WinecomIt isn’t that difficult to order wine on-line anymore  (unless you live in a state/country that expressly prohibits it).   There are a number of reputable online wine-merchants that include Winex, K&L Wines and JJ Buckley.   Among my favorite is the San Diego Wine Co.     We’ve been ordering wines for years and rarely have an issue.   So it was a bit of a shock when we tried to order from Wine.com, which bills itself as the largest on-line wine seller in the U.S., and found ourselves subjected to a bait and switch, followed by customer service stonewalling.

We pass along our experience to you because you may want to consider our experience before you choose to order wine from Wine.com.   And if you ever get something delivered by a wine seller (or any merchant) and it isn’t what you ordered,  we offer this step by step guide about how to respond:

1.    We ordered a case of wine from their site.  The label on the web page was what we wanted  (this is important…..always check that the label accompanying the wine is the one that you want.    Wine names are often tricky…..as you’re about to learn).

2.    We received the shipment from them.   They’d substituted a cheaper version of that same wine which sells for about 30% less than the specific wine we ordered.  Very uncool.   Wine merchants generally ask permission to substitute wines…..and for good reason.

3.   We called Wine.com at its customer service number and spoke to a CSR.   We notified them that they had shipped the wrong wine.  The CSR insisted that they sent the wine listed on the shipping invoice, conveniently ignoring the fact that the wine label displayed at the page offering the wine differed (albeit slightly) from the wine on the invoice.   It appeared that he was trained to argue and to never concede a fact that could undermine his position, even where that fact was indisputable.   Unsatisfied, we asked to speak to his manager.   We were assured the manager would call before the end of the day.   No call came.

4.  The next morning, the “manager” called.   She asked us to repeat the entire story and, after we presented the facts as we saw them, she indicated that she’d have to talk to her buyer and call us back later in the day.   She never called back.

5.  Sensing that a stonewall was afoot,  we used Wine.com’s customer care contact page to send a message indicated that we were not satisfied with the response to our calls and that we planned to dispute the charge with our credit card company.    We also asked that they arrange to have the case shipped back to them, as we were not going to foot the shipping bill for a wine we didn’t request.    We made sure to make a copy of the message that we sent to them — it would come in handy later when we disputed the charge.  (Note:  If you don’t have software that allows you to capture a screen shot, we urge you to do so.We rather like “Snipping Tool”.)    We received an automated reply indicated that they’d received the message but nothing else.

6.  Two days passed by and we received no further contact from Wine.com.  So we logged into the credit card company’s web site, indicated that we disputed the charge and gave the details  (when and how we contacted them, with whom we spoke, that we tried to return the merchandise and that we’d gotten no response). We provided copies of the message we sent along with screen shots of the web page at which the wine is advertised and of the wine that was actually sent.

That’s all you need to do.    Wine.com will arrange to have the wine shipped back.    If not, we’ll be re-gifting it to others.   Customers have no legal obligation to pay for the return of merchandise that they did not request.   The credit card company will reverse the charge and maybe, just maybe,  Wine.com will use this experience to re-train its CSRs and inventory control managers.   Otherwise, they will not survive long in the competition wine merchant world.

Postscript:   After our complaint to the credit card company, we received the following email from Wine.com.   To their credit, it was an appropriate and honest response:

“My apologies for the delayed repsonse, I had needed to confirm some things with our Buyers and the Content Department for our website. I have confirmed that you are indeed correct. What confusion is that we had the right wine and price listed – but the wrong label was posted on the product page. We are sorry for the confusion and that Product Page has been updated. If you are seeking a full refund for the case, I am going to need to have the shipment returned. Should I proceed with sending you a Return Label that you can print, affix to the shipment and take to FedEx? Or are you interested in an account credit for the mistake? We would be willing to let you keep the wine at $1 above cost.  I look forward to your response.”

They offered to sell the wine  at their “cost”  (which was $7 per bottle) rather than having us return it.   They were professional and responsive; it was clearly being handled by a manager who understood customer service and appreciated the confusion they’d created by mislabeling the wine.