Really steamed about a quilt he can’t return

Ed Phillips/Shutterstock
Ed Phillips/Shutterstock
Question: I ordered a quilt from recently. I’ve ordered from them before and always been very happy both with price and quality.

This time, the quality of the item was very poor. I contacted SmartBargains in writing and within 48 hours of receiving the item via their website for a return authorization. Their site says you must have a return authorization to return the item. No response.

After about one week, I contacted them again. No response. A couple days after that I sent yet another email, stating that I was a loyal customer and that they were alienating me by not getting back in touch. No response.

I just want to return this item and get a refund. They are ignoring me. I don’t know what else to do. I am doing this in writing so that there isn’t a “he said she said” regarding phone calls. Unfortunately, the emails to them is through an online system on their site, so I don’t have records of my emails. I’m really steamed. Can you help?

Thanks again for everything you do. — Peter Zapalo, Colorado Springs

Answer:’s return policy looks fairly standard. It says you need a so-called “Return For Inspection” number before you can return merchandise, which is more or less the same thing as a return authorization. The key to making this work is that the site actually must respond to your request for a RFI number, which apparently didn’t happen.

I wouldn’t be so quick to judge SmartBargains. Sometimes, RFI numbers and other refund-related emails are automatically generated by an inventory system, and the email you received from the company may have been accidentally tagged as “spam.” Unless you specifically “whitelist”, you might have not seen the email, which is not the company’s fault.

But making it difficult to contact the company was within’s control. Finding someone higher up the food chain proved to be something of a challenge. With a little sleuthing, you’ll learn that SmartBargains is owned by a company called Rue La La. More digging will reveal that Rue La La doesn’t really go out of its way to connect with you, except maybe if you want to buy one of its products or to tell it how much you love it via social media.

In trying to find the right contact, I tracked down several previous owners, including a large investment firm and eBay, but the conclusion was inescapable: Unless you’re a journalist who wants to write a flattering story about Rue La La’s business model — and there are apparently plenty — they don’t want you to have an easy way to reach them.

In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say the company has gone to great lengths to not hear from its customers, based on the number of complaints I see online.

I decided to walk through the journalist door and contacted Rue La La on your behalf. The company responded immediately to you and this time its email reached you without any trouble. Unfortunately, since you didn’t return the merchandise before 30 days, SmartBargains will charge you 20 percent “restocking” fee.

I don’t think that’s too smart, but then again, it’s better than making you keep the shoddy merchandise that you should have never received in the first place.

Did SmartBargains do enough for Peter Zapalo?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

More Posts - Website - Twitter - Facebook - LinkedIn - Google Plus

  • y_p_w

    Sounds like a company to avoid.

    I do remember a friend once helped me find’s almost impossible to find customer service phone number, where I was connected directly to someone based in the US. However, they otherwise do have an easy to use live chat feature, although I’ve gotten the sense that one person might have been juggling several customers at the same time.

  • D

    Chargeback on the credit card?

  • Matty B.

    So…because the company actively avoided a customer trying to return merchandise, they get to charge that guy 20 percent restocking fee? I’d dispute that charge for sure.

  • FishySounding

    You buy from a company who offer ZERO contact information on their website (other than an 877 number) and you are simply rolling the dice. Yes, they screwed the OP but really, with these outfits you win some you lose some.

    You can try the owners of the domain but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were an empty office or a PO box.

    RuLaLa is going to be no help.

    This is kinda like the guy who steps off the curb in a busy city texting. Do you really blame the car driver?

  • Chasmosaur

    You’ve never seen ?

  • polexia_rogue

    i agree. when shopping online people need to do research; what will happen if i need to return this?- how many steps are required? will i even be able to return this?

    when i needed to buy a trac cover (medical device) it costs 25 dollars on a strange discount site but 40 dollars on ebay, amazon and a few other places. I bought it on ebay and it arrived in perfect condition 2 days later.

    people who go for a “cheap for the sake of cheap” site get no sympathy

  • Alex

    Are we looking at the same website? It does show the toll-free number on the top of each page. But, click “Help” and then “Contact Us” and you get a contact form, a direct email address, and a physical address.

    That’s hardly “ZERO” contact information.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Amazon has some of the best customer service I’ve encountered. A package was delivered but never received and I was going out of the country in days. The agent arranged to send another package and simply said, “If the first one shows up, mail it back to us.” So good.

  • Grant

    Re: the statement that “the emails to them is (sic) through an online system on their site, so I don’t have records of my emails,” here’s a suggestion… copy the message and email it to yourself before submitting the original through the online system. That way you’ll have dated copies of all your submissions.

  • BillCCC

    This does seem to be a company that I would want to do business with. The very least they could have done after ignoring the customer was to give a full refund. When I send an email I usually ask for a delivery receipt and a read receipt.

  • Blackadar


  • Carver Clark Farrow

    When I send an email I usually ask for a delivery receipt and a read receipt.

    Unfortunately that does not appear to have been an option as the email was sent through the website.

  • Guest

    This was my thought too. While the item may not have been returned within the 30 days, the OP initiated the return process within the time limit. It is the company’s fault the merchandise did not get returned in the time limit. Charge back or even small claims if they charge the restocking fee.

  • anniebean

    Two thumbs up for Amazon’s customer service. A few months ago I had ordered a 6 pk of pill pockets for my cat from one of Amazon’s sellers. When the box arrived, it wasn’t the flavor I ordered but I stupidly had let what I had get so low that I had to open one of the packages. I used Amazon’s feedback tool and reported the issue including that I had to open a package so I didn’t feel like I could ask to return the order. Not only did Amazon refund the entire price, but they let me keep the product too. Now that’s how to treat a customer so they’ll come back!

  • AlecM

    I love Amazon’s live chat – much prefer it to phone – and have had great help when I needed it.

  • EdB

    “When I send an email I usually ask for a delivery receipt and a read receipt.”

    On email programs that offer these features, be aware they are not part of the email protocol (smtp) and depends on the email server/reader at the other end to support it. And all the ones I have seen that do, allow you to configure them not to respond. I use that option on my readers.

  • darthcreep

    FYI, according to their Facebook page, Rue La La has not been affiliated with SmartBargains since March 2012.

  • doctork

    Chris, I have put SmartBargains in my Avoid list and will notify friends on FB to do the same. Your action in letting readers know and asking them to spread the word is best.

  • Mike

    So you felt response for over 30 days and then charge a restocking fee for late return. You reward yourself for bad customer service. What a great short term business model. Sure hope they go out of business soon.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Sounds like another scammy interweb fakeo business.

  • MarTD

    >> I wouldn’t be surprised if they were an empty office or a PO box.
    Network Solutions offers a service where you can hide owner information by giving its own address as the owner of a domain. So, going to Who Is to find who owns the domain will give you network solutions instead of the owner. Sounds odd that a business would use that service. It’s a red flag.

  • John Baker

    Not really. I use it for about half my URLs. It cuts down on the amount of soliciting / spam that I get but I also don’t take internet orders and post phone number, email and physical address on my website.
    In the case of fraud ICANN (the controlling internet agency) still requires that the registrar pass along the owners info. Just not as easy to do.

  • emanon256

    Wow, I will make sure to never use SmartBargains if this is how they treat a long term customer. I don’t see how anyone could vote Yes in this poll. They send a faulty product, and have a 30 have return policy. The customer contacted them immediately multiple times, and the company ignored him, finally with the help of a Consumer Advocate they agreed to accept the return with a 20% restocking fee since it took longer than 30 days to get a response? Did I hear that right?

    I am usually against credit card disputes, but in this case I would go for it! This company is committing outright fraud in my book. Sending junk, then keeping some of the money.

    Reminds me of the time I bought an HDMI cable on and the shipping was $20 and the cable was $0.99. The cables were $25+ elsewhere, so I thought I was getting a good deal, but was confused why the shipping and cable cost seemed reversed. Then I got a USPS envelope with a scrap of cable, not the actual cable I ordered, just a piece of scrap. I contacted and was told I could return it for a refund, but shipping was not refundable, and I also had to pay return shipping. Since it used a regular stamp, I did send it back the same way. I also argued with and they told me it was fulfilled by a third party seller, so they have no control. I ended up doing a credit card dispute and winning, though it took some back and forth as tried to argue that the order was valid, but I had taken a photo of the sellers postage which was a 1oz standard rate, and a picture of the wire scrap. I have never used since.

  • emanon256

    I had a problem where I ordered 9v batteries that were “Guaranteed Fresh for 5 years” according to the page, the price was really good, so I stocked up and got enough for our smoke detectors for the next 5 years. The third party seller send batteries that were expiring within 2 years. I e-mailed amazon and asked if they could let me return 3/5 of the batteries since they would expire before I could use them. They said that while that would be nice, they would prefer to give me a 100% refund on all of the batteries and let me keep them and I can just order more when I am ready. I was shocked, they went way over and beyond to make a bad situation too good.

  • pauletteb

    Thanks for the story . . . and for yet another company to add to my “don’t buy from these jerks” list!

  • pauletteb

    The best thing about live chat: You don’t have to worry about trying to decipher someone’s accent, yours or theirs.

  • emanon256

    Not only does the site have contact information, a contact form, and a
    clear return policy; the customer has also done prior business with
    them. I don’t fault the OP one bit here.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I’m kinda curious…did the OP ever check his spam folder to see if the company actually did send him an RFI number? That was really a very good suggestion – you’d be surprised how often this happens. I check my spam folder regularly, and find an amazing amount of non-spam emails in there.

    FTR, even if they did send him an RFI number that went into spam oblivion, that doesn’t excuse how hard they make it to contact them, or the 20% restocking fee. That fee was actually a pretty dumb thing. They likely cost themselves way more in future business than they collected with that fee, due to the bad publicity here.


    The clue might be the word “smart”

  • ExplorationTravMag

    I’ll never do business with a company that’s that hard to reach. I’ve read so many articles that say that’s red flag #1 it’s a scam.

  • y_p_w

    That was a few years ago. Now they actually have their customer service line displayed on an easy to find customer service page. I understand the consequence now is that one probably will have to wait.

    When it was a “secret” hardly anyone called so you’d get a live person almost immediately.

  • Chasmosaur

    That’s good…but GetHuman is still one of my favorite sites. Best way to bypass infuriating phone trees :)

  • Miami510

    This is a story about a seller who just doesn’t give a damm. I’m curious about the 2% (12) readers who think the company acted properly. I’d certainly like to read what they have to say in justifying their response.

  • EdB

    They probably feel that the company finally responded and offered a refund, even if it was only 80%, they have done all that is required. It doesn’t matter that the company basically played hide-and-seek with the customer or that it took the help of a consumer advocate to get the response. The fact they eventually respond was good enough.

    Or they could just be trolls that like voting the opposite way of the major just to get these types of replies. :)

  • Joe_D_Messina

    I’ve never had any confidence in that feature outside of a business setting where everybody was part of the same network.

  • emanon256

    Thank you for sharing that!!! I love it!!

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    My suspicion is that had the company actually responded to the OPs email, that would have been the first thing that the would have told Chris.

  • LFH0

    It took me about five minutes to find the real contact information for Starting with a “whois” search I learned that the registrant of the website is, LP, 20 Channel Center Street, Third Floor, Boston, MA 02210, (617) 695-7300, Fax (617) 695-7391; and that the administrative contact is the CIO of RueLaLa, located at the same address in Boston. Going to the website of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, found that RueLaLa, Inc. was previously known as Retail Convergence, Inc. (that name having been changed on Sept. 28, 2010). From the same Secretary’s website I found out that, LP subsequently changed its name to Retail, LP on March 12, 2008. The partnership’s general partner (which has full liability) is a corporation known as, also located at the same address in Boston. Finally, I found that both RueLaLa, Inc. and, Inc. have the same management team. That is, Steven C. Davis is the president, Marguerite Hill is the secretary, Philip Roizin is the treasurer, and Benjamin D. Fischman is the chief executive officer.

    As for the refund, it appears to me that the quilt was tendered to the company within 30 days, and it was the company’s fault that it did not receive the quilt within 30 days. The fault of company should not be imputed to consumer. Under these circumstances there should be no restocking fee.

  • Zod

    Companies who do this should be shamed publically

  • darthcreep

    This is not correct.

    Rue La La is not affiliated with SmartBargains anymore. Smartbargains corporate address is Corporate Headquarters.

    Alternate Business,,, ILS Holdings, LLC, LP Watch Group, Lucien Piccard Watch Group,, Swiss Watch International, Inc., The Watchery, World Of Watches, LLC, SWI Group, the, CDT,,,,,,,,,,,, W.O.W.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Wow. Nice sleuthing!

  • Christopher Elliott

    How confusing. Thanks for the additional information.

  • mbods

    After reading this, who would ever purchase anything from them? Tsk, tsk!

  • Tones

    This reminds me of an experience I had with; I’ve never gone on that website since this happened, as it STOLE money from me.

    Short version: I ordered a product… they shipped me an entirely different, totally unrelated product… I sent it back and got a refund of both the price and shipping. I re-ordered (I believe the “fulfilled by…” or similar was a different company than the first order), but the same thing happened. When I contacted them, they refunded the item amount but refused to refund the shipping. So, I paid $4-$5 for a guitar shoulder strap I never ordered and did not want. And no, I had no takers on ebay!

    I had a mind to escalate the issue, but did not want to waste more of my time. However, I do enjoy posting about it here… :) Down with!

  • EdB

    Did you try filing a charge back with your credit card. I would think it would be an easy win for you since it was not what you ordered. I had a similar problem with a merchant who sent the wrong item and wanted me to pay for the return shipping. I contacted the card issuer and shortly after that, I got a prepaid return shipping label and a refund.

  • emanon256

    I has a sort of similar issue with hem and posted it earlier today. I agree, they are very scammy there. I won’t use them anymore.

  • Peg

    Watch the shipping on products now. Some sellers state they don’t guarantee the product once it’s in the shipper’s hands. What the heck?!!! So what happens if it’s lost or damaged during shipping? Seller isn’t responsible and the buyer is SOL.

  • cahdot

    i have dealt with rue la la’s customer service for problems in the past and have had a great experience ..which compared to other companies is a good thing… so surprised to not have them do better for the quilt co they own.. otherwise they seem to be on it…

  • Bettina

    I do not think they should charge the restocking fee, since he tried, without success to return the item prior to the end of the 30 day period. To now penalise him for their shoddy system is ludicrous. If I were the customer, this would be the last time ordering from them.

  • Molly

    That’s awful! They’re charging him a restocking fee because it’s 30 days, when they ignored his emails that were sent in a timely manner??? Wow, I’ve purchased from them before, and never had a problem with the quality of an item, but they’ve now lost me forever as I now know if something isn’t right, I’ll be sent into a black hole of red tape. Sheesh!
    Not only is it outrageous that they’re charging him 20%, it’s outrageous that he needed to contact you for something so simple.
    That said, I would personally have been a bit more aggressive myself before contacting Chris Elliot. When my first email went unanswered, instead of sending more, I would have called customer service and spoken to a supervisor and gone from there. I also would have done some of the steps Chris did – that is, look them up online, see who the parent company is and worked my way up the food chain. If that didn’t resolve it, that’s when I would have called in Chris.
    Chris, you work miracles, and I know I speak for many others, that we so appreciate what you do. However I think that the OP here should have taken a few more steps on his own behalf before contacting you.
    I agree that writing shows a “paper trail”, but in this case, it didn’t do any good.