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July 2002 Vol. 17, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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When the Fins Don't Fit

the travails of getting refunds

from the July, 2002 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Bob and Bonnie Smith bought a bag full of Scubapro equipment and a Key West dive trip for $7,833 from the Ka Puka Wai dive shop in Canton, OH on January 15, 2001. Though they paid for the equipment, they didn’t take it with them. The next day Bonnie Smith called the shop to notify them of Bob’s ill health, saying she wanted a refund, then contacted the shop daily thereafter to attempt to cancel the order (though the owner, Jonathan Adamski, said they did not cancel it until Jan 29). The owner refused to make the refund, citing a no-refund policy.

Unhappy, the Smiths went to court, where they testified that they were unaware of the norefund policy, though Adamski said there had been a no-refund sign posted in his store for many years. Smith said she did not remember seeing the no-refund sign although she had been in the store on three separate occasions.

Adamski argued that the credit card sales receipt set forth the norefund policy, but admitted that under some circumstances he would refund money. Bonnie Smith said she had specifically asked what would happen if, for example, something did not fit. She testified that Adamski said “it was no problem to send it back.” Adamski said he was referring to the exchange policy, and that he had not told the Smiths they could return the items for a refund of their money. Smith said she believed returning the items to the supplier was no problem, but Adamski said to return the equipment to Scubapro he had to pay a twentyfive percent restocking charge.

The court ordered Adamski to give the Smiths $5352.65, crediting Adamski with the twenty-five percent restocking fee.

Here’s a case that clearly got out of hand. It seems ludicrous for a store owner to refuse to make a refund under the circumstances discovered by the court. But some dive shops have stringent policies, and would rather keep a customer’s money than maintain good will. Obviously, dive stores have a variety of refund policies, so if you’re shopping for pricey gear you need to know the policy and reputation of your store.

Within a twenty-mile radius of Undercurrent’s Marin offices, three dive shops have distinctly different policies for handling returned merchandise. Marin Skin Diving in San Rafael offers a full refund if the equipment is returned within thirty days in new condition with the original receipt. The others offer only exchanges or store credits. While Harbor Dive Center in Sausalito imposes no time limit, Pinnacles Dive Center in Novato requires the merchandise be returned within fourteen days.

These store policies are printed on cash and credit card receipts, as required by California law. Yet each store and mail-order house follows its own unique practices when dealing with returns. Virtually everyone demands that returned equipment be in brand new condition, but many also require it to be in the original packaging, right down to the Styrofoam in some cases. A few stores refuse refunds on credit card purchases, because when credit card companies issue refunds they keep the three-percent fee they charged to process the original purchase.

Someone who already has your
money in his pocket always
has the upper hand.

Across the country, in Morehead City, NC, Olympus Dive Center refuses all refunds. Owner George Purifoy notes that MasterCard allows a customer eighty-nine days to dispute a charge based on dissatisfaction. Purifoy says some customers have abused this privilege. He tells the story of a father and son who booked spots on one of his wreck diving charters, paying by card for the trip and rental gear. On their first dive they got into a thirtyminute decompression “hang,” and the father was incensed when they weren’t allowed to make the second dive of the day! He disputed the charge on his credit card bill, and MasterCard reversed the transaction, including the gear rental. As Purifoy sees it, that’s the thanks he gets for keeping the two divers “out of a $20,000 chamber ride.” He’ll offer store credits for returned merchandise, but as he puts it, “We want to have the decision in our ballpark, not the customer’s.”

Howard Pruyn, who’s been operating Philadelphia’s Diving Bell Scuba Shop for twenty-nine years, takes the opposite approach. “Our policy,” he declares, is to “take care of the customer. Our motivation is to keep customers coming back and to make them part of the family.” Pruyn has no written policy because he, like most dive shop operators, seldom gets returns. So he offers both refunds and exchanges.

Additional conditions frequently apply. For instance, a store may refuse to take back discontinued items or equipment that was specialordered, such as custom-fit wetsuits. Most shops allow certain exceptions to policies for good customers or unusual circumstances. Jack Kuhn of Sausalito’s Harbor Dive Center says he even encourages customers to take gear home and try it in a pool. If there’s a problem, they can exchange anything that’s still in resalable condition.

Mail order houses each have unique policies as well. Leisure Pro (, 800- 637-6880) offers full refunds on unused equipment returned within fourteen days of purchase. It must be in mint condition and in the original packaging, with all packaging materials and blank warranty cards. Customers must also enclose a copy of the sales or packing slip plus a note describing the problem and requesting repair, replacement, refund, or credit against other merchandise. Then everything must be enclosed in a separate shipping carton. Leisure Pro also insists that customers call ahead for a return authorization number, put it on the outside packaging, and send it back prepaid and insured to their New York headquarters. Sounds like a lot to do in fourteen days!

Divers Discount Supply of Rancho Santa Margarita, CA (, 800-34- SCUBA) offers a full credit or refund on any item returned new with original packaging within thirty days. If the items are used or not returned with original packaging, they qualify for a seventy- five-percent credit. New merchandise returned between thirty and ninety days after purchase is subject to a fifteen-percent restocking fee to cover charges from the manufacturer to take the merchandise back (whether or not they send it back). Items must be returned in the original packaging, including all warranty cards and manuals.

Reader Nathan Friedlander (Mobile, AL) recently got into a beef when trying to get a refund on a wetsuit he ordered from a similarly-named outfit, Diver Discount of Tucson, AZ (, 520-408- DIVE). Nathan initially thought he was dealing with the aforementioned Divers Discount Supply, due to the similarity of the company names and of their Web addresses, which vary by only one letter. (It’s common for major marketers to find competition like this spring up. For example, 1/800- FL0WERS was formed to compete with 1/800- FLOWERS. What’s the difference? The knock-off substituted a zero for a letter “O.”)

While Friedlander tells Undercurrent he was refused a refund, Nathan claims that was never the case. Regardless, it took a series of acrimonious calls and correspondence before Nathan returned the wetsuit and Britton issued a refund. After reading Diver Discount’s return policy, so vaguely worded on their Web site, it’s easy to see how confusion could set in. The Web site says: “If you are not completely satisfied with any purchase from DiverDiscount.Com you may return any unused gear, with the original packing materials, within 30 days for full [sic], exchange, or trade etc.” Just what does “full” mean? Not exactly airtight, is it? Nonetheless, David Britton, who runs the Tucson retail and mail-order operation, assures us that he will provide a full refund, credit, or exchange when merchandise is returned.

Most dive shop owners go out of their way to see that a customer’s needs are satisfied before he or she walks out the door. But if you think there’s any chance you might return a purchase to a dive shopor especially to a mail order firm where you can’t try it on before buying— be sure you get a clear, complete statement of return policies and restrictions in writing. Take nothing for granted, or you might wind up with a white elephant only good for Flotsam & Jetsam swap meets—or with a protracted legal battle on your hands. And when you talk with people, don’t get arrogant or abusive; someone who already has your money in his pocket always has the upper hand.

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