They say that moving home is one of life’s most disruptive and traumatic experiences, but for retired couple Jill and John Castle it turned into the proverbial nightmare.
Their well-planned move into a Southsea sea front flat came dramatically unstuck when last November they placed an order with Oak Furniture Land for dining room furniture on the understanding it would be delivered in time for Christmas.
Jill was looking forward to serving up their Christmas lunch on their new dining table, but savaged the firm’s chaotic delivery system after they were left in the lurch without a stick of furniture on the big day.
Jill said there was no excuse for the ruined Christmas as she had given them their new address and telephone number when they placed the £1,362 order.
Initially she felt they had nothing to worry about after the firm had given a delivery promise of December 9.
But without explanation that was cancelled at short notice and changed to December 11.
When the no-shows began to become a regular feature and no-one from the firm called to offer an explanation, Jill began to feel anxious and suspected the worst.
She contacted the Portsmouth store but says she got short shrift when she insisted on getting reliable information concerning the whereabouts of the furniture.
As if to add insult to injury just four days before Christmas Jill had a hospital appointment which consumed most of the day.
To their anger and disappointment when the couple got home and without warning, they discovered they’d been left a message from a delivery driver to say he’d be with them in a few minutes, which had long since come and gone.
As far as Jill (80) was concerned she’d been mucked around and kept in the dark for far too long so she gave the company a piece of her mind when she dashed off a recorded delivery letter to Oak Furniture Land’s top management demanding her furniture or a refund.
An exasperated Jill explained: ‘What made me really angry was the way I was treated after I’d spoken to their customer services and then got onto the store’s management who was just so dismissive and rude.
‘We never had any reply to our letter. No one had the decency to reply to it and just drop a note to say sorry or anything — they just ignored it.’
In desperation Jill called in Streetwise shortly after Christmas and asked for help in getting reliable information about what had happened to her furniture.
However, we were aware the homewares business sector is renowned for promising short but delivering long and a number of frustrated readers have previously asked Streetwise to clarify where they stood with broken delivery promises.
One family complained they’d been sitting in deck chairs for four months after repeated promises by a major national chain to deliver their lounge furniture came to nothing.
Another ordered a sofa and two matching chairs from another national retailer, disposing of their old furniture on the basis of a promised delivery date.
When it eventually turned up two months late it was the wrong colour, and they were kept waiting for a further two months for the correct furniture to be delivered.
Oak Furniture Land is one of the nation’s top furniture retailers, and given the volume of furniture it sells both instore and online, it has only occasionally flashed up on our complaints radar.
Like all furniture retailers we found the firm had a small print clause in its contract of sale which left people like Jill at a disadvantage if their furniture didn’t turn up as promised.
It says that time of delivery is not the essence of the contract, which is a legal get-out clause absolving a seller for breach of contract if it fails to deliver on time – a measure effectively holding consumers to ransom for delivery delays.
To get around this hurdle, people are required to go through the rigmarole of writing to retailers setting out a specific delivery date, after which the contract can be cancelled for a full refund.
But since 2013 the law about what is an acceptable time for delivery has been strengthened to stop retailers from arbitrarily reneging on their delivery promises and kicking the can down the road.
New legal obligations were imposed requiring them to deliver goods within 30 days from the date of purchase, unless a longer delivery time was agreed at the time of sale.
Armed with this statutary backup we got onto Oak Furniture Land about their poor customer service.
We asked them to investigate why they’d fallen down on their claim they were committed to providing a delivery service which is quick, efficient, and hassle free.
The way the couple had been let down and their Christmas festivities ruined by the failure to listen to their complaint was clearly unacceptable.
In an honest creditable response a company spokesperson admitted they’d not achieved their high standards of customer service when dealing with the Castles’ order.
Gill Mison, Service Director at Oak Furniture Land said: ‘We were very disappointed and sorry to hear of Mrs Castle’s customer experience at Oak Furniture Land.
‘We have apologised to Mrs Castle without reservation, and admit that our standard of customer service was unacceptable on this occasion. We have offered a new delivery date and partial refund, which Mrs Castle has accepted.’
Jill got in touch to say she’d received a very apologetic response from the firm’s management.
She said: ‘They called with a firm committed delivery date and offered us a 20 per cent refund, because we’d already paid in full.
‘Unless Streetwise had intervened I think the delivery chaos would just have gone on and on until it suited them.
‘They just kept umming and ahing and for such a long time.
‘I’d like to thank you very much for getting it sorted.’