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When a refund denial is clearly unfair, go direct with them

Lucio made a great note in TSS as we're revising and updating it now.

When a refund denial is clearly unfair, don't go for an "it's up to you" approach. Instead, go direct.

Here's an example. Recently, I ordered a sugar-free cheesecake from a company.

This is what I ordered:

This is what I got:

Needless to say, I was unsatisfied.

So, I sent an email, saying the above and adding:

Ali: It looks like it wasn't made to fill the whole tray (notice the gap on the side), the tray is damaged, and it seems like the cheesecake wasn't cut.

However, I'm not looking for a refund because I've been looking forward to trying your sugar-free selections for a while.

So, would it be possible to send a replacement?

Best Regards,

Then, I send a follow-up email:

This second email was a strategic decision to:

  • Let them know I was respecting their boundaries: I read their policy and a replacement is an acceptable request based on their guidelines.
  • Avoid them thinking I damaged the cheesecake myself: by proving it was in this condition before it was opened.

They respond:

They try to offer me 50% off (and don't say if it's a refund or a discount/coupon on a future purchase, but it seems like a discount).

However, their policy says I can get a replacement:

Policy: "Your order is guaranteed to arrive in perfect condition at the specified shipping address provided. If you are not completely satisfied with the quality of your order upon arrival, please contact Customer Care within (30) days of receipt, with a detailed description and photograph(s) evidencing your dissatisfaction, for assistance with a replacement or exchange."

So, I express that:

Three days go by and there's still no response, so I follow up.

Finally, they come back and say:

Now, I'm growing upset because I clearly didn't ask for a return, I asked for a replacement. And, I asked with a screenshot of their policy, so there should've been no confusion (and I don't think there was any, it seemed to me like they just didn't want to approve the request).

So, I spend the following ten days trying to reach this company who has disappeared (again), this time to no avail:

So, I dispute their transaction via PayPal (and, PayPal is usually great with disputes, which is why I try to use them for transactions whenever possible/whenever it makes sense).

However, notice the switch in the approach I take when it's a discussion over an official dispute resolution channel like PayPal:

  • Accusing the seller of sending a product different from what they described: notice, I send a picture titled "the cheesecake I ordered" and then another titled "the cheesecake they sent". There's a chance the cheesecake was actually in perfect condition when they sent it and the delivery process caused the damage. But, here, I'm framing them as sending bad products that are vastly different from the images shown on their website.
  • Framing the seller as trying to "take people's money and run": with labeling the emails "first, second, third, fourth, email to seller" showing how hard I had to work to try to resolve the situation and then "fifth, sixth, and seventh email to seller with no response" framing me as having to continuously chase them as they ignore each email. Plus, the description, "So far, the seller has disappeared," which expands on that frame.

They respond right away this time now that it's an official dispute:

They ask me to return the cake and notice my approach again:

  • It was you who said I couldn't: maybe it wasn't this exact person—their customer service team might be different from their dispute resolution team. But, my frame here is that "the exact person doesn't matter, each person who works there represents your company, therefore, this is what you/your company said".
  • You're asking me to break the law: power-borrowing from the legal system (FDA law) to deny their request.
  • Proof you said this: with emails attached, so now you look suspicious, going back on your own word that this was against the law to try and avoid having to give a refund.
  • You disappeared: the frame being "I might've been open to sending you the cake anyway if you'd have asked, but you didn't. Instead, you said I couldn't and then disappeared on me."
  • More: "having heard no response" continues to shift blame to them for disappearing and "the cake has gone bad and been thrown away" adds to that by saying "you're too late now, and I wasn't going to keep a bad cake in the hopes that you might randomly reappear and ask me to send it back to you."

The result:

The customer service rep had "volunteer" in their email signature which is the problem with volunteers sometimes.

You can easily run into people who volunteer just to have it on their college application or for less than purely altruistic reasons and that can lead to poor customer service sometimes.


Also, not a fan of when companies overdo the "we're a non-profit" promotion. From what I've read, it seems that they're actually a for-profit company and their parent company is a nonprofit, which means that if one wants to do some good, donating to their parent company would probably go further than buying cake from these guys.

Lucio Buffalmano, Jack and 4 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoJackMaxim LevinskyKavalierMats GBel

Thank you for sharing this, Ali!

Handled it like a lawyer would have: studied the terms and conditions, sent emails requesting clearly what you wanted, been very kind, reasonable, courteous, patient, but still insisted, they ignored and argued (with a fake manipulative argument!) and put themselves into a corner... and then BAM!

Proof of their ignoring your requests -----> used their own email and argument against them ------> refund!

And I agree with the title and would make it into a general principle:

When asserting a right, go all in

Never, never, never espouse a weakness or doubt when asserting a right. Always go all in. Always project total certainty in your right.

If necessary (not that this was the case here) omit any weaknesses. Do not talk about them. Do not give the adversary any easy foothold.

Lucio Buffalmano, Ali Scarlett and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Lucio BuffalmanoAli ScarlettKavalierMats G

Yep, you had this so bad that it was like taking candy from a baby :).

Great stuff, truly maximized your odds like this.

Some notes for learning:

  • Maximizing ROI with lower effort: since PayPal tends to favor the buyer and you were clearly in the right, if you wanted to save time and maximize ROI one single email with the full email trail would have been enough
  • Email export may be superior evidence to snapshots: should ask a lawyer to be sure, but exporting the full email with headers may provide even stronger evidence than snapshotting


This is a great example / case study on how a strategist maximizes his chances of winning.

Maybe a collection of similar threads would also be cool, won a few challenging cases with airlines as well with similar approaches.


By the way, I'd have still eaten or at least tried the cake.



Ali Scarlett, Kavalier and 2 other users have reacted to this post.
Ali ScarlettKavalierMats GBel
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