PROBLEM SOLVED: She returned her merchandise to Pottery Barn, but where’s her refund?

By Christopher Elliott

When Virginia Cepero returns two chairs to Pottery Barn, the company doesn’t fully refund her. One year later, she’s locked in a battle with the company and Capital One. Is there a way out?

Q: I ordered two chairs from Pottery Barn and returned them more than a year ago. But Pottery Barn now says I still owe it for the chairs. I also have interest and late fees on Capital One, my credit card. My credit is being negatively affected because they are showing the account is past due. Can you help? — Virginia Cepero, Miami

A: It looks like you returned the chairs to Pottery Barn, but it gets confusing after that — really confusing.

The company says it issued a partial credit, but your refund was $755 short since you wanted them to cover late fees and interest from Capital One. When you didn’t receive the refund you expected, you initiated a credit card dispute. And that made things even more complicated.

It looks like Pottery Barn’s dispute department contacted you and presented you with its own accounting of the purchase, return, dispute and refund. According to its records, it had already fully refunded you.

One of my advocacy team members, who is an expert on credit card charges and fees, reviewed the back-and-forth between you and Pottery Barn. There were layers upon layers of fees, charges, chargebacks and partial credits. He couldn’t make sense of it, and neither could I.

Here’s what I do know: A credit card dispute should be one of the last things you do when questioning charges from a company. I like to call it the nuclear option. If your bank finds in your favor, you get all your money back. But if it doesn’t, you may need to go to small claims court to get relief. The regular customer service channels might be closed to you once you’ve filed a dispute. So be careful about going down this path.

Also, I’m not sure if refusing to pay your credit card bill is the way to resolve this dispute. After a year, Capital One had heaped late fees into your account and your credit score had begun to suffer, according to you. There’s a better way to fix this problem.

Sometimes, a short but polite email to an executive can get your complaint reviewed by someone at a higher level. I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the Pottery Barn executives on my consumer advocacy site, (Pottery Barn is owned by Williams Sonoma.) I recommended that you try contacting them in writing.

You did, carefully and politely outlining your arguments for why Pottery Barn still owed you $755.

“That same day I got a call from someone at Williams Sonoma, and the credit was issued immediately,” you reported. “Capital One immediately removed the late fees and interest. My account is now at zero.”

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer for Elliott Advocacy. Email him at [email protected] or get help with any consumer problem by contacting him at