THE FEARLESS CONSUMER- Post the policy: Facts make returns easy

Which is likelier to be fraught with consumer angst: buying a used car or buying a pair of earrings? Okay, okay– buying a used car. But after doing the research for this week's column, I can attest that we should never let our consumer guard down, no matter what the price tag says.

Gosia Glinska learned that when she went shopping on the Downtown Mall with an out-of-town friend right after Christmas. At Firenze Silver in York Place, Gosia bought a $40 pair of earrings and her friend bought a $150 ring.

Glinska claims that problems developed quickly with the jewelry: The earrings she'd bought had a "weird locking mechanism that made it impossible to easily put them on"– so much so, she says, that one ear was bleeding. Her friend's ring, she claims, "was poorly made and chafed her finger.

Glinska assumed that because they had their receipts and were returning (allegedly) undamaged merchandise, they'd get their money back. Not so fast: Glinska says that manager Nur Pratt, who had sold them the jewelry the day before, agreed to take back Glinska's earringsbut not her friend's ring.

Both sides agree on this much: Chaos ensued. According to Glinska, it began when she asked about the store's return policy and continued for more than 40 minutes. Glinska was under the impression that state law mandates a 30-day return policy (it doesn't), alluded to the (spurious) law, and asked again that her friend be allowed to return her ring. When Pratt refused, Glinska stated that what the owner (who turns out to be Pratt's husband) was doing was illegal.

By then, Glinska says, Pratt was "very agitated."

Pratt eventually agreed to give Glinska's friend store credit. Glinska claims that when she told Pratt that her friend lives in Boston and wouldn't be able to use it, Pratt was immovable. More arguing followed, during which Pratt called her husband and reported that he agreed that store credit was the only option.

Things really heated up after that. Glinska declared they'd take the owner to small claims court, and then Pratt "totally lost it," Glinka says. "She started screaming at me, saying that I was a very negative person and that I ruined her New Year."

To summarize what sounds more like a street rumble than a business transaction, in the end Pratt overturned the store-credit-only policy for Glinska and refunded her $40, but refused to do the same for her friend. Reluctantly, and with the intention of appealing to her credit-card company, the friend accepted store credit and they left.

When I visited the store, Pratt said that Glinska had been "very rude." She also showed me what she claimed were the returned earrings and pointed out that the clasp on one was defective, for which she blamed Glinksa (but volunteered that she hadn't mentioned that when the earrings were returned. The earrings are lovely). I could easily imagine that the locking mechanism, which was a type I've never seen before, might be difficult to operate.

I asked why the store's return policy wasn't posted, but I didn't get an answer. I returned to that question several times, both during our meeting in the store and later that evening over the phone, and pointed out that if Glinska and her friend had known– from the beginning– what the terms were, they wouldn't have been able to argue with the policy. Every time, Pratt changed the subject.

I don't understand why a store owner wouldn't post the return policy in clear view near the cash register and print it on sales receipts. That simple act might have saved all three women from an absurdly stressful transaction.

Glinska reports that her friend's credit-card appeal has been denied, and adds that she's "pretty despondent" about the debacle.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer or write her at Box 4553, Charlottesville 22905.