Dear Sur La Table: It Has Been 42 Days Since You Stole $100 From My Bank Account

Rachel used a $100 gift card to pay for her Christmas gifts, but Sur La Table decided to take the funds directly from her debit card. Sur La Table apologized for the error, but instead of overnighting Rachel a refund check as promised, they inexplicably charged her an additional $31.89. Now Rachel is angry and wants an explanation.

Dear Sur La Table Customer Service Management,

Hello, my name is Rachel. I am a student in my mid twenties from Cleveland, Ohio, and I would very much like to give feedback on my Sur La Table online shopping experience.

First of all, I want to say that I am not a regular shopper at your store. Quite frankly, as a lower-class college student who works part time as an accountant and office manager at a non-profit and lives on a very low-budget- nearly fixed income, it would be rare for me to be able to afford the gorgeous items that your store offers. I usually walk into your store and spend nearly an hour gazing at (and drooling over) the luscious array of cookware and bake ware, consciously taking note of items I can ask my parents for on the occasion that I receive Christmas or birthday gifts.

Keeping this in mind, you can imagine how excited I was to receive a $100 Sur La Table gift certificate for Christmas. In fact, I came home Christmas night and spent at least two hours picking out exactly what I wanted, and even allowing myself to spend almost all of the money I received for Christmas on the remainder of my order. I felt guilty for doing so, but was entranced by the variety of fabulous options I had. I was sooo excited to receive my order.

I was extra excited when one of the ten items I had ordered arrived just two days later! I figured since your company boasts to have such immaculate customer service, that you may have sent items as soon as they became available so your customers would receive them faster. Excellent! However, the next day (12/29), I go to buy groceries with my bank card, only to find that I would be overdrawn if I did so. How could this be? The math just didn’t add up.

Lo and behold, your company with immaculate customer service charged $165.15 to my bank account. Funny, as I had placed my order using a $100 gift certificate, and knew that I should only be charged around $65 for my order. I called your call center the next day, and was told that it was an error on your behalf, and a check would be issued to me shortly. I asked why the money couldn’t just be placed back onto my credit card. I was told that the accounting for gift cards was different, so this was not a possibility. As an accountant myself, I understood and sympathized with your situation, said that I’d hope the check would be sent out within a few days. I was assured it would be. I was also told that my order had been sent days ago, and should arrive the next day, if it didn’t come later that same day.

A week later, when zero out of my nine other items arrived, as well as no refund check in sight, I started to worry. I sent a query electronically through your website, and two days later, there was still no reply. I decided I would call your phone center, yet again. This time, I was told that it was, in deed, an accident on your behalf once again, and somehow, only one of my items got shipped. I was told that you were indeed, very, very sorry, and that my items would be sent expeditiously. I suggested that overnight shipping would be a good idea, and the customer service rep said that she would “rush” my order. I again inquired about the refund check and was told that it was “in processing” and would get to me in a few days.

Well guess what I did get a few days later (1/15/08)? My check? NO. My 9 MIA items? NO. I got another charge to my bank account for $31.89. What the hell was this charge for? I still hadn’t received my items, nor did I order any more items, so basically I knew I was paying for a third customer service blunder. Now I was in the hole to the tune of $200 for an order that was supposed to cost me $65.

Now maybe this kind of shit isn’t a big deal to your regulars- people who have disposable income to blow on $800 espresso machines and tea that costs $25 per box, but it’s a big deal to me, a woman who can’t even afford a daily coffee from Starbucks and keeps a box of Celestial Seasonings bags in her desk that she purchased from Dollar General. $135 is three weeks worth of groceries for me, or my electric, heat, and car insurance bill. You get my drift.

So, of course, I call your customer service line again. This time, I spoke with a manager named Judy, and was told that the $31.89 charge on my account was a mistake that occurred when my order was reprocessed, and would promptly be returned (which it was: a not-so-prompt FIVE days later) and PROMISED that my check, that was still “in processing,” would be written out that SAME WEEK and OVERNIGHTED to me, just as my nine-item replacement order that I still hadn’t received supposedly was. I said I was okay with this, but really upset that the situation wasn’t handled more expeditiously. I felt lucky when the rest of my nine items from my original order placed on Christmas finally arrived the next day- an unacceptable 21 days after I had initially ordered them.

That brings us to the present. Today is February 4th, and it is has been 42 days since your company STOLE $100 out of my bank account. I thought that emailing the details of the situation to you would be a better idea than having to yet again, drone on and on to a customer service representative about this situation one more time, only to receive useless and untrue information in return. I am absolutely DEMANDING my money back immediately, or will be more than happy to proceed to contact my bank, credit card company that represents my bank account, Washington state’s Better Business Bureau, as well as BBBonline about this situation.

I look forward to your prompt response as well as an appropriate resolution for this completely ludicrous situation. I also look forward to taking my future petty business, which your company obviously does not value, to my local Williams and Sonoma.

Dismayed, disappointed, and shaking my pointer finger at you,

Rachel

We would think refund checks take six to eight weeks for, um, processing, if only Sur La Table’s customer service representatives weren’t so insistent that a check could be issued within one week. Since customer service hasn’t retrieved your money, follow our guide to executive customer service and take your complaint to CEO Kathy Tierney at (206) 613-6000. For added protection when making future purchases, pass over the debit card and instead use a credit card, which gives you the power to file a chargeback.

Comments

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  1. sncreducer says:

    One little tip on letter writing – don’t start off saying that you want to give feedback on your experience, especially on a letter of this length. Get their attention right away by saying something like “I am writing to express my (anger, disappointment, rage, fury, etc.) about an outrageously bad customer service experience at your company’s hands.”

  2. forgottenpassword says:

    This is why debit card = bad.

  3. carterbeauford says:

    letter is about 8 times longer than needed. could have made the same point with less theater.

  4. Jcakes says:

    A friend of mine worked for them years and years ago.

    He called them “Surly Table”

    Most apropo.

  5. sleze69 says:

    Don’t even bother writing the BBB. Getting published here on the Consumerist is far more effective. An EECB cc’d to the consumerist got very quick action for a credit card SNAFU that happened to me over the holidays and it wasn’t even published!

  6. NigerianScammer says:

    It goes to show you that no company is truly ‘immaculate’.

  7. homerjay says:

    I got bored after the 4th paragraph and gave up, particularly when I noticed there were another 10 or 12 left so I’m going to say this: BE BRIEF, get to the point, and stop yammering on.

    And can someone clarify one thing- if you use your Visa (or Mastercard) debit card and its processed as a credit card (no pin used), do you still have the power of a chargeback??? If so, then CHARGEBACK!!

  8. catskyfire says:

    I don’t mind the length, but she should have avoided sending it until she’d cooled down again. She starts out very business like, but towards the end, the anger and a few swear words come out, and that can change the tone.

    I do wish her luck, though.

  9. levenhopper says:

    @homerjay: Yes, if you use a “debit” card without a PIN, it is processed as a credit card transaction.

  10. stpauliegirl says:

    Probably not the best idea to use curse words in a letter where you’re asking for a company to help you resolve an issue. If I were reading that on the other end, I’d be kind of offended and less inclined to help the gal out.

  11. MARTHA__JONES says:

    @sncreducer: As someone who has worked in the customer service industry for over a decade I wholeheartedly agree with you.

    While this is a horrendous experience…

    There are a few things consumers should know when writing to companies. The majority of this letter is written very well, however using foul language (and yes in this setting “hell” and “shit” count) and rhetorical questions will automatically cause you to sound crass and disingenuous. Always remember what it is that you are writing – a business letter.

    Had the portion of your letter beginning at 1/15/08 been as well written and professional as the first half any rep worth their salt would have bent over backwards to compensate you. As this letter ends, I would guess you can cut any compensation you may receive by at least a third.

    Please understand I am not condemning the letter entirely or the consumer in question, I genuinely hope that you are adequately compensated.

  12. MARTHA__JONES says:

    @levenhopper: You are half correct. The charge can be processed as credit, but it is still a debit card and the legalities of a credit card do not apply – although there is quite a bit of debate about this right now in the legal world.

  13. ohgoodness says:

    Yeah the cursing = not the best idea. They’re completely in the wrong, but getting super angry isn’t going to work in your favor. It definately won’t make them want to expedite their response.

  14. @MARTHA__JONES:
    agreed. I think anyone who writes a letter to customer service should take a few moments and read it over once they’re done just to see how it looks to someone who reads it. keep in mind the CSR is exactly that: an employee who REPRESENTS you and your experience. if you’re going off on the CSR, chances are they won’t respond as well compared to if you were logical, calm and focused.

  15. P41 says:

    Yes letter’s too long and this is why banks have promoted debit over credit (your money at risk, not theirs). But nobody’s mentioned yet that you don’t need their permission to complain to your bank. Bank will credit to your account while they investigate…

  16. Eric1285 says:

    That’s way too long a letter. If I were the one reading it, I would have discarded it after realizing that you didn’t even mention the problem in the first few paragraphs.

    Good communication is about being concise and to the point. Nobody wants to waste their time reading 1000 words when 100 would have done the job just fine.

  17. @everyone above: i think the letter is the appropriate length. it describes & contains everything; she could pass this letter to a judge in court to get a judgement. all of the work on her side is done. good job!

  18. matt says:

    What is “processing” anyways? Why can’t someone pull out the computer, print off a check and send it?

  19. benh57 says:

    “procesing” = making a month’s interest on your money before paying you.

  20. bostonmike says:

    While the letter needs a stronger opening paragraph, I really appreciated the overall length and the writer’s change of tone as the story got worse and worse. It conveyed the writer’s journey from excited shopper to disappointment, annoyance, and finally rage.

    On the question of how long it’s appropriate to wait for a refund, the answer is about 10 minutes. They can pull money from her debit card, as they’ve proven twice. The same interface can put the money back. Issuing a refund check instead is a way to stall and hope the customer never receives or never cashes the check.

  21. MARTHA__JONES says:

    @matt: A check is never issued directly from the CSR, it has to be approved and must go through the department with the ability to issue the check. Typically this takes anywhere from 3-8 weeks.

    However as noted aboved, Sur La Table told the customer her check would be issued within a week so it should have been.

    I do not feel the letter was longer than appropriate, it was valuable for the company to understand in this case who they stood to lose as a customer.

  22. MARTHA__JONES says:

    @bostonmike: You are absolutely incorrect with regards to the length of time required for a refund. Even if the company had posted the refund back to the customer’s debit card it would have taken at minimum 3-4 business days, but that would depend on how long it took for her bank to process the funds into her account – for most banks that takes at minimum a week. Some banks take as much as 30 days. It is impossible for a refund to a debit card to take less than 2 days.

  23. chiieddy says:

    I always use credit cards over debit, go home and send an immediate bill payment for the amount I spent out of my account. Protection of a credit card + no consumer debt ftw.

  24. matt says:

    @MARTHA__JONES: I figured there was something like that in place. What doesn’t make sense is the 3-8 weeks. I just can’t fathom why it takes less than an hour to get a manager to call the department that has the authority to write checks and have them do it. Bizarre.

  25. accessmemorex says:

    I am one of those people who are appauled by actions like this, I cannot beleive a company would steal from someone. Especially since they would gladly throw someone in prison for stealing from them, I recommend a two part fix. First, File a compaint with your bank, they can goto bat for you and get the money back, second while performing the first. Contact the company CEO as listed above, File a complaint with the BBB, You should be able to get resolution, Though it may take a little while, —-Best of luck

  26. ihateauditions says:

    I have a fairly hefty purchase history at Sur La Table, thanks to my wife.

    I’m writing a polite letter to them, citing this story, and asking if they’re aware of your story, noting that it doesn’t seem like the service that I associate with their brand.

    I haven’t the foggiest clue if it will help, but companies should be aware that their large customers have legitimate concerns about how smaller customers are treated.

  27. ColoradoShark says:

    Isn’t there equivalent of a chargeback on a debit card as in tell your bank: “I did not authorize this charge, I only authorized $65. The rest if fraudulent.”?

  28. carolott says:

    First let me say that I’m sorry you had such a bad experience with Sur La Table. What a terrible way to end the holidays!

    I bank with Wachovia and use my debit card as a credit card all the time. Any time I had a “suspicious” charge, they cleared it up immediately. Any problems with an online order was treated the same way as a credit card order, and the bank (along with Visa) took care of the issue. Perhaps every bank has a different policy regarding debit/credit cards, but I’ve found Wachovia to be pretty good about resolving issues — maybe you could talk to your bank and see if they could reverse the charge, since it was unauthorized.

  29. rs91 says:

    very simple. file a report with the police for theft.

  30. solipsistnation says:

    It seems like cussin’ in letters like this is likely to be counter-productive. You may be pissed off, but saying “What is this shit?” just makes you look rude, and firm-but-polite tends to work better in the long run.

  31. Joedel263 says:

    just out of curiosity, is there any value left on the gift card? if they charged the full value to her debit card, then technically there should stil be $100 on the gift card…

  32. coren says:

    @MARTHA__JONES: No, but it easily could have been done in five, as evidenced by her 30something dollar charge being refunded.

    Call your bank/credit union/whatever on Monday. It’s been over a month, and if Sur La Table won’t step up, they will

  33. swalve says:

    Really? 1087 words to say “I like your stuff, please correct your accounting error”?

    Cripes.

  34. bornconsumer says:

    Can someone explain to me how if “Rachel used a gift card” to pay for her purchase, the company debited her bank account? What detail am I missing here? Plus, has she checked the balance on the gift card? Help me to understand this novella. thanks.

  35. BrentNewland says:

    I thought the letter was fine. And the answer should be obvious. Since they have property in your state (ohio), file in small claims court. Make sure you file for the full amount, with interest, and any overdraft charges you might have received (or other charges), and a little extra for not being able to buy food and going hungry.

    Would probably help more if your car was broken and you didn’t have the money to fix it because they stole it from you, but not everything can be perfect.

  36. MARTHA__JONES says:

    Rachel used a gift card for $100 and $65.15 was supposed to be charged on her card. Instead SLT charged the entire total to her card.

    They promised her a refund check within a week and now 42 days later she has received neither the check nor the goods AND an additional $31.89 was charged to her card.

  37. ohioguy says:

    @BrentNewland:

    Small claims court filing fees alone are generally between $50 – $75 and no, you cannot include that amount in your damages to be awarded by the court. Secondly, forgoing the rather tedious legal discussion involved, even assuming you could get “a little something extra” in a case like this, small claims court generally does not have the jurisdiction to award punitive damages, therefore any award would be limited to the actual damages suffered, (money taken and possibly overdraft fees.)

    Rachel, while legal action is always a possibility, I would encourage you to pursue other avenues first. You are far more likely to get more comprehensive compensation by doing so. And, as previously stated while this is a large amount of money to you, it wont go far within the legal system.

  38. ionerox says:

    I don’t see why the heck Sur la Table couldn’t have cancelled and refunded the original order, and than placed it again using the gift card. Piece of cake and monies flush out in a few days instead of a month and a half.

  39. LAGirl says:

    @stpauliegirl: that’s what i was thinking.

    yes, sur la table screwed up. yes, they should have process a refund by now. but, as Consumerist recommends, keep it short + stay professional. i think throwing out the ‘s’ word might work against you.

  40. xl22k says:

    Hate to say it, but this is a very poorly written letter for it’s purpose IMO. You talked too much about irrelevant stuff and seemed almost sarcastic when you talked about the “business” at hand.

    It should be more direct and without the emotional outbursts (some emotion is good, but too much sarcasm is bad).

    I hope they do solve your complaint and you get your $100 back and maybe even another GC. You certainly deserve it for what they put you through.

  41. xl22k says:

    ALSO, I don’t know why people are so stupid…

    NEVER USE A DEBIT CARD ONLINE OR OVER THE PHONE!
    NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER, EVER!!!!

  42. MissDemeanor says:

    I used to work for Williams-Sonoma and we had an excellent customer service program. I’m sorry this happened to you and feel like you should be offered an incentive gift card or discount on a future purchase. That’s what we would have done after so much hassle on your part. I’m glad to know this about Sur La Table. I’ll be sure to avoid them in the future.

  43. grouse says:

    Small claims court filing fees alone are generally between $50 – $75 and no, you cannot include that amount in your damages to be awarded by the court.

    That certainly isn’t a universally true statement.

  44. Charles says:

    I think the letter was good, a little TL;DR though. However, if I was from Sur La Table and I read this, I’d totally understand why she was cursing and everything. Soooo, I hope everything turns out okay for her.

    I won’t be ordering anything from Sur La Table, I’ll just walk my butt over to Bed Bath & Beyond or Williams-Sonoma or something.

  45. waitaminute says:

    @MARTHA__JONES: I’ve received refunds/credits to my debit card the very next day. It is certainly possible. Evidently, you have not had the same experience, but you shouldn’t assume your experience (or lack of it) is the only possibility.

  46. Razzler says:

    That letter sucks, Rachel. The problems I can see:

    It’s way too long (duh)

    There are too many irrelevant personal details – you’re trying to clarify the issue at hand, not entertain people

    Any swearing in a letter of this type is too much

    TOO MUCH ANGRY CAPITALIZING – YOU OUGHT TO KNOW THIS IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR FORMAL CORRESPONDENCE

    That little paragraph about Sur La Table’s customer base – implying that they “blow” their money on expensive Sur La Table products, even though you suggest earlier in the letter that you yourself would buy said products had you the income – is completely unecessary and will not endear yourself to the company

    You flat-out say that Sur La Table stole from you. That is a very, very strong word and you should not use it lightly: You’re essentially accusing the company of a crime

    Informal language: “I was sooo excited”. I take people who write like teenagers less seriously, and the company probably will, too.

    Really, Ms. Poor College Student Who Can Barely Afford Tea From The Dollar Store? You’ll be shopping at Williams Sonoma from now on? Call me jaded, but that kinda sounds like an empty threat.

    Basically, you should probably take a class in business correspondence before you go out into the world as an accountant.

  47. gingerCE says:

    Wow–this is a bad story. Hope she gets her money back pronto.

    I do agree–her letter isn’t the best letter out there–but Sur La Table should give her her money back.

    It also makes me question how Sur La Table credits refunds. Do they take several weeks to credit (when returned via the mail) or is it done quickly.

    I had a refund delay over an item I returned to Amazon, and if I hadn’t had the tracking number (which proved I returned the item) I believe Amazon would still be trying to claim they never received it.

  48. ChuckTaylors says:

    What is with you people? The letter is too long? Swearing is bad? She can’t expect them to help?

    This is a company she is paying for services. She is not asking for favors or handouts. She is telling them to give her the money they wrongly took from her. I fail to see how she needs to be polite. The company should bend over backwards to help her because they are truly in the wrong.

    If she wanted a donation for a Little League team, or was looking for a job, politeness would be important. That’s not the case here.

    People seriously need to stop treating retailers and companies as if they are in charge. They are not. I’d think by now, readers of this site would embrace that stance. Without customers, companies fail.

  49. Ace in the Hole says:

    I think these guys all suck with their suggestions. The letter was funny, the cursing was appropriate, and the threats were good. By the way, I think you should have added into there whatever laws your state has for consumer protection. I’ve been able to use the state’s attorney general’s office in the past for results.

    I’ve been ripped of dozens of times through Internet ordering, I’m definitely not new to this game. The only guys I’ve never been able to get results out of are overseas.

  50. nrwfos says:

    @ChuckTaylors: I disagree with you. She claims to be a business person as well as a student…so she needs to approach this with a business-like letter. Whoever gets this to read at SLT will quit reading long before they get to the end. Since it’s the first written communication it needs to be short, concise, and non-threatening.
    It’s too early in the written communications (probably a written letter through the mail should follow this email return receipt requested) to be threatening anything. You lose credibility with this letter. Next time you get this PO’d write a similar email but don’t send it, it’ll help you cool off and won’t be a liability and you can write a better letter to send.
    One other thing is you shouldn’t insult the company and its customers. Save that for your thoughts. Save the threat of never shopping there again for later. Obviously from your description (I know nothing of this company – I do know about Williams and Sonoma) they have customers who spend large amounts of money frequently, so losing your future business isn’t a concern for them. Putting this up on Consumerist is going to make them more interested.

    One thing I wonder is whether the company isn’t in trouble financially. Seems to be a small thing for them to disregard if they aren’t. It’s sort of like when we are unable to pay all our bills one month – who gets paid? They’ll want to keep their top paying customers and let the little, one-time customers suffer knowing that most likely they wouldn’t be back anyway. If they have enough small amount one-timers then they could get some liquidity – especially around the Christmas season.

  51. Klink says:

    I hope she didn’t email them that- the word ‘shit’ probably would have tripped their spam filters.

  52. asherchang2 says:

    She could’ve made the email a bit more succinct and left out the hints of class struggle.

  53. Buran says:

    @Razzler: Taking money from someone without authorization is stealing and stealing is a crime.

  54. dlayphoto says:

    Dispute, dispute, dispute.

  55. teapartys_over says:

    Another reason why I do not own a debit card. Getting money back into your account is always much harder than simply disputing and not paying a charge on your credit card. Pay it at the end of the month, and there’s no interest and no guessing or constant vigilance about what is left in your bank account. Also, most mail order items are not charge to your card until they ship!

  56. CharlieSeattle says:

    @MARTHA__JONES: You are right she should have just spent the $25 dollars it costs to file small claims and got a lot more than her $100 dollars back.

  57. veraikon says:

    I sympathize with Rachel’s situation. Even in our stuff-obsessed society, there are those among us who try to be responsible. When you’re budgeting down to the last cent, the opportunity to spend money on a little something fun and/or luxurious is truly appreciated. It’s really a shame that what was essentially a Christmas gift from her parents has messed up Rachel’s finances for the foreseeable future. It’s like…damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Spoiled consumers with thousands upon thousands in credit card debit wind up on Oprah trolling for sympathy, while responsible folks get smacked by the Wheel of Fate the moment they try to have some carefully-budgeted fun with their hard-earned money.

  58. guspaz says:

    I don’t know about the US, but in Canada (where we use Interac and have the highest debit usage of any country in the world), debit is the same as cash. The moral of the story here (to a Canadian at least) would be to check your debit receipt. If the purchaser had checked the debit receipt when she was handed it (assuming it works the same was as it does in Canada), she would have noticed that her debit card was charged the extra $100, and corrected the issue immediately at the cash.

    While the Company is at fault for handling this issue so badly, let’s not forget that the first line against such mistakes is the customer themselves. Cashiers are human too, they make mistakes. If you don’t check your receipts when making a purchase, you deserve some of the blame too.

    On the other hand, if stores in the US don’t issue a separate receipt for the debit transaction like Interac does, then that’d be a flaw in the way debit works in the US, not the customer’s fault.

  59. Smashville says:

    I’m confused…is she a college student or an accountant? She says she’s both…which, unless she already has a BBA and is getting a second degree, isn’t possible…

  60. Charlotte Rae's Web says:

    @smashville, not necessarily. She said accountant, not CPA. Accountant could mean a wide variety of things. She could have a two year community college degree in accounting and be doing just bookkeeping, or she could just be working in accounts payable/receiving which doesn’t need much more than a HS degree in some cases – I suspect one of the two since it is part-time.

    She could also be a grad student.

  61. amandabee says:

    Crikey, people. Everyone is critical of her letter style (don’t cuss, DON’T YELL, that wasn’t succinct enough, your opening line is lacking, threats ruin your credibility)? C’mon.

    That said, she *should* contact her bank immediately and find out what kind of recourse she has if they withdrew an unauthorized sum. She should have started there, or at least gone there within a week of not getting the money refunded.

    I’m voting for the BBB: I’ve had several issues resolved quite promptly when I finally got fed up and CC’d the offending business on my BBB correspondence. It does work.

    I’ll also second the “don’t use your debit card” advice. Don’t use your debit card. Seriously. If you use Visa, you can call them and say “this charge is in error” and they’ll duke it out.