Monday 2 April 2012

When the pleasure of winning turns into a pain

Most of us compers know the pleasure of winning something. It doesn't have to be a huge prize - a book, a DVD or some other small treat can brighten up the dullest of days. But what happens when a promised prize doesn't arrive, or turns out not to be what you expected?

If a prize doesn't arrive, the first thing you need to do is WAIT. Guidelines for promoters suggest that they should send out prizes  within 28 days of contacting the winners, so don't start to get anxious after a week, unless the prize includes tickets to an event coming up very soon. Most of the time, the person or business running the competition doesn't physically have the prize there to send out - they need to send your details to a PR who then has to send them to the people providing the prize who then have to contact their suppliers..... all these things take time and if one person somewhere along the chain is off sick or on holiday the whole system is thrown into chaos.

After 28 days, send a polite letter or email to the person who originally contacted you, saying  the prize hasn't arrived and asking when you can expect it. It may be that it has already been sent and gone astray on the way, in which case they can follow it up with the carrier or Post Office, or there may have been a hold up which they can explain to you. Or even - and this does happen - somebody along the line may have completely forgotten and needs to have a  reminder. At this stage, don't phone unless the only contact you have with them is a phone number. It's better  to put everything in writing and make sure you save copies.

If you were notified by phone or text and don't have the contact details, try looking at the promoter's website - there should be a  way of contacting them in the "About us" or "Contact us" section of the site.

Most of the time this will be all you need to do - any problems in the supply chain will be cleared up and your prize  will arrive.  Unfortunately in  the current economic climate, it could be that a company somewhere along the chain has gone out of business - if that has happened, you will probably lose the prize. As far as creditors go, prize winners are at the very bottom of the heap.

If you don't get any help - or maybe even any response  - from the promoter, I'll tell you how to take things further, but first let's look at what to do if you receive your prize but aren't satisfied with it.

If your prize arrives damaged or broken then contact the promoters as above. If it was damaged before leaving them, they should repair or replace it just as if you had bought it in a shop - you don't forfeit any rights just because you didn't pay for it! And if it was damaged in transit they need to claim  against the carrier and organise a replacement for you.

If your  prize is not as described - first of all, check that it really IS not as described. Get hold of the original entry details and terms and conditions if you can. As a special service to Grape Vine subscribers, I keep a copy of the full terms and conditions of every competition  I cover in the magazine, where practicable, until 12 months after the closing date, and current subscribers are always welcome to contact me for a copy. You may find that the description in the small print doesn't tally with that on the picture  - the description in the terms and conditions is the one you should be guided by. If the promoter has been unable to get hold of the prize described, they should replace it with one of AT LEAST the same value as that originally advertised.

Be careful when deciding whether your prize is worth as much as they said it would be - the price they quote to attract entries is usually the highest you could ever expect to pay. Shopping around for goods will almost always yield lower prices, an any savvy shopper knows, so you may find major chains and websites selling the same product for anything up to a third less than the quoted value.

It's particularly difficult when it comes to holiday competitions. Imagine you have won a holiday prize that you are told is worth £5,000 but you look in the brochure and find you could have bought the same length of time at the same hotel and travelling on the same flight for £3,000. You may feel cheated. But your prize will have been costed out as if you had booked the room directly with the hotel and the flight separately with the airline, in both cases not taking advantage of any special offers. In a brochure, massive economies of scale will have been made by block booking both flights and hotel rooms, which can easily explain a difference of 30-40% in the price.

If you are still certain the prize is not as described, contact the person who first told you about your prize, as described above. Be polite and friendly - if you are at all aggressive or officious they are less likely to try to help - and act as if you are assuming a genuine mistake has been   made rather than implying you think they are trying to cheat you out of something. Niceness generally works a lot better than nastiness!

If you need to take things furtherInstitute of  Promotional Marketing  giving them a brief outline of your problem, and what steps you have taken so far, and telling them, if appropriate, that you have letters/emails to back up your claim.  The online form to start your complaint process can be found here.

The IPM may be able to investigate on your behalf, or they may direct you to contact your local Trading Standards Office   or the Advertising Standards Authority.

Hopefully one of them will be able to sort out the problem for you, but sometimes you need to decide when to give up. Only a few weeks ago, I finally gave up on a prize.  Back in December, I won £100 to spend on a website. I was a little bit dubious as it was a site I had never heard of - the competition had been on a "sister" site with a different name, and I had thought I was entering for a prize to spend on that site. When I visited the site my voucher was for, they only had two items under £100, a t-shirt and a bottle of perfume, both at around £90. I presume the "prize" was really intended as a discount voucher and they had hoped I would buy a £599 bracelet or a £1,249 handbag. My suspicion grew when I was asked to pay £7.50 postage, even though the perfume I ordered came to less  than the value of the voucher.

Then I waited for my perfume to arrive. And I waited, and waited, and waited. Christmas came and went,  the 28 days came and went, and still no perfume. So I emailed them. The reply was "Oh, it was despatched, but we are based overseas and your parcel was refused by customs and returned to us."
Me: "Why didn't you tell me? Why wasn't I contacted?"
Them: "Well you hadn't paid for it so we didn't think it was necessary."
Me: "That's a pretty shabby way to treat a prizewinner. And anyway, I paid the postage."
I got no further reply, just a £7.50 refund on my credit card.
And it was no use complaining to the IPM or any other organisation, because the company providing the prize was based overseas and outside their jurisdiction. Sadly if you win a prize from somewhere based outside the UK, even if you weren't aware at the time that they aren't in the UK (in this case, all the prices on the site were quoted in £ and the competition had only been open to UK residents), if things go wrong you have no rights at all!

I think I'd better write about something more cheerful next time!

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