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Consumer Alert

Settling for less in product dispute is no dishonor

By Mitch Lipka
August 21, 2011

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A few readers, committed and principled consumers all, suggested that I let Brookstone off lightly last week by commending a reader who got an offer to replace his now-damaged 22-year-old chairs with new ones - but only by trading his original lifetime guarantee for a more anemic one-year warranty.

I believe consumers should get everything they deserve and hold companies to their word. I strongly encourage consumers to make a stand when they think they’ve been wronged. So it’s time to explain why I thought it was OK to accept something less than the ideal.

At some point in a fight with a company, you have to decide when continuing the battle will result in diminishing returns and when it is time to accept the outcome.

If you’re in a high-stakes dispute (like over home construction) or money is no object, you can go to court. If there’s an issue of fairness that affects a lot of people (like a company that never stocks sale items), you can turn to the attorney general’s office. Where there’s a specific dollar amount at issue, you can use a third party, such as the Better Business Bureau or the attorney general’s local consumer programs, to help reach a resolution.

But when the company is offering something reasonable - in this case, brand-new chairs to replace very old chairs - you have to consider how much leverage you have left and what your options are. I agree that Brookstone should have extended the warranty and noted that most companies (Eddie Bauer and L.L. Bean are among the exceptions) simply don’t stand behind their products the way they once did.

I recently found myself in a similar situation and had to decide at what point to stand down. The business that I felt had done me a disservice made a belated good-will gesture that didn’t erase what had happened, but took away some of the sting. And, upon further reflection, I couldn’t come up with anything else I would have wanted (or reasonably could have expected) and accepted the offer and an apology.

In the end, it isn’t about victory, it’s about fairness. I wasn’t elated, but I was satisfied. And now it’s time to move on.

Mitch Lipka of Worcester is a consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. You can find him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/MitchLipka. He can be reached at ConsumerNews@Aol.com.