You are here

Solving Customer Problems: Returns, Refunds, and Other Resolutions

Share this page

Disappointed by a product or service? These strategies and this sample complaint letter can help you get your money back or reach another resolution.

Return to the Store or Website

Explain the problem. Is the product faulty? Damaged? Did you get poor service or repairs that didn’t fix the problem? Explain the issue. Reputable businesses want to know about problems their customers encounter so they can take action and avoid future complaints.

Pro tip: If you go to the store, try to go when it’s not busy. Avoid weekends. Bring your receipt. It also helps if you have the tags and original packaging.

Have your documents ready. These might be receipts, warranties, canceled checks, credit card statements, invoices, contracts, or other documents. If you need to submit any documents, submit copies and keep the originals.

Pro tip: You might be able to find return policies, customer service numbers, and other important information on receipts, product packaging, or warranties, or on a seller’s website.

Be clear about what you’re asking for. If you want a full refund, ask for that, but be flexible if you can. Other options might include an exchange, a store credit, a markdown on the item you bought, or a percentage discount on a future purchase. If you want a specific remedy, explain why.

Pro tip: Sellers often are more willing to offer a store credit than a refund. It’s less expensive for them, and it also means they have a chance to keep you as a customer.

Don’t wait. Many stores limit the time you have to return or exchange something. Returning an undamaged item sooner also gives the seller a better chance of reselling it and might encourage the store to work with you.

Pro tip: For damaged and defective products, you might have to contact the manufacturer if you’re trying to return a product after the seller’s return period has expired.

Ask to speak with a manager. If a customer representative doesn’t offer the resolution you want, stay calm and polite, but be persistent and ask for a manager or supervisor. A manager will likely have more flexibility and authority to resolve the issue. With each person you speak with, explain the problem — and what you want them to do — calmly and accurately.

Pro tip: Keep notes about your efforts to resolve the problem, including who you spoke with, the date of your conversation, and what action they promised. If you chat online with customer service, see if you can save the chat or take a picture of the screen before you exit the chat.

Write a Letter

If you can’t resolve the problem by going back to the store or website, use this sample letter and these tips to write an effective complaint:

  • Be clear and concise. Describe the product or service you bought and important details of the transaction. These can include the name of the product, its serial or model number, and the date and place of the purchase.
  • Explain the problem. For example, you might say the product doesn’t work, you were billed incorrectly, something wasn’t disclosed clearly, or a product’s features were misrepresented.
  • Ask for specific action to resolve the problem. For example, do you want a refund, repair, exchange, or store credit?
  • Include copies of relevant documents, like receipts, repair orders, and warranties. Keep the originals.
  • Tell the company how long you’re willing to wait for a response. Give time for the company to take action, but let the company know you’ll report the matter to your state attorney general or consumer protection office if you don’t hear back soon.

Pro tips:

  • 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.
  • Give your name, address, and phone number. If an account is involved, include the account number.
  • Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy.
  • If you file your complaint online, print the screen or take a screenshot before you hit “submit.” That way, you’ll have a record of your complaint.

Get Outside Help

If you’re not satisfied with a business’s response to your complaint, consider these steps:

  • Contact your state attorney general or consumer protection office.These government agencies may mediate complaints, conduct investigations, and prosecute those who break consumer protection laws.
  • Contact a national consumer organization. Groups like Call for Action and Consumer Action try to help people with complaints.
  • Contact your local Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau is made up of organizations supported by local businesses. Local Better Business Bureaus try to resolve customer complaints.
  • File a report with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC doesn’t resolve individual complaints, but your report helps law enforcement detect patterns of wrongdoing and may lead to an investigation. File your report at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
  • Visit USA.gov/consumer. You’ll find information on filing complaints about specific types of products, steps to filing a complaint with a seller or manufacturer, links to product recall information, and more.

Post an Online Review

If you can’t resolve the problem and feel the company has been unfair, you may want to warn other people by writing an online review. The Consumer Review Fairness Act protects your ability to share your honest opinions about a business’s products, services, or conduct, in any forum, including social media.

The law makes it illegal for companies to threaten or penalize you for posting honest reviews. Many companies monitor social media and may reply if they see you’re dissatisfied with their response to your complaint.

Pro tip: Your post will be most effective if you use a reasonable tone and explain the problem clearly.

Consider Dispute Resolution Alternatives

Research dispute resolution programs online. Many consumers and businesses use dispute resolution programs — mediation and arbitration — as alternatives 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, although 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 or award once you've presented your case. The decision may be legally binding.

Is the program voluntary or mandatory? Many dispute resolution programs are voluntary. Whether to use them is your decision. In some states, however, a court may order you to try mediation or arbitration. Some companies require you to arbitrate your dispute and give up your right to go to court. Check your contract or product packaging for details.

Your state consumer protection office or bar association may be able to suggest alternative dispute resolution programs in your area.

Consider small claims court. Small claims courts can resolve many financial disputes. The dollar limits on claims vary by state, but some states set the limit as high as $25,000. The costs are relatively low, procedures are simple, and lawyers usually aren't needed. Check with your local small claims court for information about how to file your lawsuit.

If all else fails, you may want to consider a lawsuit. You can sue for damages or any other type of relief the court awards, including legal fees. A lawyer can advise you how to proceed.