Consumer feature: Anger as brand new £2,500 suite starts to shed feathers

Susanne Holmes was unhappy with a sofa she bought from Debenhams
Susanne Holmes was unhappy with a sofa she bought from Debenhams

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A loyal Debenhams customer, she says she felt abandoned when the shop gave her the run-around and months of hassle after she complained about a fault.

Sue told Streetwise it all began last April when she decided that her 17-year-old suite was too small and had seen better days.

As a Debenhams shopper who had previously spent lots of money with the company on clothes, presents and beds, she received a promotional e-mail advertising a suite from the Alethea range. What immediately attracted her to it was the colour and a claimed 60 per cent price reduction.

Sue said that although she’d bought furniture from Debenhams’ Portsmouth store before, buying a suite from its website was a bit of a leap in the dark because there wasn’t one in stock locally.

She needed to know whether it had a high enough back and without trying it out wasn’t able to find out if it was really comfortable. Her main concern was it might be too low for her.

The nearest branch where she could see the suite was north of London but, as it looked okay, she took the plunge and placed the order.

Had she been able to see the suite she may have noticed the upholstery had a rather unique construction.

She explained: ‘It turned up at the beginning of July and within a week it started shedding feathers wholesale.

‘The sofa cover is quite a coarse weave, but inside the cushions there’s a foam insert with another cover over the top that encases a padding of feathers. The weave on the inner cover is cheap and nasty, so that as soon as you sat on the sofa the feather quills started sticking out of the seat and the back of the sofa.’

Furious she’d forked out more than £2,500 for furniture which wasn’t going to deliver any suite dreams, the 66-year-old retired local government officer complained immediately to the Debenhams furniture team.

It promptly sent out a technician to inspect the sofa and get her complaint sorted.

He looked the sofa over and immediately saw the problem.

He agreed the inner cover material wasn’t up to the job and needed to be replaced with a Dacron polyfibre wrap to stop the feathers piercing the external fabric. He said Sue would be contacted again about a fortnight later, but that was the last she saw of him.

An angry Sue phoned umpteen times, each time speaking to a different person who promised they’d get in touch with the manufacturer and call back. But no-one ever did.

She then resorted to e-mailing the company, but found herself being pushed from pillar to post.

To her mounting frustration, not only did she continue to get replies from different people every time she e-mailed, but they kept coming back with different answers.

Debenhams was consistently in denial that the feather shedding was all down to a fault, even though it appeared to be blatantly obvious.

The firm insisted the problem was with the weave of the cover material used on the sofa. Sue said she wasn’t at all convinced by the distinction it was trying to make and to take the suite away and refund her.

She was so fed up, all she wanted to do was buy a suite from someone else.

But as the weeks turned into four months, her complaint was still no nearer getting resolved.

A string of e-mails flying backwards and forwards did nothing to bring a resolution, so Sue decided it was high time to call in Streetwise.

We considered Sue had a justifiable complaint about poor service. The top-of-the-range suite clearly didn’t comply with the legal quality requirements.

Goods have to be fit for purpose and if Sue couldn’t even sit on it without discomfort, let alone having to vacuum feathers every day, then she was well within her rights to complain.

We copied her feather shedding complaint and the history of procrastination to the Debenhams head office, which agreed to investigate.

Shortly after, Sue received an e-mail out of the blue to confirm the manufacturer was now prepared to replace the inner cushions and fix the problem.

A company spokesperson said: ‘Our customer services have liaised with this customer and, whilst the inspection deemed there was not a manufacturing fault, we’re supplying new seat cushions free of charge and the customer is now happy.’

An exhausted but relieved Sue said: ‘To be honest I was absolutely furious with them and I just wanted it sorted.

‘Thank you so much for all your help.’