Disputing items through Visa

A good friend (really!) recently purchased a musical instrument via the Web. When said instrument arrived, it had several small flaws - nothing that would be immediately obvious, but enough that this person was mildly upset that the company sent it to her, and she promptly returned it well within their 4-day return window. She didn’t mention the flaws (I think she was a little worried they’d blame her) she just said she didn’t want it and paid for the return shipping.

Now the place is telling her that it is indeed flawed - not one of the ones she noticed, but something they claim that could happen by even very light playing (which is perfectly permissible according to their website). They never mentioned that this could happen before shipping the instrument to her, but now they claim that it’s an almost imperceptible flaw that could happen with a light scrape of a fingernail.

They don’t want to give her the money back. Instead, they want to put it on consignment and if and when it sells, will refund her whatever it sold for along with a commission. All said and done, this would be several hundred dollars out of her pocket when you add up the shipping she paid, the commission, and the reduced price seeing as this is now a used, flawed instrument.

She’s talked to Visa and they’re going to put a hold on the payment, and then after 30 days will start their dispute proceedings. I’m wondering what the chances are that they’ll be on her side. It sure seems to me like this is a “he-said” “she-said” situation. Clearly, the item is flawed, but they claim she did it, she claims it arrived flawed.

Has anyone been in a situation like this before? What was the outcome?

Generally, though not universally, the process is–

Customer initiates dispute -> card issuer issues chargeback to merchant -> merchant disputes -> cardholder responds -> second chargeback -> arbitration.

Whether the dispute goes your friend’s way or not depends on the merchant’s policies and how your friend can show she followed them. If they have a clearly stated return policy on the website which, as suggested in your OP, allows for playing, then it sounds like she’ll get backup. If they’re suggesting that she damaged it by light playing, and light playing is permitted before returning, then it’s pretty cut and dry.

If, OTOH, she violated some part of the merchant’s return policy, it may get more complex.

If you purchased it on the web it is a card not present, and the chances of you winning are good.

The bottom line is when you dispute, you should always say “you have no idea why the charge is there.” If you do that the CC company can’t prove your card number wasn’t stolen.

However if you do a “item not as described,” you’ve basically admitted you made the charge.

Well, I don’t think we can quite go that far… there’s an email trail between her and the store both before and after the item was purchased.

Unfortunately the store in question just says something like “item must be returned with no dings or flaws.” It doesn’t explicitly state that the instruments can be played (nor does it say you can’t), but the general understanding pre-sale was that she was “trying it out” and could return it if she simply didn’t like how it sounded.

They are maintaining that they sent it out unflawed. She says it was flawed when it got to her. I tend to side with her, as she’s always been extremely truthful (one o’ those church-goers who actually practices what she preaches.)

But the person in question did make the charge. The item* wasn’t* as described. Why should they have to lie to be refunded?

Wouldn’t this be fraud of some sort, given that there’s no dispute that the item was ordered?

Out of curiousity, was this?

A free-standing website?
An Amazon/Ebay seller?
Paid via Paypal VISA processing?

On edit:
Oh yeah, claiming “I didn’t order this” is a bonehead move. It’s almost impossible to defend against a “not as described” claim, but in most cases (such as this one) proving that the item was ordered is not terribly difficult.

It’s a free-standing website maintained by a brick-n-mortar store.

Another note:

I’m involved in the online used book trade, and I’ve determined that 95% of the folks in my trade [including Amazon itself] are simply incapable of packaging an item such that it will consistently arrive in the same condition it was shipped in.
I’d be unsurprised if your friend AND her seller were both right;
it was mint when shipped
damaged when received.

Perhaps they used great packaging, but the instrument’s packaging was exposed to phenomenal stress in transit, product very minor damage to the product.

My personal take is that the seller is being a whiny, childish amateur.
I’ll gladly take any customer’s word that their product was in the condition they received it, and as such I’d cheerfully refund their money, including their shipping cost both ways.

Unless something is a common fraud modality any reasonable merchant will take your word and accept losses as a cost of doing business.
Is there a widespread scam involving buying an instrument, playing it twice and then returning it?
I can’t imagine that’s terribly common.

Well, that was sort of my take, too. My friend asked me about it since she rarely buys stuff online and she knows that Mr. Athena and I are Web junkies and buy all sorts of stuff online. Unfortunately, our opinions matter little.

What’s especially grating is that the seller sent her an email going on and on about how easy it was to damage the item because of some special something-or-other (I can’t remember what she said. Maybe it was made out of endangered Unicorn horns or something). None of this was mentioned pre-purchase, but it came up right away when they got it back.

Never going to know these folks or do business with them, but darned if I don’t already loathe them.

As the latest non-lawyer in this thread, I can at least direct you to Visa’s Chargebacks & Dispute Resolution page. Its “Card Acceptance Guide”, a 2.55 MB PDF, includes “Reason Code 53: Not as Described or Defective Merchandise”.

Some questions: What is the store’s return policy (something more than just a 1-day window?), and did the buyer follow it? What is the cost of the merchandise? Did either side send the package with insurance? Is such an item generally shipped such that it arrives okay? Did either side talk about fixing the (minor, non critical?) flaws that are hardly visible? Given that the buyer, before returning the item, did not mention that the item arrived damaged, the merchant could win the dispute. And if the item still gives beautiful music, then maybe the flaws just add character.

The buyer could also study something like how to prevail in small claims court. Best of success.

Yes because then the vendor can prove you ordered it and it was delivered to your address and you shipped it back and you look like the lying idiot which you are and you lose the arbitration and then you realize that Lying not only didn’t help but actually made things worse. Not to mention that some people have a certain decency which prevents them from this type of thing.