Buying Fixtures In A Retail Liquidation Sale: A Cautionary Tale

Liquidators hired to clean out a closing retail store sell everything, down to the equipent and fixtures. Well, theoretically they do. Jay bought a handtruck from a closing Borders store, paid in advance, and was told to stop by the store to pick up the purchase later that month when the store actually closed. When he did, the store had closed, and all of the fixtures were gone, along with the liquidators.

This is a cautionary tale. My girlfriend and I are out $29 after purchasing something from a bankruptcy liquidator. We expect to get our money back from the credit card company, but we’re not happy about the process.

The short answer is: Buyer beware when you’re dealing with a liquidation sale.

On April 2, we purchased a handtruck at a Borders Books & Music “going out of business” sale in [redacted]. A Borders employee told us they were not allowed to sell us any fixtures — only an employee of the liquidating company, Hilco Fixed Asset Recovery LLC of Northbrook, Ill., was allowed to sell fixtures.

We were required to pay the liquidators — Hilco — in advance, but were not allowed to remove the handtruck. We were issued a Hilco invoice and told they would “call us when the store was closed,” in “mid-to-late April.”

We called the store a week later. It was still open, so we couldn’t get the handtruck. We called again a week later. The store was still open, so we couldn’t get the handtruck.

We called a week later. The phone didn’t answer. So my girlfriend visited the store on April 23. (In other words, “mid-to-late April.”) Surprise! It was empty. Needless to say, no one ever called us.

On April 26, I called Hilco and left a message. On April 28 I got a voice mail from “T.” (no last name and no call-back number) at Borders HQ, asking me to fax him a copy of our invoice. I had to find the invoice first. I faxed it on May 4, and got no response.

On May 11, I called Hilco and left a message for someone named “N.”

On May 12, “T.” called and left another message, this time for my girlfriend. Again, he left no return phone number or no last name. He said that we’d have to dispute the charge with the credit card company, because Borders is in bankruptcy, and they are unable to refund any money.

On May 12, I called “T.” and Hilco again, and told them we didn’t purchase anything from Borders, we purchased it from Hilco; we would like Hilco to refund the money; and that if I didn’t hear back by 5 p.m. May 13, I would be filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Protection.

Well, that got a response. Both T. from Borders and N. from Hilco called me this morning.

Brent said there have been more than 133 complaints about items sold at Borders’ going out of business sales. (Admittedly, he claimed there were “thousands” of invoices, so 133 complaints out of “thousands” may or may not be a lot.)

But we didn’t buy anything from Hilco, T. said — we bought it from Borders. T. has “no idea” why Borders’ employees told us that the fixtures were being sold by Hilco. (Conveniently, all of the Borders employees have now been laid off, so we can’t ask them.)

He told us we can either dispute the charge or file a claim as a creditor in Borders’ bankruptcy.

N. said she doesn’t understand why we “blithely sat by” and didn’t pick up the handtruck. Hilco does not owe us any money, she said. Borders owes us the money, but they’re bankrupt.

Furthermore, she doesn’t have any way of knowing whether or not we got the handtruck. We might be lying, she said. Also, N. said, Hilco’s legal department has already signed off on “this process,” which is their “usual way of doing business.”

By now, there was steam coming out of my ears. I said, “We didn’t ‘blithely sit by,’ we tried repeatedly to get the handtruck. But you’re making this out to be our fault. It’s your company’s fault. Can’t I even get an apology? Doesn’t someone even want to say, I’m sorry?”

N. said the reason she’s not apologizing is because I’m being “so aggressive.” When I said, “You’re damned right I’m being aggressive — you ripped us off for $29,” she told me I was rude and that she doesn’t speak to people who use “foul language,” and then she hung up on me.

So, the dispute process has been started with the credit card company. And complaints have been filed with the BBB and Pennsylvania’s Office of Consumer Protection.

But the run-around was exquisite, and the failure by both parties to express any sincere remorse was delightful.

I also have a feeling some people are on the hook for a lot more than $29, which is why no one wants to offer a refund.

Needless to say, we will never again leave a bankruptcy sale without the merchandise we were promised in hand.