Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Badly needing to replace my pitifully worn out slippers, I decided to head over to SM San Lazaro one late morning about a month ago. I would usually go to Robinson’s Ermita—for their oftentimes discount offering—but on this particular occasion, SM San Lazaro was a much closer drive from where I just played a game of badminton.

I was excited. I was finally buying a pair of Merrell slippers which I had been longing for some time. Although they cost more than those offered by Adidas, Nike, and Outland, these Merrell slippers come with Vibram soles and apparently better made. They’re very comfortable and the snug fit would also make them ideal for short distance driving. And with the local wet season upon us, I could wear these out in the rain, which I wouldn’t with the leather slippers.

Most importantly, my experience of having previously owned a pair of Merrell sandals assures me that the dye used by this shoe company wouldn’t bleed and darken the soles of my feet. The few pairs of Adidas slippers I had owned in the past did this, which was rather embarrassing. I had to actually go for extra foot spa sessions just to have the stain effectively rubbed off my feet.

Anyway, I immediately slipped on my newly-purchased Merrells right after paying with my credit card. However, after about a few minutes of walking around the mall, I noticed that with the right pair, the strip that goes between my toes was situated a bit too forward and was beginning to hurt the inner sides of my big toe and the one next to it. Afraid that it would rub my skin raw, I turned back to have them replaced. I was disappointed when told they had no other pair available with my size. The perky saleslady was even more disappointed when I opted to just return them instead of settling for a different less-favorite style.

At the customer service counter, I was dumbfounded when told that in lieu of a refund, SM gives a gift certificate bearing the same amount, but expires within 30 days if left unused. Any intelligent consumer will immediately find such policy ludicrous and totally unacceptable.

When I asked to speak to a manager, she replied that she was, in fact, the manager. She then pointed to a framed poster-sized print of their return/refund policy, which was hanging for all those in line to see. I commended the alluded legalese of its content, as well as for their choice of frame for the print itself. But then again, questioned why a copy of which was not placed just as distinctly at every cashier counter for every customer to see and read before making a purchase; not afterward at the customer service counter (located in some obscure corner of the selling floor) should a problem arise with any purchased merchandise.

I even suggested, since the sale was made with my credit card, that it would be simpler to void the sale rather than go through the hassle of issuing a gift certificate, which quite possibly, I might just throw inside my desk drawer and forget altogether. I also mentioned my failure to find merit in handing over P2300.00 to SM without getting anything back for it. The manager merely smirked and remained adamant.

Exasperated, I pulled out my cellphone and advised her rather calmly that if she insisted to refuse in purging this purchase from my credit card, I will call my bank and report that SM has charged my credit card for a non-existent merchandise. Instantaneously, she called her superiors and within ten minutes, I was walking out of SM Department Store a non-victim; holding a slip to prove that the earlier sale that was charged on my credit card had been voided. I then headed downstairs to Toby's sport shop that also carries Merrell footwear and got what I wanted.

This incident left me wondering how many unsuspecting Filipino consumers had been had by SM’s devious policy. Would anyone really succumb to it? In the States, other than established laws, the Better Business Bureau and various consumer advocacy groups regularly monitor consumer complaints. The country is also abundant with enterprising attorneys who are always ready to jump into the fray with class action suits.

Now, some might say, “Sorry, Eric, but this is the Philippines.” To which I will reply, “Too bad, my credit card is issued by a multinational company and therefore, assured by its universal policy of protecting its card holders.”

In essence, the credit card company can hold its remittance to the retailer until the complaint by the card holder regarding that particular purchase has been fully resolved. And should some time had already elapsed and the retailer had already been paid by the credit card company, the credit card company, at its option, may suspend its further affliliation with the retailer until the dispute has been completely resolved. Such suspension may raise a red flag among potential customers and become a source of embarrassment for the retailer.

During the few years since having moved back to live in Metro Manila, there were other consumer issues, although less significant, I’ve encountered. But just the same, the merchants’ policies were seemingly disadvantageous to the customers. So far, in all, I’ve managed to persuade the store managers to listen and accept my points of view.

Incidentally, remember my problems with my laptop? Had Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Valley Store been indifferent to my complaints, my other option was to seek assistance from MasterCard to resolve the dispute. I had after all used it to facilitate the purchase. It is for the same reason that I plan to use my credit card as soon as I am ready to buy the Canon digital camera which I have in mind.

My point here is, for the most part, Metro Manila merchants protect their integrity by providing great products and services; however, there are those, as in any part of the world, unscrupulous proprietors who lurk behind their glitzy facade. Therefore, the use of a credit card can provide extra protection.


posted by Señor Enrique at 9:01 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do have a point about using a credit card especially for big item purchases for protection. So far, I haven't had any problems with regards to returning merchandise. It's so easy here. Stores will just ask me the reason for the return and I usually get my refund right away. Or they will reverse the credit card transaction. Sometimes, you really have to insist and not just accept what they tell you.

June 20, 2006 11:53 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

It's just as easy in NYC to return anything, niceheart. But as I got older, the less I enjoyed going shopping. In fact, the time came when I did most of my shopping online; the groceries were the only ones I didn't try buying on the Internet :)

June 20, 2006 1:24 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This kind of protection that can be had thru credit card purchases to me is clearly advantageous to frequent buyers and in fact, it should be one thing that should be pointed out by credit card companies in their adverstisements. That way, more patronage maybe solicited.

In my raw knowledge, our laws here in the Philippines only allows the No-Return/No-Exchange policy on bargain sales, or wash-down sales but in no way that a consumer can be demanded to accept a defective or irregular product. I guess, in this sort of matter, our local merchandisers are a bit not at par with other countries where customer satisfaction is high on the priority list. If the customer ain't happy with it, find every manner possible to make him such. I guess this is one aspect that our society--our economy as well---should see and progress from.

June 20, 2006 2:51 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Returning ANYTHING you buy in RP is
a tall undertaking. At the end of the day you will just end up fighting with the store. At one point and this was way back in the early 90's, a store clerk demanded the reciept of my traveller's checks before she can honor them. I nearly went berserk!

June 21, 2006 1:01 AM  

Blogger NeiLDC said...

Whoo thats been so hard, you know costumer had always the right to complaint the things which they dont wanted to be, all malls have teh guarantee since they have all the products on the line.are they not protecting the rights of the consumers.. At least you did your job... another lesson for them and not you!

June 21, 2006 3:01 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Incidentally, Major Tom, I want to thank you because in my communication with HP Philippines' top honcho, Nilo Cruz, I used the "hidden defect" argument, which I learned from you. Within minutes he responded to my email and asigned a group of his lieutenants to review my complaints (I will blog more on this once completely resolved). Many thanks, Major Tom!

There ought to be more consumer protection/awareness programs here in our country, and I'm sure the media can be of tremendous assistance. But then again, they might get berated by their major advertisers for doing so.

I am really hoping that we as a nation refuse to become victims to unscrupulous business practices. I believe we've all gone through enough exploitation already.

June 21, 2006 7:01 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I would be just as livid as you, BW, if a clerk had to demand to see the receipt of my traveller's checks just to honor my transaction.

This demonstrates how some retailers would discourage the consumers from exercising their basic right to return an item and receive a refund -- by making an easy enough process extremely difficult.

June 21, 2006 7:14 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I'm just wondering if Spain, like Canada and America, has laws that protect the consumers, Neil?

June 21, 2006 7:17 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Canada is too darn lax bro. I mean I see people returning damaged used shoes, almost muddy claiming that it is of inferior quality!

One famous nationwide store here allows customers to claim rebates if the price of the items drops as long as it was bought within 2 weeks before the drop. My wife did it last Xmas. The item she bought dropped to 40% discount. She bought it with 20% discount a week before. She claimed the additional discount and it was granted. Huh??

As Major Tom said - it's the customer satisfaction that counts the most.

June 21, 2006 7:53 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

You know, BW, I should have also mentioned that there are also abuses on the part of the customers. Darn, I knew of some NY women who would wear a dress at a weekend party and return it the following Monday.

As for rebates, the only store in New York that I know of that does this is Banana Republic -- that if a price of an item you bought no more than 7 days ago drops, you're entitled for the additional discount. Much to my delight, one time I only ended up paying $14 for a great fleece sweater which was originally priced at $100. Talk about customer satisfaction :)

June 21, 2006 8:09 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Major Tom, I just finished talking with my bank's credit card customer service and she confirmed that they will provide assistance to any dispute between their card holders and retailers.

Although a local bank, it must adhere to MasterCard's universal policy to protect its card holders.

Furthermore, if this pending issue I have with HP Philippines was not resolved to my satisfaction, my bank/MasterCard will go ahead with its own investigation, but this time, focus on the retailer.

June 21, 2006 9:23 AM  

Blogger tet said...

Eric, wala pang 1 hour pwede pa yang isaoli. Bad trip nga yan sa Pnas kapag ganyan ang nangyari. It happened to me before but not sandals sapatos naman. What i did is i askd my Mom to echange it for me. Hehe.. Takot lang nila. :-)

June 21, 2006 6:00 PM  

Blogger vina said...

actually, not all stores here are like that naman. there are some that really value the customers and make things easier for them.

but then, that's SM. what would you expect? even its employees are treated shabbily.

but thanks for this, señor, this would be of great, erm, reference?

June 21, 2006 6:33 PM  

Blogger NeiLDC said...

YEah we do have consumer protection...

June 21, 2006 7:07 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hahahaha! Maybe I should join forces with your mother, Tet!

That was what they told me -- that I was lucky that no more than 15 minutes have elapsed and therefore, they could still void the sale.

But the point is, Tet, be it 15 minutes or 15 hours, fact is, I got a defective product and wasn't returning them out of a whim.

The Philippines, I'm certain has enough talented programmers who can create/base their systems with those in the States or Canada, and enable reverse transactions on credit card purchases if so needed.

June 21, 2006 8:42 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I totally agree with you, Vina, that's why at the end of my post I said, "for the most part, Metro Manila merchants protect their integrity by providing great products and services."

As you know, our culture is non-litigious and we, as a people, would rather walk away from a confrontation, though sorely aggrieved. Nonetheless, we all work hard for our money, and only deserve to get and enjoy what we pay for. And that makes shopping an even more wonderful experience :)

June 21, 2006 9:00 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

That's good to know, Neil. I hope that one of these days, we'll enjoy the same here in the Philippines.

Come to think of it, this whole consumer protection thing can be summed up as "a basic exercise in common decency."

June 21, 2006 9:04 PM  

Blogger j said...

Unfortunately for me and hubby, we don't have credit cards. But I'll keep this in mind in case we get plastics again :) Tnx for the info!

June 21, 2006 10:02 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Keeping at least one may be a good idea, Jairam, especially to use when those high ticket purchases.

June 22, 2006 8:35 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i bet a lot had been victims and will be victims by that policy. so infuriating, no? like you, i would insist on having the purchase with the cc void.

June 22, 2006 11:03 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

We really ought to have a similar better business bureau here in the Philippines, Bing, where consumers can report unscrupulous practices by merchants.

June 23, 2006 6:08 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad I was of help to you. Boy was I glad. That hidden dfect rule was something that got emphasized in my head when I was in law school because it was such a law that can be useful to the public. Useful laws are such that I think should be given more attention.

June 25, 2006 12:50 AM  

Blogger Jdavies said...

There are laws that protect the Filipino consumers. It doesn't matter whether we have a similar government or independent agency tasked to pursue customer complaints... what we need is a complete change in attitude towards our rights as consumers.

We all need to be more assertive about what we paid for. It's not about laws, but culture. The law will adjust to men. We just need to start complaining to the authorities and not just to our peers.

June 29, 2006 12:44 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Point well taken, Jardine. However, in this particular case, as well as purchases with hidden defect issue, which branch of the authorities do we go to to file a formal complaint? Or does one seek out an attorney?

My main problem is being a recent transplant from NYC and not quite that well-versed with local laws and appropriate bureaus to go to.

Many thanks for your input!

June 29, 2006 1:54 PM  

Blogger shannon said...

HA! part of the reason i make credit card transactions for everything is because of teh protection it offers me. funny, this same thing happens to me more frequently than it should-- all it takes is the threat of a chargeback to change that little old "return policy!"

February 29, 2008 10:35 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Shannon,

The more people speak up and assert their legal rights, the less these merchants shall exploit us :)

March 03, 2008 7:38 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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