COVID-19 has changed our shopping habits. With a virus on the loose, most of our buying has turned exclusively online, even for things you would normally want to see and buy in person. While in self-isolation or lockdown, you might have experienced the stinging disappointment when a TV, piece of furniture or something else you ordered finally arrives on your doorstep – damaged.
Here's what you should do if your delivery comes in less-than-optimal shape.
1. Examine the item (thoroughly)
Under normal circumstances, delivery companies would advise you to check the package for any damage before you sign off on it, and not accept the package so that it can be returned. With contactless delivery and social distancing, many consumers do not want to risk close contact with personnel and instead have the package wait outside their doorstep.
When you bring the package inside and notice a dent in the box or discover broken merchandise when you open it, you need to get to work. Take pictures to document the condition of the delivery when it arrived, as retailers will want proof. Hang onto any enclosed packing slips and return labels.
If the item is brought into your home as opposed to being left on your porch, inspect it for damage before you are asked to sign off on the delivery. This procedure is common with large products such as a couch or dining set.
2. Contact the retailer (quickly)
Most businesses have return policies on their websites, and there will typically be a section within that policy that addresses damaged or defective items. With a quick Google search, you can pull up such policies for big-name retailers like Amazon, Trendyol and Hepsiburada.
Look for information about how the damaged product should be handled. Some return policies will say customers can return products that were defective or damaged in shipping either to a store location or through the mail during the return and exchange time period. Most retailers will cover "all reasonable and customary ground shipping fees."
Report the broken item right away so the retailer doesn't think you're responsible for the damage, advises Kevin Brasler, executive editor at the nonprofit Consumers' Checkbook.
If you don't notice the damage for weeks, instead of shipping the item back to the retailer for a replacement, you may need to ship it to the manufacturer for repair.
"If it's a defective item, the store should just step up and make it right, get you a replacement item as fast as possible," Brasler says. "If it's a warranty issue – if the thing has broken since you've taken delivery – now you have to deal with the manufacturer and possibly their warranty underwriter."
3. Unpack the issue (calmly)
Once you get on the phone with a retailer – or hop into a chat with an online representative – clearly articulate how you would like the problem resolved, says Nicole Leinbach, founder of Retail Minded and an author of "Retail 101: The Guide to Managing and Marketing Your Retail Business."
"Understand what you want from that conversation so that you can best lead that conversation to a resolution," she says. Remaining calm can greatly benefit your interaction with a customer service representative. Acknowledge that your frustration is not directed at the agent but rather at the situation, Leinbach says.
Once you conclude the call, see the process through to completion. Ship the product back, if you're asked to, and stay on top of the retailer to ensure your replacement arrives in a timely manner.
If you encounter problems or are unable to communicate with the company regarding the damage and you have paid with your credit or debit card, you can request a cancellation of the payment via a simple petition to your bank's customer service. Most requests are accepted and resolved this way. The amount paid remains blocked for the duration of the inspection and then returned to the customer, after which the manufacturer or the intermediary company is left to deal with the situation. If that approach fails, you can report the retailer to Arbitration Committees for Consumer Problems.
4. Read return policies (proactively)
To save yourself time and hassle in the future, Leinbach recommends reading return policies before making a purchase. That is particularly important for large items such as furniture, which may be more of a logistical challenge to send back.
"Understanding the return policy upfront is so important to any online purchase decision," Leinbach says.
Similarly, keep time frames in mind. Ask yourself questions like, when is the product expected to be delivered? Will you be home? Will you be able to inspect it before the return window passes?
Even if a damaged product arrives on your porch before you've done your due diligence, you can still follow the steps above to make things right.
The good news? Many companies have favorable policies. It will just take a little extra work on your end to follow them.