A discussion about Chargebacks and Unethical Brewery Behaviors
This is a post for beer consumers and a little bit for breweries out there that have an opportunity to make better choices for their consumers. By the end of this post I hope to encourage brewers to cease their forfeiture/no refund policy, and enable you as a customer to know what to do to get your money back in the case the brewery does not.
Present Day policies
I buy beer. A lot of beer. Hyped online sales, lotto releases, brewery society/memberships and everything in between. No matter the release there’s a finite amount of time to pick up your purchase. Some can be very restrictive, “Be here on your specified date between 4:00-4:08pm” or more flexible, “Stop by in the next 30 days, you know whenever bro, it’s fine.”
While there are exceptions to what we’re going to discuss here, there are many breweries in the bottom of their order confirmation e-mail or on their website that use the verbiage “Bottles not picked up by X may/will be forfeit.”
Let’s talk about this for a moment. Breweries certainly have a finite amount of storage with which to hold customer purchases. No one will argue that. The smaller the brewery, the harder it has to be to manage these purchases with customers who may not come in for weeks, or their bumbling proxy may do so (probably without whatever extra documentation they are expected to provide.)
At some point, those beers have to move. A small quantity of breweries that I’ve witnessed will refund a customer and offer the beers to new customers. This is exactly as it should be. However, the vast majority have fed a false reality that the transaction you have taken part in with the brewing merchant has a spoilage date, and if you don’t pick up your bottles, they will be surrendered back to the brewery and you will lose what you paid for them. That last part is seldom spelled out clearly in the terms and conditions. This is because it’s generally against the merchant card acceptance policies of most major card providers.
You read that right. Some breweries are penalizing you twice in that not only is the beer you authorized a purchase for no longer yours, but the brewery is keeping your money. Does this seem fair to you? You’d be surprised how often customers accept this and move on, which is part of the reason breweries continue to do this.
So I missed the pickup date, what can I do?
Merchants that accept the most common cashless payment types, especially online, have a deep set of requirements and policies they must abide by as part of the privilege of accepting your payment via Visa/Mastercard/Amex/Discover. The rules guides can be nearly 100 pages in length. The policies are not entirely static and almost always lean towards benefiting the consumer and providing them rights. The strongest policy is that of the mechanism of a chargeback.
If you’re new to this, a chargeback is a fancy way of saying “it’s my money and I need it now.” You may have not realized you’ve done one before, in the case of there being a fraudulent and unauthorized transaction on your card. In the case we’re discussing now, fraud hasn’t been committed, but the merchant has actually likely violated the payment provider’s policy for “Goods Not Received” or in some cases “Services Not Provided.”
How to issue a Chargeback
Below is a list of steps you may choose to follow if you feel you’ve been wronged by the brewery on a purchase you’ve made. This is truly a scenario that will take time and effort on your part. It’s up to you to decide if it’s worth it for whatever money you’ve lost.
- Contact the brewery first to request a refund for the beer they have not provided. You may need this evidence in the chargeback process to show you made a good faith effort to resolve this with the merchant. Preferably, you should do this over e-mail as it will give you documentation to show you tried. Hopefully they will comply and provide your refund but if not
- Open a dispute with your bank for Goods Not Received or Service Not Provided. As much as you probably don’t want to talk to your bank on the phone, you will likely need to, to initiate a dispute. Explain the scenario to your bank as well as the context. You authorized a purchase for goods that was never provided by the merchant, and they are refusing to provide a credit or a refund for the purchase.
- You will very likely be issued a provisional credit for the total amount of the charge, or a portion of it (if it was part of a larger order for example.)
- The merchant is then required to plead their case for why they were in the right, despite violating the card issuers guidelines.
- If the merchant doesn’t plead their case or represents their side without adequate evidence, you will win and keep the provisional credit already provided in #3. If your bank or card issuer agrees with the merchant brewery, they will provisionally take the credit back and give it to the merchant, but you will then have your opportunity to present your evidence of why you should win.
- At this point you will want to fork over all information you have that helps your case. This may include the e-mail chain of your correspondence with the brewery. Did a brewery publicly post on social media about having more unclaimed beers available for sale after you forfeit them? Screenshot and provide a link if possible. Hearsay will not be your friend. Something a bartender told you or what the person at the host stand will not help you get your money back. Emails, Facebook messages and other electronic correspondence may be useful.
- After this point, the bank/issuers will make a decision which will be final (not 100%, we’ll call it 99% of the time.) You will often know the result of the chargeback process from your bank balance before the result is communicated to you by your bank, purely from the posting of the credit. They will also mail correspondence regarding the outcome.
Important things to remember
- Consider whether you should actually chargeback if you ordered something with limited shelf life like NEIPAs or fruit slurry cans. Breweries may have a short window of time to monetize that product before it becomes less desirable.
- Chargebacks are a tool for the consumer. Do not use it in bad faith. It shouldn’t be your first action when something doesn’t go your way as a customer (total Karen move.)
- Do not chargeback for fraud in the above scenario. No unauthorized card use has taken place, and you will likely lose.
- Charging back against a brewery may have ramifications such as being prohibited from making future purchases or even being banned by the brewery. You never know how an aggrieved small business owner may handle being told they’re wrong after being spanked by Visa.
- Consumers typically have around 90-120 days from the date of the charge to initiate a dispute. Some exceptions can be made and Amex has been known to be very friendly in this regard.
A Note to Breweries, meaderies, and artisan ale craftsmen
I didn’t like writing this post. If you’re selling something rare or frequently quickly sell out of items, and you know it’s something you can easily sell within a few days to general customers on site, refund your customer when they’ve not claimed the beer by the pick-up date. Double dipping by selling an item twice is an enormous douchebag move. It’s also likely to damage your relationship with that customer. Are you willing to lose a customer who may provide recurring revenue over several years to come, over the cost of one $40 bottle or a couple 4 packs of cans? Have you ever calculated what your customer acquisition costs are?
Are you ready to sacrifice a society member who will spend hundreds with your brewery each year, often before they’ve even begun buying your monthly releases? These people are your most ardent ambassadors. They may be more beneficial in touting your brand, increasing awareness and leading to new sales more than any of your $20 an hour liquor store sample dispensing promoters. Penalizing members that have made substantial commitments to your brewery is the most glaring self sabotage move.
Is your member society full? Do you have a wait list or tiers to graduate into? You might have the hottest society in craft beer right this second, but it rarely lasts. Once the shine comes off it never returns. Value your customers. Do right by them and you can cultivate a longer relationship. Spend the effort to process the refund on your point of sale. Customers will never be short on options, and there’s only so many pastry stout ideas that you can package up to keep them coming back.