Product reviewers at CNET generally don't cover disputes between customers and Internet resellers, but a recent case revealed a new sales policy we've never seen before.
On January 26, we received an e-mail from a reader complaining about the sales policy of online reseller Home and Garden Surplus. He had ordered the LG BD390, but received an LG BD370, a step-down model with a list price $100 cheaper. The reader stated that when he complained about the switch, Home and Garden Surplus explained that its policy allowed it to make a substitution.
We're not shocked that a company would switch a product with one of a lower value--we hear reports of it all the time--but we were surprised to see that Home and Garden Surplus was actually telling the truth about its policy. On the product page for the LG BD390, it does state that the company may switch a BD370 for a BD390, although it's buried at the end of a long list of specs and there's not even a line break to separate it from the previous bullet point.
The reader who contacted us isn't the only one who's taken issue with the policy.
On the Slickdeals forum, there's a thread of people who jumped on the chance to get the BD390 at a bargain price, only to wind up getting a BD370. One of the posters on the forum also claims that three other sites (Electronic Wholeseller, Cairo Shopping Center, and Tri State Discounters) are affiliated with Home and Garden Surplus. We haven't been able to confirm that, but the site designs are extremely similar. Some quick googling also revealed that other customers (example one, example two) have run into this problem, too. The LG BD390 is also currently listed as the top seller on Home and Garden Surplus.
We contacted the company using its online contact form (we couldn't find an e-mail address) on January 26, but haven't received a reply.
At the very least, the Home and Garden Surplus incident is a strong reminder to do your research before buying from an unknown Internet reseller. It's worth pointing out that the site has a Better Business Bureau rating of C-, and that it is not a BBB Accredited Business. By comparison, better known online retailers such as Amazon and eBay are BBB accredited and have ratings of A+ and A, respectively.
On a related note, we were also dismayed by our reader's experience with PayPal in this transaction. The reader claims that PayPal required a letter from a certified expert in the field to prove that the two products are significantly different. That seems like an awfully high burden of proof for what appears to be a clear case; it doesn't take an expert to note the differing prices and features listed on LG's site.
We're following up with the reader to get more information about the dispute with PayPal, but in the meantime we're hoping PayPal will do the right thing for the reader and any other PayPal customers who were affected.
Update: The reader (commenter "izhavrid" below) has informed us that PayPal has refunded his money in this transaction. It is unclear whether this story or the letter we supplied him allowed him to get the refund.