Deal Disputes With Friends: Fun Facebook Deal Runaround

Update/Resolution: After I posted the blog entry, we finally heard back from Todd (Tod?) at Gilt City who made sure that within a couple of days I got a refund for the three unused vouchers from Facebook, and they gave me a $100 Gilt City credit to use for whatever. My assistant took the lead on actually resolving all of this, so I gave her the $100 credit of course. It sounded like Gilt didn’t have the best experience with Facebook for reasons like the story below, and are no longer going to be collaborating in this way any more. It also indicates how potentially hazardous it is for a non-customer-service oriented company/publisher like Facebook to be drawn into an area where deep customer service is required. I think this goes for a lot of big Valley companies and is well worth keeping in mind – there’s a reason that advertising can be a nice high-margin business. You don’t usually have to worry about customer service (if and only if you do it the right way of course… and avoid the temptation to get greedy).

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One of my first daily deal buying experiences was with Gilt City back in March 2011, with a breakfast offer at a place I’d never tried in Palo Alto which I bought and later redeemed, and was added to their mailing list. In April 2011 I made my second purchase. They were running a promotion for a restaurant (I won’t mention their name since they’re awesome, and also it is one of a chain I should point out) in Palo Alto that I often go to, and naturally the chance to get 50% off something that I would normally buy anyway at full price, while terrible for the merchant, is a great deal for me. There was a limit of two per person, and I bought two “$40 of food for $20” coupons.

Within the next couple of weeks I used both of them. The friendly staff at the restaurant were using a clipboard and writing down the numbers of the coupons to keep track, I’ll add. In the meantime, Facebook launched their own “deals with friends” initiative. I noticed the same restaurant chain was having a deal as one of the early Facebook Deals, and so I was immediately interested. In this case, the per-person limit was 4 and not 2, so I purchased 4 of these at $20 each for $80 total. I also noticed that Facebook was doing their deals in conjunction with a variety of vendors – in this case it was with the self-same Gilt City that received a small credit on the website as the provider of the deal. This was April 27th, this was the first email I received:

 

On April 30th, three days later, I received my “vouchers” – for some reason I received 12 emails that were visually identical to this one heralding the arrival of my 4 “deals”.

A couple of weeks later I went to the restaurant later to use the first of my 4 new vouchers, only to find out that in my deal-drunken haste I had failed to realize that despite its similarity to the previous offer it was actually for several of their locations excluding the one in Palo Alto. Ooops – when I presented the voucher at the Palo Alto location, the staff was very nice about it and offered to honor it. I thanked them and used it, and then wanted to follow up with Facebook to ask them to cancel the purchase I’d made in error, and refund my card (much as I like it, I wasn’t going to drive 50 miles to their other location!).

I now had used one of the vouchers and had three left, that I didn’t think it made sense to try to use at that store. On Facebook I found the spot where it had a deal “status” area and saw how I could “dispute” a deal by clicking a button or buttons, which I did. I then received the following terse email from Facebook:

If you visit that help page, the part about refunds reads as follows:

To request a refund or if you need further support, please follow the directions below: 

     

  1. From the left column of your home page, click Deals.
  2. Select the “Unused Deals” subheading in the left column.
  3. Click the “Help” option beneath the deal you have a question about.
  4. Select the “Dispute this deal and request a refund” option.
  5. Fill out the reason for the refund request and submit.

Can I return a deal?

Refunds are available for unredeemed vouchers for up to 30 days from the date of purchase. If a Deal you’ve purchased becomes unavailable before it can be provided to you, you will receive a credit of the paid price which can be used to purchase future Deals.
Ok, so it looks like I was fine in terms of actually being able to get a credit for the deal. (Regardless, the legality of not refunding someone for deals is uncertain as anyone reading TechCrunch could attest to!) but a bit confused since there wasn’t a lot of information I could get in terms of being able to know if my refund was in process or not. There was very little information available on Facebook, and just a contact form to reach out to the deals team which also didn’t provide a lot of context (see this link). In fact, despite having filled out that form, the above email is the ONLY communication I’ve ever received from Facebook on this matter.
June 1st: Four days later, I sent an email to support@giltcity.com forwarding them the Facebook email, and asking them if they had been able to resolve it yet. I received a reply from “Daniel” saying that “We appreciate hearing from you and are happy to assist with your inquiry.  Unfortunately, as all of your interaction has been with Facebook, we are unaware as to the nature of your inquiry.  Can you please reply to this email with what it is that we can help you with.” I replied providing my email address and that “I got a few deals via them for _________ but it was for the wrong location, I would like a refund and they said they forwarded the information on to you. Let me know what info you need to look up my account and I can assist.”
The same day I got an email back from Jeff, and I was very impressed at first because it seems like they took immediate action:

Hi Rob,

Thank you for contacting Gilt City. We appreciate hearing from you and are happy to assist you with your inquiry.

We are sorry to hear you accidentally purchased the wrong location for__________ . While all Gilt City offers are final sale and nonrefundable, as this was a purchase error, we are happy to make a one time exception and have refunded your purchase in full back to your Amex ending with ____. The refund will show up on your statement within 3-5 business days. Your vouchers have been canceled and you can discard these.

Have a great day!

If we can be of further assistance, please feel free to reply back to this e-mail or give Gilt City Support a call at (877) 280-0541.

Best,

Jeff
Customer Support
Gilt City

Now the fun begins. I look at my credit card statement and notice something strange, and email them back stating that:
I see two refunds so far, there should be three of them (there were four
vouchers, of which I was able to use one … so there should be three
refunds).
And I realize now that even though I gave the context originally that these were Facebook deals, that perhaps they are not able to “see” that I made purchases via Facebook separate from the ones direct through Gilt. This is evidenced in the next email (still on that same day) that comes through:

In looking at your order history we can only confirm 2 vouchers for __________ were purchased under your account attached to ______  email address.  As an exception to our final sale, non refundable policy we have refunded you back to your original form of payment for both of these purchases.  We have no records of the other 2 purchases for _______ and you would need to contact Facebook Support for further assistance.

If these purchases were not made through Facebook please provide an Order ID and we would be happy to further assist you.

Have a great day!

June 2nd: So I looked back in my Facebook account, and saw — nothing. I’d disputed these vouchers, so there was no tracking information in there anymore. The email above didn’t have any unique order ID or identifier in it, nothing of the sort (except the email-from address perhaps?). The emails with the vouchers seemed to be the only things that had any kind of identifying information (and who knows why I got 12 of them?) , but other than that there wasn’t anything in the email itself that seemed like it would help. I wasn’t sure. I was using the same email address in both cases, so I emailed back and optimistically asked the Gilt Support team “The ones in Facebook I no longer have access to in FB because I disputed them … surely you have all this information under my {xxxxxx} email address in the reports you get back from Facebook?” The answer was pretty much more of the same, namely:

We apologize for the confusion regarding Gilt City’s _______ offer.  Please note, per your request we have refunded your two Vouchers purchased through Gilt City back to your Amex ending with ____ as an exception to our final sale, non refundable policy.

Unfortunately, for all purchased made through Facebook we do not have this information under your account.  Because this purchase was made through Facebook only they have access to these vouchers and would need to create this refund for you in their system.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

So at this point, presumably I have received two refunds for deals I’ve used and have been very upfront about (and it seems Gilt had no idea that I’d already used these weeks before) and were there to be any way for Facebook to indeed refund me and me to know this, I would have been able to get $120 of free food unsure of who is actually “eating it” at the end of the day. I copied and pasted the link that was in one of the emails that Facebook had sent me to claim the vouchers and pasted it into the support email reply I sent next. This looked something like this: http://www.facebook.com/n/?pages%2Fpromotions%2Fget_voucher.php&claim_item%5B0%5D=99910150222752276789&claim_item%5B1%5D=99910150222752281789&claim_item%5B2%5D=99910150222752286789&claim_item%5B3%5D=99910150222752296789&mid=42675baG7c2c9645G1cf695680Gb4&bcode=agEr3cVREFA&n_m=MY_EMAIL_ADDRESS

Note that it had my email address in it already, so not sure why any of the other codes would help make it any easier to track down for them, but they thought it might be helpful (Billy and Jeff said):
Thank you for providing our team this receipt number which we will pass along to the representatives at Facebook who will handle the actual refund process.
June 14: Nothing here for a couple weeks until I decided to call them (but it was after their office hours which end at 5pm EST), missed them and then sent another email:
June 22nd: I email them “hi guys – did the refunds go through?”, reply comes back: “We are very sorry for the delay. We have been informed that you should receive your Facebook refunds soon.  Please be sure to check your statement with the card used to purchase these vouchers to verify.”
June 23rd: I email in reply to Jeff that “This is not very specific. is there some way I can get an email confirmation when the refunds go through?” instead of sending them emails to check every now and then? Billy and Jeff (seems like they might be the difficult customer-tag-team) replied to me saying:

As all Facebook purchases are refunded through Facebook and not Gilt City, we apologize we cannot provide you a more specific time frame for your refunds. These purchases were made through Facebook and so there is no record of these in your Gilt City account as previously noted in earlier correspondence with Gilt City Customer Support.

We have updated our Customer Support Manager regarding your situation and he will follow up with Facebook on your behalf. Please rest assured you will receive your refunds for the Facebook offers you purchased.

I think perhaps I need to get referred to someone at Facebook about this, instead of waiting for this so I reply “thanks. Who can I follow up with at Facebook to check on these?” At this point it has all become a bit of a curiosity for me. Now just Billy replies “Please note we’ve forwarded your email to our Customer Support Manager here at Gilt City. He will be able to best assist you with the status of your Facebook refunds.”

I then decided to ask my assistant if she’d be willing to help follow up on things, figuring it could just be cleared up with a quick phone call or two that I just didn’t have time to do given the continuous-partial-attention of running a company. She said she’d give it a go and this is where I’ll share her notes that summarize what has happened since. There was another email I’d sent out which didn’t get a reply for a LONG time, namely:

On Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 9:33 AM, Rob Leathern wrote:

Hi there – I’m still waiting to understand if I got these refunds (I don’t believe I have). Can you confirm what is going on here?

[no reply received]

Rob wrote on July 24, 2011 to Gilt Support:

Hi Support:

I’m still waiting to hear back from you – can someone please give me an update?
best,
Rob

[reply received, eventually (with my highlighting):]

On Tue, Aug 9, 2011 at 5:27 AM, Gilt City Support <support@giltcity.com> wrote:

Hello Rob,

Regretfully you will have to follow up with Facebook in regards to any purchases made via their website.  Even tho you purchased one of our products/offers the payment was processed via Facebook, not our processing system, therefore we cannot refund a purchase that does not exist.  I know it’s a bit confusing, however the folks over at Facebook will be glad to help you out!

Byron

Gilt Groupe

Now in the meantime, we’ve been calling them asking for more details on the phone. I of course still get sucked into things on email and replied to the above email asking who at Facebook we’re supposed to be talking to to resolve this, which I’d asked way earlier too without any success. The frustrated reply I give to Byron’s email is:

When you say “Regretfully you will have to follow up with Facebook in regards to any purchases made via their website.” what does that mean. How does one “follow up with Facebook”? Is there a phone number to call? An email address to send to? A ticketing system to submit a ticket for?

It IS a bit confusing, and you’re not helping (yet). Which “folks over at Facebook”, exactly, are going to help us out?

Emily from Gilt City helpfully replies:

Hello Rob,

We apologize for the confusion and the delay.

According to our records, the refunds for the two _______ purchases were applied to your American Express ending with ____ on 06/01/2011.  You should have seen two separate refunds of $20.00 for a total of $40.00.  Typically it takes 3-5 business days for the refunds to be posted on your account, so you should have seen them sometime during the first week in June.

If we can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Gilt City Customer Support by replying to this e-mail. Thank you.

Sincerely,
Emily
Gilt City Customer Support

At this point it seems pretty clear that Gilt City doesn’t have any kind of ticketing or CRM system at all. But how did we fare on the phone now that I have officially called an end to this follow up experiment? Well here’s the summary of that:

By now we have Spoken with Billy, Tiffany, Byron, Adrian, and Tod the manager. Called ~15 times, spent ~3.5-4 hours calling, explaining the situation, and emailing. We have learned that normal Gilt City customer support representatives do not have access to Facebook Deals records.  Because the 3rd voucher was ordered through Facebook, they could not access the records/receipt of purchase. This is what caused the delay.   The manager is the only one with access to Facebook data.  Gilt City and Facebook are, in the manager Tod’s words “not partnered in these deal offerings”; according to him, they are “‘helping out’ Facebook customer inquiries”. He did not really expand on this… but it appears that Gilt City serves only as support to the Facebook deals; the point of sale is handled by Facebook only.  Essentially, Gilt City’s only involvement in Facebook deals is customer support. They do not handle any monetary transactions, which is part of the problem: how can you handle customer support for transactions you have no data for?

The rep Byron made it clear that it is a new service with “many ‘wrinkles’ still needing to be worked out”.  It was clear that she and the other representatives were not familiar with the Facebook voucher process and their role was limited.

The last conversation with Tod 8/3 or 8/4: he said he was finally able to pull Facebook data through a receipt #, and stated that Gilt City issued two refunds for the Gilt City vouchers on June 1st and that a Facebook voucher was issued on May 31st (the latter of which there is absolutely no record of that we can find, nor can that be confirmed).  He also did not mention that the ‘refunded’ Gilt City vouchers had been used.  He told us to double check the credit card statements and give him a call back with any new developments.  We called back Thursday, Friday, and Monday with no follow up.  Spoke with Adrian on Friday who said she could not access the Facebook data and that she would pass the message along to Tod. Tod also mentioned to dispute the vouchers through Facebook, which we had already done back in May. So they also appear to have no record of Facebook disputes. Why handle customer support for dispute tickets they do not have access to?

Everyone we spoke with was very apologetic and tried to accommodate as best as they could, which unfortunately was not much.  All representatives seemed willing to work with me to resolve the issue, but they couldn’t – how can they resolve the issue when the general consensus amongst them was that they could not find the relevant information and to default to their manager (who also seemed unable to help though).

Received the latest email from Bryon 8/9 (quoted above). Since the 8/9 email from Byron, I have called another half dozen times leaving messages on Tod’s direct line, and twice spoken to GC representatives who said they would pass the message along to Tod.  We emailed him on the 17th, called twice more and still no response.

August 19th: As this has dragged on it has become clear it needed to be shared, so here we go. Maybe now someone who can help us solve the issue will read this.