Coupon sites are great, aren’t they? Some tempting offers mixed in with dubiously exaggerated deals, they are the ultimate impulse buy one-stop shop. I’ve bought various offers over the years, everything from cupcakes (but not from Cudo) to rounds of golf. Maybe I've just been very lucky, but I haven’t encountered any problems when redeeming a coupon. Until now. And not just a problem. This is the first time I’ve encountered outright deceit.
Back in April, Catch of The Day was offering a Vistaprint coupon: pay $15 for $75 worth of Vistaprint items. (The offer ran again as recently as September 25 2012.)
As I was in the process of setting up a new business, I thought $15 to experiment with some items sporting my new logo was worth a try, so I grabbed a coupon. The coupon expired in mid-October.
Last week, I tried to use the coupon. I clicked on the link in the email but was told the page couldn't be found and was automatically redirected to the main Vistaprint site.
So I went through the site, selected a few things and got to the checkout. My total was $75.69 (before postage). I was happy to pay the outstanding amount (69c) and the postage with a credit card.
At the checkout, it asked if I had a coupon, so I entered the code. So far, so good.
But the next thing that happened surprised me. It said my balance was $28.44. Huh? Surely my balance was only 69c, right?
Convinced there was a problem with my coupon, I called Vistaprint and explained the situation. The customer service rep who answered my call wasn’t sure what the problem was, so went off to investigate. And when she came back, what she told me left me reeling.
I’m not even going to try to quote her exact words because Vistaprint records conversations with people (coaching and training purposes, anyone?) and I don’t. But this is what it came down to. I was told that when you buy from Vistaprint with a coupon of some kind, you are directed to enter the site via a specific URL. The prices displayed on the site will now be “different”.What a staggering admission!
It’s not hard to see that by “different”, Vistaprint actually meant “much higher”, although when I put that to the customer service rep who answered my call, she answered: “it depends on the product”. What it ultimately means that come the end of your transaction, you are required to pay a significantly higher balance. In my case, it was more than 40 times the actual amount I should have owed.
In no uncertain terms, I informed the customer service rep this was a complete scam, that I would be informing the relevant Australian consumer authorities, and demanded I speak to a supervisor. I was put on hold. After 20 minutes and 18 seconds on the phone, they hung up on me.
So if Vistaprint didn’t want to speak with me, then my next stop was Catch of the Day who sold the offer in the first place. Was Catch of the Day aware of these practices? Did they condone them? Do such actions tarnish the reputation of its own site?
Nabil El-Hissi, senior legal counsel for the Catch Group, was quick to point out that the company "takes its obligations under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) very seriously and has appropriate processes in place to ensure its compliance with the ACL in its day to day business.”
"The Catch Group is not aware of 'these practices' nor does it 'condone them', and we have now commenced our investigations into this matter and we will revert to you once we have concluded these. I would like to stress that the Catch Group is focused on giving its customers a positive customer experience and we will be in contact with you regarding this matter in due course."
I went back to my Vistaprint shopping cart to capture some screen grabs but I was too late. Guess what I found?
Vistaprint had made my entire order FREE. The site had changed the total amount owing to $77.97, crossed it out, and had now written FREE. The original $28.44 amount "owing" had been wiped. So had the 69c I actually owed.
Everything was free, free, free, FREE. No explanation. Just FREE. Why would Vistaprint do that? Your guess is as good as mine.
The lesson for everyone? Stand up for your rights. Don't put up with excuses or a ridiculous run-around to claim something you've paid for.
Have you ever had problems redeeming a coupon bought from a daily deals site? Let us know in the comments below.
Roulla Yiacoumi is a widely-published Australian technology journalist who is absolutely fed up with the utter crap companies try to put over consumers.