PierOne Asks Customer To Pay For What Store Lost

    Dear Consumerist,

    Love your site. Here’s my story:

    I received a letter in the mail from PierOne. It began with a tale of woe, to wit: their store in Durham, NC had been robbed about 18 months earlier and my check for purchases totaling $35.78 was amongst the missing. The perpetrators had ditched the checks in the deposit bag and it had recently been recovered.

    Would I be so kind as to remit payment at my earliest convenience?

    If I had any questions, Ms. X at extension Y would be glad to answer them…

A good citizen, Lisa dropped the dime on PierOne. That’s where the fun began, after the jump…

Lisa continues:

    “Why yes! I did have questions. Chiefly among them, didn’t PierOne have insurance for this sort of thing and why was I being asked to pay for something they had most likely already been compensated for? So I dialed Ms. X and asked her the very same. She replied of course they had insurance, but they were self-insured. I also pointed out that only check writers were being asked to re-pay and that it didn’t really seem fair. She turned vicious and said that out of “hundreds” of letters, I was the only one to “complain.” When I said I wasn’t complaining, merely availing myself of the opportunity to ask some questions about the incident, she then said (a direct quote and my favorite part of the entire interaction) “You are in possession of merchandise that you did not pay for.” I decided Ms. X wasn’t really interested in helping, and took to my word processor.”

Dear PierOne,

When, in good faith, I wrote a check for my purchases at your store I believed our transaction complete. I understand that you suffered a loss during the commission of a crime and for that I extend my sympathy. However, being accused by your employee Ms. X of stealing merchandise from your store because I had a few questions about the incident was completely uncalled for. If she was unwilling or unable to answer my questions civilly, she should not have been listed as the contact point in the letter you mailed to me.

Enclosed, please find my check for $35.78, primarily because I don’t believe Ms. X when she says she won’t turn me over to collections for non-payment. I certainly hope you put the money to good use, because it will be the last I ever spend in your store. I also plan to tell all of my friends and family, and I’m certain that they too will chose to spend their money elsewhere.

Sincerely,
Me

    “In less than a week, I had a reply that included 1) my original check, 2) my replacement check, and 3) a $25 gift card. My life motto: better living through bitching.

Comments

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  1. DeeJayQueue says:

    Well,
    The check you gave them got stolen while in their possession, so it never got cashed. Technically you really hadn’t paid for your stuff, and your checkbook would have reflected that. Even if they were insured for what was stolen, that doesn’t take you off the hook for owing for what you bought.

    That said, (and I may be way off base here) but i thought after 180 days most checks weren’t valid any longer, or at least it’s common to call and verify that the funds are there before presenting one for payment. That’s at least what it’s said on every one of my payroll checks since my first job. If companies can keep those kinds of terms I don’t see why a consumer shouldn’t be able to hold them as well.
    Had Pier1 done that instead of asking for remittance things might have gone smoother. That might all be in the semantics of the letter though.

    I’m glad that you got the situation resolved though, and glad that they sent you a gift card to boot, but now you’re “that customer”.

  2. megan says:

    Yeah, I’m not seeing what the big deal is here. She wasn’t actually paying for her purchase twice, just once, right? Was she trying to get away with not paying? If so, that’s kind of shady.

  3. LTS! says:

    Accepting a check as a legal form of payment is a choice PierOne makes. The fact that they were unable to deposit the check does not invalidate the transaction. Once the store accepted the check and handed her a receipt that item was paid for.

    Would this be any different than you giving them $50 for something and that $50 was stolen from their register? It never made it to their bank account, so are you still liable? Are you liable if you credit card transaction appears to be successful but in fact never goes through? Absolutely not. The sale is completed when you have fulfilled your part of the bargain in good faith and the store hands you your merchandise and sends you on your way.

    The fact that they even had the nerve to ask the customer to remit a check for the merchandise disgusts me.

  4. JNelsonW says:

    The check you gave them got stolen while in their possession, so it never got cashed. Technically you really hadn’t paid for your stuff, and your checkbook would have reflected that. Even if they were insured for what was stolen, that doesn’t take you off the hook for owing for what you bought.

    Having just finished a commercial paper law course (fun!), I must say I don’t think this is correct. His contracutal obligation was legally absolved when they took possession of the check. The reason for this is pretty obvious- once someone recieves a check they (and not the person who wrote it) are in a much better position to prevent it from being lost or stolen. Its easy to conceptualize if you imagine her paying in cash- if the cash is stolen from the seller, its clearly not the buyer’s problem.

    Of course, Pier one is within their rights to ASK for another check; but if the whole thing was litigated, he wouldn’t have to give them another dime.

  5. Paul D says:

    LTS! wins.

    Once the check was written, accepted as legal tender for the transaction, and Lisa had left the store…the check was PierOne’s responsibility.

    Period.

    I’m completely amazed at the gall of P1 to actually try to get her to write another check after THEY lost the first one. That’s gutsy. That’s what insurance is FOR! Unless they can prove the check was fraudulent in the first place, they and Lisa have nothing to say to each other.

    I would have told them where they could stick it AND that I would never be shopping there again.

    “You are in possession of merchandise that you did not pay for.”

    Wow. Just…wow. That’s a logical leap that Evel Knievel would be proud of.

  6. konstantConsumer says:

    it’s different from you giving them $50. when you give them cash, you are out that money. if you write them a check, and then that check is stolen, pier one didn’t get the money, and you didn’t lose it. while i think that pier one was being inappropriate in even asking for that money in the first place, the customer wasn’t losing any money by sending in a second check.

  7. P33KAJ3W says:

    Moral: Pier 1 blows.

  8. There is absolutely no obligation on her part to replace a stolen check. If she was driving home and her purchase got stolen do you think P1 is going to replace it? NO, her insurance would.

    The fact that it was a check is irrelevant. It did allow for them to request a replacement, but she would have been in total right to deny it. And the lady accusing her of having stolen merchandise was the clincher.

  9. gte910h says:

    Dear Pier One,

    Our family has a policy of considering all financial transactions closed after 90 days. This is due to the fact our bank only allows 90 days of past activity to be viewed from our home computer, after which, we are unable to verify your transaction.

    While you may very well be right that I did shop there 18 months before, and the check was not cashed, myself nor any other member of my family can verify this assertion of yours, so we are unable to process your request at this time.

    If you’d like us to persue this matter with our bank further, we apologize, but we’ll be forced to charge you a $100 handling fee and $25 document copying fee. If you’d like to continue with this matter, please send remittance for these fees ($125.00), after which we will investigate your claims with our banker and determine if said check was written and not cashed as you claimed.

    Best reguards,
    Pier One Shopper

  10. TedSez says:

    Several points:

    1. So PierOne didn’t inform customers when their personal checks were stolen 18 MONTHS earlier? Having a check taken is one of the scariest things imaginable — it opens you up to identity theft and potentially having your entire bank account looted. Although the checks were recovered, there’s no way to know whether the information and account numbers were taken from them first. The store had an absolute obligation to inform the check-writers as soon as the theft happened… to me, this overshadows everything else in the story.

    2. I don’t understand what “self-insured” means — presumably, the store’s insurance covered the losses when the theft first happened. If the customer sent another payment, the store would be essentially double-dipping — getting the same payment from the customer and the insurance.

    3. Why can’t companies get it through their heads that every contact they have with a customer — including (especially!) about payment issues — represents a chance either to make that person a more loyal shopper or push him or her away forever. If they had any idea how much people’s shopping habits were affected by someone speaking to them nicely or nastily on the phone, they’d take half their money out of dull advertisements and putting into hiring and training better servicepeople.

  11. strunkl says:

    It sounds to me like there are two issues here:

    1. The wisdom of sending out the initial letter requesting/demanding repayment; and

    2. The hostile phone conversation.

    Issue #1 seems like whoever sent those letters just didn’t use good judgment. Whether they were entitled to repayment or not, notifying your customers that their checks were not well-secured and wound up in the hands of criminals doesn’t seem like the way to instill confidence. Asking for a second check is just adding insult to injury. It’s also hard to believe that one day’s worth of personal checks amounted to enough revenue to risk jeopardizing even a little future business.

    Issue #2 sounds like rudeness and hostility from one employee, and the fact that Lisa’s letter resulted in a quick and complete resolution of the matter suggests that somebody at Pier 1 recognized that Lisa was not treated well. So when they were given the chance, Pier 1 management stepped up and made things right. That’s good, isn’t it?

    I’m still shaking my head about issue #1. I’ve got to believe that the letters were sent out by the store manager, trying desperately to keep the store numbers up, conceal the loss from his/her superiors (if, for example, the checks weren’t stored in compliance with company policy), or something similar. There’s just no way a national chain would exercise this particular kind of bad judgment.

  12. KevinQ says:

    I had the same issue Lisa did, but the institution that lost my check was my actual bank. I got a letter from them that a check I’d deposited several months before had gotten lost (after it had posted to my account), and would I be able to contact the writer of that check, and have them write me another one?

    I ignored them and they went away. It’s not my job to cover their asses.

    K

  13. Das Ubergeek says:

    Another solution would have been to write the second cheque but to deduct from it the price of a stop-cheque order on the original cheque.

  14. OkiMike says:

    Actually, while the check is legal tender for a transaction, it is not the end of the sale.

    The value of the check represents cash that is held in a bank for the same amount. Until that check is posted and cleared, the transaction is still ongoing.

    Obviously, if our friend here had written a bad check, the transaction would still be in process and would incur charges to the buyer both in bank overdraft fees and any store bounced-check fees.

    In this case, the company waited to post the check well after its “expiration date” and didn’t insure property security in their transfer process, so the company would assume the debt if our friend decided never to pay.

  15. Drive Blind says:

    In reply to those who are appalled that Pier 1 didn’t inform the check-writers immediately that their checks has been stolen. How exactly did you expect P1 to contact the customers? The only reason that they were able to get back to Lisa 18 months later is because the checks were recovered, and then they had her address from the check. Before that, P1 only knew that they had lost a $35.78 transaction.

  16. Ben Popken says:

    Dan writes:

    “My question is, why did they even ask for a replacement check to begin with? She said that when she sent her complaint to Pier One that she got back “1) my original check, 2) my replacement check, and 3) a $25 gift card.” …If they had her original check, why the hell are they asking for another one?!?”

  17. TedSez says:

    Drive Blind — When you write a check to a store, they don’t just dump it in a bag without keeping any record of it. Modern cash registers capture the account information on each check automatically.

  18. DeeJayQueue says:

    I’m there with OkiMike. Checks are NOT cash or legal tender. They are promises made from one party to another that cash is available in a bank and that it belongs to them. The check is the ‘ticket’ that lets the other party get the cash from the bank. That’s why they all say “Pay to the order of” on them. It’s a note to the bank that says “Hey, I owe the guy whose name is on this thing XX dollars and XX cents. Please pay him from my account. Kthxbye.”

    Just because Pier1 lost the check doesn’t mean they lost the promise from the customer to pay them. I think that after 18 months they should have just eaten the damn $35 and been fine with it, but the terms of the ‘contract’ were never actually fulfilled because no payment was received.

  19. Miguel Valdespino says:

    I think I can understand the lousy behavior of the rep on the phone. She’s probably getting dozens of calls from people who are understandably upset. Of course her response was very poorly thought out and wrong, but I can understand it. P1 should have thought about the consequences and come up with a better response.

    TedSez, Self-insurance is basically when a company chooses not to buy insurance from another company and sets aside money for the costs usually recovered from insurance. It pretty much means that they take the whole loss, but that they don’t pay continuing premiums.