Pololu.com will not issue me a full refund for the order I cancelled before it shipped. I got a call back from them this morning to confirm the cancellation of the order I placed after their normal business hours yesterday, but they then informed me they could not refund 3.5% of the order, the cost of credit card fees.
I was the Manager of Information Systems (and webmaster) at a busy online retailer for a number of years. We did millions of dollars a year in online sales. We never charged any such fee. I was surprised to hear about this fee on the phone, and angry, so it wasn't until after I'd argued with the manager at Pololu.com for a while and hung up that I realized what the problem was. They process the credit card transaction immediately when you place your order.
We never did that where I worked. We only processed the payment when the order was shipped. There are two parts to any credit card transaction. First the transaction is "authorized" at which point the card vendor says you have sufficient credit to fulfill your end of the bargain and the merchant is guaranteed by the credit card vendor that they'll get their money, and that amount is set aside. Then, later, the transaction is "processed" at which time the funds are actually transferred to the merchant's account.
While apparently it's not illegal to process payment before the order is shipped or service is rendered, it is against the terms of service agreements for Visa and MasterCard. I used a Visa. I have no reason to believe this vendor has any explicit exception to the Visa and MasterCard terms of service agreements, so I believe they are in violation. The TOS on the pololu.com web site (and agreement to it incorporated in placing an order) does not obviate their obligation to honor Visa's TOS.
I can appreciate that their ecommerce software, if it's cheap, might make that distinction difficult, or perhaps they simply don't know how to configure it properly, but that's not my problem. They need to change their system, their business practice, and their TOS. Until they do, I do not recommend anyone buy anything from them.
I will be happy to update this post when or if they change their policy and issue me a full refund. I'll also be happy to update this post if they can give me a true and satisfactory explanation for how they can process a payment before shipping and not violate the VISA terms of service.
UPDATE (5-5-2011): Lienna of Pololu.com responded to my follow-up email with this:
Thank you for the additional information. We were not aware of a requirement to delay the charge for an order until the shipping date but are investigating now. In the meantime, we have refunded the remaining $5.44 from your original payment. You may also still use the coupon on your next order. Please contact us again if you have any questions, remaining concerns, or new information for us. Thank you!So that's responsive at least. I revise my opinion from "find someone else," to, "use them if you can find a part, but keep an eye out and complain to the credit card company if they don't give you a full refund." Hopefully they'll revise their return policy and I can give a more enthusiastic endorsement.
Rotten apple photo courtesy of cooljinny.