogue retailer Vivaform UK for goods she’d ordered and paid for but never received.
The chronically disabled widow’s seven-year record of customer loyalty with the French firm counted for nothing, as she struggled in vain with their customer services team who stubbornly maintained they had no record of her order, but had cashed her cheque.
Her four-month refund battle started last October. Planning in advance for Christmas, she decided to order two items from the firm for her grandson.
‘Because I’m disabled with arthritis and need to wear hearing aids I find it easier to order things from firms like Vivaform,’ she explained.
‘I always send a cheque with the order, but three weeks later I had a call from Vivaform to say they were out of stock and could I please reorder.
‘I sent off another order on November 13, but when it wasn’t acknowledged I phoned up and they said they’d call me back. When they did, they claimed they didn’t have my order.
‘The firm insisted they couldn’t find it so they said would I contact my bank to find out whether the cheque had been cleared.
‘I sent them all the information they needed, including the date of order, my bank details, the cheque number, and what I’d ordered.
‘I also sent off a copy statement from the bank showing the cheque had been cashed.
‘Ever since, there’s been nothing but argy bargy. After all the years I’ve been a good customer to them, they just seemed determined to mess me about.
‘I’ve got a son and daughter-in-law in Essex and normally if I have any problems I phone up, but it wasn’t something they couldn’t deal with from up there.
‘My husband used to manage this sort of thing for me but I lost him nearly four years ago. I’m gradually getting used to sorting domestic matters out but this has completely foxed me.
‘I only have my old age pension to live on so I can’t afford to throw away the £35.93.’
Having gone to a great deal of trouble to get to the bank for a copy of her bank statement, when she again heard nothing she rang them, only to be told to her astonishment they hadn’t received it.
Further indications of the insensitivity to the Horndean widow’s plight soon began to emerge. When she complained, all she received for her pains was a further series of demanding obstacles to negotiate.
An increasingly distressed Rita was not at all impressed at being just left going around in circles. No-one at the firm seemed to care or want to take ownership of her case.
To try and get the matter sorted once and for all, she sent Vivaform’s customer services team off yet another copy of her bank statement.
But it was summarily rejected because it didn’t include a copy of the cheque - something they’d never asked her to provide in the first place.
Repeat phone calls pleading for help all fell on deaf ears. Nobody from the firm was listening to her so as a regular reader of paper she decided it was high time to call in Streetwise.
We got onto Vivaform UK and soon learned what Rita was up against.
Our usual background company checks revealed they were only contactable via a PO box or premium rate phone number listed in Hounslow, Middlesex, and Vivaform UK was the trading name of online retailer Domoti, based in Lez Lille, France.
We promptly tried ringing and emailing, and eventually received an unsigned stonewalling email response.
It became starkly obvious that they were unable to provide us with an explanation and ignored our request to let us have a comment.
During the course of almost four weeks, we were sent down the very same garden path that had so upset Rita.
Initially we were led to believe her order didn’t appear in their order book, but once we pressed the matter further by asking how come they’d cashed her cheque, customer services responded by asking for yet another copy of her bank statement.
Following a further exchange of emails, we sent a scanned copy of the bank statement. This finally resulted in an undertaking to arrange the refund.
However, there was yet another obstacle when they told us they needed an IBAN number to process the paperwork.
The number is required to transfer funds to the correct UK bank from overseas bank accounts, but for some unknown reason although Rita’s bank statement contained the information required, clearly no one had bothered to read it.
A further email spelling out the number in bold type finally resulted in a confirmation the long-awaited refund had been processed, followed by an apology.
Rita’s long months of fruitless chasing were finally at an end.
While we recognise Vivaform UK are a company with a well-deserved customer satisfaction reputation for providing an attractive range of popular products, the way they handled Rita’s complaint was not impressive for a brand of their scale.
Regular Streetwise reader Rita said they needed to reconsider their complaint handling process and procedures.
‘I just can’t thank you enough for all the time and effort you put in. As a loyal customer it was their attitude I found impossible to deal with.
‘Although they’ve just sent me a new catalogue, I’m not sure I’ll be shopping with them again after what they put me through.
‘I was exhausted by it all and would never have managed to sort the refund out on my own.’