Abigail Sarr is not one to put up with faulty goods or second-rate service and take things lying down.
That’s why she refused to back down in a seven-month-long stand-off with furniture giant DFS who gave her the elbow when she complained the upholstery and fabric protection they sold her with a £2,500 sofa wasn’t up to the job.
The furious mum-of-two from Portsmouth first locked horns with the retail furniture giant last February, just four months after she bought it.
Attracted by their four-year interest free credit offer, she went along to the firm’s Waterlooville store and signed up to a sofa deal which included at extra cost delivery charges and a fabric protection plan.
Under the plan buyers are covered against accidental sofa fabric damage including stains, scuffing, rips and tears. It is administered by Guardsman, an independent furniture protection specialist company.
Depending on the fabric material DFS sofas may also be initially coated with Scotch Guard, a proprietary stain and soiling repellent.
Confident that she was protected against all accidental mishaps, Abigail looked forward to her sofa looking as good as new when the credit agreement was discharged four years down the line.
However, her confidence was badly dented when she noticed that the sofa material had become loose leaving a series of unsightly ripples in the fabric, and the contracted Scotch Guard protection wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
She said: ‘In the December after we came back from holiday we spilt a tiny drop of tea on the sofa, and following the instructions we’d been given we wiped it out but it left a massive watermark.
‘We phoned up and got a Guardsman engineer to come out and at the same time we noticed all the material had gone wavy.
‘It looked like the sofa was about a year old despite it being hardly used for the first two months.
‘The serviceman admitted he couldn’t remove the watermark but would have to come out again, insisting that the sofa had been Scotch guarded.
‘Two service managers arrived in February and said they could tighten the material. They claimed the problem was down to wear and tear. When I questioned their assertion as the sofa was only a few months old I never heard anything back from them about the stain or repair.’
An exasperated Abigail wrote to the store and finance company after waiting two further months for a response. She explained if they couldn’t handle it she wanted the sofa taken away and her money refunded.
DFS finally offered to repair the stained area and refund the cost of the care plan but she refused on the basis it defeated the very object of the stain proof guarantee she’d paid for and wouldn’t resolve the fabric defects.
Despite repeatedly chasing the firm’s store and head office they were content to lay the blame with Guardsman and completely ignore her.
The last straw before an outraged Abigail called in Streetwise was when she was told by the Waterlooville store manager to do her worst after she threatened to take the firm to court.
But when we looked into the background to her complaint we discovered it wasn’t by any means unique.
A considerable number of similar complaints came to light about DFS pre-sales assumptive tactics which had attracted the attention of the BBC’s ‘Your Money Their Tricks’ and ‘Watchdog’ programmes.
Despite the firm’s claim that stain protection included coating with stain inhibiting products, complainants insisted that the benefits were oversold and the exclusions weren’t explained properly.
Undercover researchers were given the impression by store staff that any damage done to the sofas was covered whereas everyday soiling and use were in fact excluded.
DFS denied customers were being misled by their sales staff insisting they were proud of their sofa care policy. Over nine out of ten claims were successful.
After Streetwise got in touch with DFS to intervene on Abigail’s behalf there was a distinct change of tune.
The firm agreed to exchange her sofa, cancel the current finance agreement, refund the payments she’d already made and issue a new finance plan.
A spokesperson explained: ‘The fabric protection plan taken out by Ms Sarr covered accidental damage. One of the features of the plan is, where applicable, to apply a protective spray so should accidental stains occur, they are easier to remove.
‘Not all sofa fabrics are suitable to receive it, as in Ms Sarr’s case.
‘However, the full warranty is still valid, meaning that the sofa will still receive the same stain removal service, whether or not it has received the initial spray treatment.
It appears that this flexibility in the warranty has caused confusion during the sales process. The cleaning of the sofa has also led to quality issues.
‘At DFS we take customer service extremely seriously. We’re sorry to hear that Ms Sarr was not satisfied with her experience and we’ve apologised to her for any inconvenience caused.’
A relived Abigail was pleased that despite months of hassle and her protracted battle with the firm she’d stood her ground right from the start and refused to be fobbed off.
She said: ‘I don’t know what you said to them, but thank you for all your help. I’d been trying to sort things out with them since the beginning of the year with no luck whatsoever.’