linens n things jean chatzkyIf you're having a problem with a business, Consumer Ally can help. Write us at HelpMe@WalletPop.com.

Q. Hi, I purchased a pre-lit outdoor wreath from the new Linens 'N Things website. It was a nightmare purchase from the start. The wreath arrived and was too large for my space. It was a 10-footer, so I had to pay a pretty penny to send it back by UPS. I requested a pick-up from the company, which was made unnecessarily complicated due to the fact that they have no telephone customer service reps, only online chat and email. I followed up with an online chat after a customer service rep emailed me to tell me that they would send FedEx the next day. FedEx never showed, even though I had the item boxed and on my porch. The online chat rep was rude and extremely unhelpful. I gave up and had UPS do the pick up instead. I got an email from the company notifying me of a credit back to me of $713. The wreath cost $1,055. I immediately emailed them and rechecked the website's policy on returns. At the very bottom, it says that if the item description states so, there will be a restocking fee upon return. I checked the description of the item I purchased and there was no mention of a restocking fee. They kept nearly $350! Please help!
-- Emily ColemanA. First, a little background: This was not an easy one, because -- as you know -- Linens 'N Things makes it impossible to contact the company by phone. Following the company's bankruptcy in 2008, there are no longer any physical Linens 'N Things stores -- the company does business exclusively on its website. On that site, you will find a link for customer service, but it only offers two options: live chat or email.

But I did a little sleuthing and found that in February 2009, Linens 'N Things was purchased in a joint venture by Hilco Consumer Capital and Gordon Brothers Brands. So I reached out to Kristen Nelson, who is a marketing assistant for Gordon Brothers. She told me that while the company is an investor in the Linens 'N Things brand, operations -- like returns -- are handled by a third party. Nelson contacted that third party, and this is what she found:

"We have determined that FedEx did make two visits to the house, attempting to pick up the package. As is the case with many other retailers, some products are subject to a restocking fee if returned. However, in this case, the restocking fee was applied in error and has been fully refunded."

You'll be credited for the full amount, $1,055. But I think there's a larger issue at play here, and that's that Linens 'N Things doesn't have a phone number listed on its website. Shopping online is, for the most part, very secure, but you still have to play it safe. In general, my rule of thumb is that I don't buy from a website that doesn't have a working phone number listed. I want to be able to get someone on the line if something goes wrong. It's easy to give well-known brands a pass when it comes to this rule -- and most wouldn't even think of breaking it, because customer service is key - but this is an excellent example of why it's important to evaluate all websites very carefully before you make a purchase.

I asked Nelson why Linens 'N Things doesn't provide a phone number for customer support, and she said that the company has a "policy of responding to all customer email and chats within one business day, more often within a few hours. Customer complaints are escalated to a manager and addressed accordingly. They are known to be generous with credits and make-good coupons as they believe the customer is always right." However, she added that in response to your experience, "LNT.com's operational management team is evaluating a more streamlined customer feedback mechanism."

Let's hope it implements one quickly. In the meantime, Nelson stressed that all chat and email messages are read and replied to promptly.

Consumer Ally problem solver Jean Chatzky is the "Today Show" financial adviser, a longtime financial journalist and best-selling author.

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