Solving Consumer Problems

Disappointed by a product or service you’ve paid for? You don’t have to settle for shabby performance. Most businesses want to keep you happy so you'll keep coming back. These strategies and our sample complaint letter can help.

Return to the Store or Website

You can solve many consumer problems by talking to a store employee, or if you bought the item online, by returning to the website. Do this as soon as possible because some retailers have time limits on returns and refunds.

Online retailers should provide return instructions on the site or on your receipt. When shopping online, it’s wise to consider the company’s reputation and return policy before you buy.

If the employee doesn’t have the authority to help you, ask for a supervisor or manager. With each person, calmly and accurately explain the problem and what you would like them to do. Keep a record of your conversations — who you spoke with and when, and what action they promised.

Call Customer Service

You may need to speak to someone at the company’s national headquarters or to the manufacturer of the product. Many companies provide a toll—free number or address for their customer service department on the product packaging, warranty, or receipt. If this is not the case:

  • Visit the company's website. Look for a "Contact Us" link.
  • Call 1-800-555-1212 for toll—free directory assistance.

If the first person you speak to can’t help, ask for a supervisor.

Use Social Media

Social media offers an alternative to filing a formal consumer complaint. Many companies have people to monitor posts and complaints about their service on social media pages. Your post will be most effective if you use a reasonable tone and explain the problem clearly. To avoid negative perceptions, the company may respond quickly to your problem. While there is no guarantee, it’s worth a try.

Write a Letter

If a call doesn’t work, use this sample letter and these tips to draft an effective complaint:

  • Be clear and concise. Describe the item you bought and the problem, include serial or model numbers, and the name and location of the seller.
  • State exactly what you want done and how long you are willing to wait for a response. Be reasonable.
  • Don't write an angry, sarcastic, or threatening letter. The person reading your letter probably isn’t responsible for the problem, but may be very helpful in resolving it.
  • Include copies of relevant documents, like receipts, repair orders, and warranties. Keep the originals.
  • Provide your name, address, and phone numbers. If an account is involved, be sure to include the account number.

You may want to send your letter by certified mail and request a return receipt. You’ll have proof that the company got your letter and who signed for it.

Get Outside Help

If your letter doesn't do the trick, you may want to contact the following organizations for help.

Keep in mind that no one can guarantee you a refund. Con artists sometimes claim they can — but then insist on upfront fees or ask for your Social Security number or bank account information. Don’t take their bait. There’s no charge for filing a complaint with a government agency.

State and Local Organizations

National Organizations

  • Some consumer organizations help people with complaints. Others are interested in hearing about problems that influence their education and advocacy efforts.
  • Companies selling similar products or services often belong to an industry association that may help resolve problems between its members and consumers.

Federal Government

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. The FTC does not resolve individual complaints, but your complaint helps law enforcement detect patterns of wrong-doing and may lead to an investigation.

Many other federal agencies regulate consumer products and services. If you’re not sure which agency to contact, call 1-800-FED-INFO for help.

Dispute Resolution Programs

Many consumers and businesses use dispute resolution programs — mediation and arbitration — as an alternative to going to court.

  • Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps you and the other party try to resolve the problem. However, it's up to you and the other party to reach an agreement.
  • Arbitration is less formal than court, though you and the other party may appear at hearings, present evidence, or call and question each other's witnesses. Unlike mediation, an arbitrator or panel makes a decision once you've presented your case. The decision may be legally binding.

Some businesses require consumers to arbitrate their disputes and waive their right to go to court. Check your contract or product packaging for details.

Small Claims Court

If you’ve tried these strategies and you’re not happy with the result, you might want to consider small claims court.

Tagged with: refunds, shopping