Returning Something Sent To You By Mistake - Legally do you have to?

by 20 comments
I have a situation where a woman ordered a product from me and I sent her the wrong items.

She has the correct items now but is not sending the first items back.

While talking to her on the phone I told her I was going to email her a postage label. She just needed to print it out, tape it to the envelope and drop it in the mail.
She said her printer was broken and couldn't print anything. So I told her to write "return to sender" on the envelope and drop it back in the mail.
She apparently did that but then the post office returned it to her saying she needed to put postage on it.

By this time I had already sent out the corrected order - otherwise I would have put a return label in with the corrected order for her to use.

So after another phone call she decided she wants a custom item so I told her to put the photo in the envelope she was returning to me, pay for the postage and I would deduct that amount off the invoice when I charge her for the custom work.

I haven't seen then returned items yet. I doubt she has returned it and to add insult to injury yesterday I get a CC chargeback in the mail and guess who its from? Yup same woman claiming she never received her items.

So my question to you is...
What recourse do I have for getting the original (wrong) product back?
She has the correct items now.

Are there any laws out there that speak to this? I live in Arizona.

Thanks in advance for the advice.
#main internet marketing discussion forum #legally #mistake #returning
  • Profile picture of the author Jim Burney

    Not sure about the laws of Arizona so I cannot comment on that.

    My advice is to not spend any more time pursuing this matter.

    Pass it off as a learning experience.

  • Profile picture of the author getsmartt
    Debbie, understand that this is my humble opinion,

    First when you realized you had sent the wrong item to a customer, you should have immediately apologized for the situation and sent out a pre-paid, pre-addressed envelope/box for her to return the item. Asking a customer to do extra work to correct your mistake is not the best customer service.

    Now that the situation is where it is, I would still send the pre-paid/addressed envelope, I would probably send it certified/return receipt requested to insure that she receives it. I would include a letter appologizing for the inconvenience and asking her to return the items in the supplied envelope. You might also let her know that she can include the photo for the custom work in the envelope as well.

    If you don not get the items back you can take her to small claims court, but I think you would have to file suit in her area, not sure as IANAL.
  • Profile picture of the author getsmartt
    My husband seems to think that a law was passed to protect the consumer and that they are not obligated to return it or pay for it.
    The law is actually quite old and was passed to keep companies from sending unrequested items out to customers, and then charging them at a later date. The law should not apply to incorrect items shipped by accident, but again IANAL
  • Profile picture of the author Debbie Songster
    First when you realized you had sent the wrong item to a customer, you should have immediately apologized for the situation and sent out a pre-paid, pre-addressed envelope/box for her to return the item. Asking a customer to do extra work to correct your mistake is not the best customer service.
    Thank you for the slap about my customer service.

    I didn't know she got the wrong items until she received them and contacted me. Our first conversation on the phone was about that. The conversation involved me telling her that I was emailing her a return label (postage paid) - she told me her printer didn't work.
    She said she was marking it return to sender and sending it out on Monday (we talked on the weekend) I told her I would send the correct items Monday as well
    So, really the 2 packages should have been in the mail at the same time.

    I sent her package out Priority Mail (at my expense) - she has her correct items.

    I did immediately apologize - I've had no less than 5 calls back and forth to this woman to make this right as one of the items was a gift and she needed to receive it in a timely manner.
    Short of hand delivering it, I did everything I could to get it corrected items out to her and the error items back to me (the post office screwed things up - but thats another story)
    I bend over backwards for my customers. Generally I email a postal label and have them put it on the original envelope and drop it in the mail - very easy.
    I've never had a situation where items weren't returned. With this case the items that need to be returned are valuable and can't be replaced so I would really like them back.

    Her chargeback is because she is angry - that involves the post office. Thats a different matter.

    However I am wondering about the rules of returning items sent in error - whats my recourse?

    I will snail mail her a postage paid envelope. I didn't think about the fact that I hadn't recieved the item back until yesterday as she said she was mailing it back to me. I took her at her word.

    And, hey maybe it is on its way - I don't know for sure. I called her yesterday and left a message but she hasn't called back.

    In the meantime if I don't get it back, what my recourse? Thats what my original question was.
  • Profile picture of the author globalpro
    Sad to say, but most laws are slanted towards the consumer any more. I think because there have been so many businesses that have scamed people, it's gotten a bit one sided.

    I would pass it off and let it go. It sounds like you may have more in trying to get things resolved that it's worth.

    If they did a chareback on a credit card, you are pretty much out of luck. CC companies are definitely for the consumer.


  • Profile picture of the author getsmartt
    Your only recourse as far as I know would be small claims court, or have an attorney send her a letter threatening to sue if the item is not returned.
  • Profile picture of the author Debbie Songster
    Thanks James
    The law is actually quite old and was passed to keep companies from sending unrequested items out to customers, and then charging them at a later date. The law should not apply to incorrect items shipped by accident, but again IANAL
    Thats what I said to him that its in relation to unrequested items.

    I've never had a customer not return anything but I know she is angry so this might work out ok in the end.

    Just wanted to know what the options are.
  • Profile picture of the author Sam I Am
  • Profile picture of the author getsmartt
    Will she even show up? If she doesn't appear the judge will do nothing but dismiss the case. I think you'll be wasting your valuable time.
    Again IANAL, but if the Defendant does not show in a court case the judge generally finds on the Plantif's behalf. Of course if she did not show, then you would have to resort to collecting yourself or hiring a collection agency.
  • Profile picture of the author Sam I Am
  • Profile picture of the author Debbie Songster
    Sounds like the customer just got frustrated with the time and hassle of getting what they ordered - and if there were postal delays as well, that's understandable.
    Kay you are right. She is frustrated. I don't blame her. I would be pissed too.

    Ok for the those who don't read and need the complete story point by point.
    • The first time I heard it was the wrong items came from a communication from the customer. An email.
    • I called her right away (same day) to discuss what she got.
    • After talking to her I thought I had sent her someone else's order and that other person received hers (a mix up of mailing labels). This was not the case. The other customer got her order ok.
    • So this was a case of - I pulled the other womans order twice and sent one set in error to the customer we are talking about.
    • My second phone call to her was to tell her that I still had her items (no one else had them - remember I thought I had just switched labels) This call was the same night as the first.
    • We discussed how to send her correct order since it was for a gift and how she could return the "wrong" order (remember her printer is broken).
    • On the very next available shipping day, I sent by Priority Mail at my expense the correct items.
    • She marked the "wrong" shipment "return to sender" and sent it the same day I sent the correct items. This should have been the end of the problem. I have recieved "return to sender shipments".
    • It was the post office who returned the "wrong" shipment back to her instead of to me. Thats why she still has it.
    • Call #3 came from her telling me the stupid post office returned the "wrong" shipment back to her. This happened after I sent the correct order.
    • During this time she decided to get some custom work done so between the 2 of us we decided that she should put her photo in the "wrong" shipment envelope and put postage on it and when I send her the custom work I will deduct the postage she paid - I even told her I would send the custom work for free for the hassles of mixing up her order.
    • If the customer was unhappy with me at this point she wouldn't have ordered any custom work - would she?
    • Where the customer is angry - and she has every right to be - is on the second order. The Priority Mail shipment I sent on Nov 17 didn't reach her until Nov 28. A shipment that should have taken 3 days max took almost 2 weeks!
    Now something you should know. I send EVERYTHING with tracking and these products are sent insured.
    I deal with a lot of retired collectibles and so when I sell out - thats it I can't get it any more. One item she ordered is not replaceable and 2 of the "wrong" shipment items are not replaceable either.
    During the time her corrected order was MIA I talked to her several times on the phone. I fully expected her to receive her order by Wed of that week Thur at the latest (in time to give the gift) - thats why I sent it Priority Mail.
    2 of the 3 items she ordered I could send again to her the very next day and we discussed this. But, the 3rd item - she bought the last one from me and there are no more to be had - of course this was the gift.
    I also told her that everything is insured and while that doesn't help the gift idea, she was certainly covered for any loss (so doing the chargeback is totally un-necessary.)

    My standard process for this type of situation has been to immediately email a label to the customer. I have also mailed the return label with the correct shipment on larger items as I send a return box to be used as well.

    I've never had to deal with a customer keeping the "wrong" shipment items and thats what I want to talk about.

    So this situation was made horribly worse by the post office and thats why she is mad. Since she can't get any money out of the post office to ease her "pain and suffering" I'm getting the brunt of it.

    So now you know the whole story - which wasn't really necessary for you to answer my original question.

    Sam I Am - you obviously don't deal in physical goods.
    No sh*t if it was a download I would tell her to keep it for free and would probably give her the original product for free but its NOT A DOWNLOAD PRODUCT.
    I really doubt that you would have asked her to keep physical product that was worth a couple hundred $$.

    Once again - the original question was asking about returning products sent in error.
  • Profile picture of the author Chris Lockwood
    Give me a break!

    Who was it that sent the wrong item?

    I agree that the chargeback sucks, but that's a separate issue.
  • Profile picture of the author Debbie Songster
    jonb - if this was a book, I would say keep it. But its not. I have sent customers the wrong item or the wrong color with my charm store and told the customers to keep it. I send out the correct one asap and customer is super happy because they got extra product.
    But this is a little different situation due to the value of the items and the fact that all of this started on good faith.

    I have serious doubts that if any of you were in my situation that you would tell her to keep everything.

    One thing you have to remember about selling physical products is you get blamed for anything the shipping service (USPS, FedEx, UPS, DHL) does wrong.
    You could send a free item and if the post office delays it or damages it - ITS YOUR FAULT.
    So eventhough the post office took a reasonable solution to a problem and screwed it all up, the merchant (me) can't recover from that. I'm the bad guy. The post office screwed it up twice. I could probably salvage this customer on one screwup but not 3 (one for me and 2 for the post office) The chargeback speaks volumns on how this customer feels. This doesn't mean I am not going to try to work with this customer but when communication breaks down (remember we were on the phone and through email) and turns into a chargeback the chance is slim to none that she will buy from me again.

    I'm guessing most of the people on this forum deal with sales of downloadable products and not expensive physical products. Those who deal in downloads have your own headaches - a higher % of chargebacks being one of them.

    Here is a good example of what can happen with sales of physical products.
  • Profile picture of the author Sam I Am
  • Profile picture of the author KirkMcD
    The FTC Unordered Merchandise FAQ: Unordered Merchandise

    Here is the actual law:
    Unordered Merchandise Statute, 39 USC ยง 3009

    She is under no legal obligation to return the items to you. If you try to bill her or decide to sue her, you'll be in violation of the law.
  • Profile picture of the author Addie
    The consumer is going to be the one to get the break sad but true.Boy makes me rethink marketing in this way!

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