Credit, crunched – or, the bill that keeps on billing.

I think I’ve found the mail order company of the damned.

I’m not going to name them. I’m also not going to use them again. All I wanted to do was to buy a couple of shirts. Shopping for clothes is not something I enjoy, so I looked online, found some shirts I liked on special offer (3 for the price of 2), and tried to buy them.

Foolish, foolish man.

I chose three shirts (two denim, one corduroy – we can discuss my absolute lack of anything resembling fashion sense later), added them to the cart, and tried to check out. This is where the fun began. I entered all the details I was asked for – not, at this point, including any kind of bank card information – and clicked ‘confirm’. The next screen told me that a credit account for the merchant had been opened for me, with a spending limit of £150 and an APR of you-don’t-want-to-know; I could, however, bypass the credit account by clicking on a particular button and paying by debit card. This I did.

Does anybody else see what’s wrong with this picture? We’ve had, over the past couple of years, an endless stream of news stories about, basically, individuals/corporations/governments who have got themselves into severe financial difficulties by using too much credit, and now here’s this company effectively telling me that the only means of purchasing their goods is to open a credit account – a process which, moreover, required me to give them precisely no information about my finances, just my date of birth, address and postcode. That’s irresponsible batshit insane. I assume they checked my name, date of birth and postcode against a credit register; I didn’t agree to that, I didn’t need that to be done, and I’d never in a million years have undertaken any kind of credit agreement at the kind of APR these people offer (a whopping 39.9%).

Fast forward a few days, and the parcel arrived. Given that it was only supposed to contain three shirts, it was surprisingly large. I found out why when I opened it. Six shirts, four denim, two corduroy, three charged to my debit card and three charged to this unwanted credit account. Cynics among you may not be astonished to learn that this delightful organisation’s customer service line is an 0871 number (= 10p/minute, not covered by any kind of inclusive billing plan). The call took 35 minutes, 20 of which were spent on hold listening to the kind of muzak that makes Frank Wildhorn sound like Tchaikovsky, with periodic interruptions from a recorded voice that told me the company cared about my call. It took conversations with three different people to arrange a returns label to send the unwanted shirts back and get the billing straightened out so that they would be refunded against the credit account. I sent them back, I heard nothing more, I forgot about it.

Fast forward another couple of weeks, to yesterday, and a bill plops into the mat for this credit account, for three of these shirts. I go online, log into this credit account that I’d never asked to open… and see that, yes, they’ve received the returned shirts and refunded them to my debit card. The result – another lengthy call to the 0871 number to check that the payment had been applied correctly and get the account closed down. In the end, my attempt to avoid spending 20 minutes in Debenhams by ordering online took far longer than I’d have spent just going into town. And, really, 39.9%? That’s not an APR, it’s a stick-up. At least I like the shirts.

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