Hassles of Christmas shopping

December 25 2009 by Ellen Roseman

It’s the time of year when you buy gifts for others (and yourself, too, when prices drop), and find mistakes or glitches make shopping even more stressful than it is already.

I’m posting a few laments from frustrated shoppers below, starting with one that could have been sad — when an automatic bank machine didn’t dispense the required amount — but had a happy ending when the bank relented (with a little prodding).

Please contribute your own stories, as you make your way through the Boxing Day sales.


  1. AE

    Dec 25 2009

    A malfunctioning ATM failed to dispense my husband $2,000 of hard earned cash the week before Christmas and CIBC was not doing anything about it.

    My husband is a truck driver, on the road working hard. The following presents his detailed account of what happened.

    CIBC presents, The Grinch That Stole Christmas

    On Saturday, Dec. 19, CIBC presented a new and modern interpretation of the holiday classic, “The Grinch That Stole Christmas”. This wasn’t a TV show or movie. It
    wasn’t animated and there were no funny looking costumes. It was a real life production involving a hard working guy trying to provide for his family and a merciless bank that pulled the rug right out from under him.

    On Dec. 19, I took a few hours off to buy some Christmas presents for the kids and take my wife out to dinner. Of course, there were bills to pay too.

    I went to the bank machine to make a withdrawal. A big withdrawal, $2,000 to be exact; the most the machine will let me take out in one transaction. Everything proceeded normally at first.

    I could hear the machine counting the bills. The message flashed on the screen, “Please remove your cash and receipt.” Just one problem; the machine didn’t actually
    dispense the cash or the receipt. Yet the message kept flashing, “Please remove your cash and receipt.”

    As the seconds ticked by, my unease grew to alarm and then borderline panic. I searched frantically for a customer
    service number, found it, called them on my cellphone and waited on hold for a while.

    The minutes passed by and still the machine continued
    to flash the message, “Please remove your cash and receipt.”

    Finally, I got a customer service representative on the line. “No problem,” he said. “We can have the IT department reset the machine and then your money will dispense. It will just take a few minutes. In the meantime, don’t leave because the money could be dispensed at any moment.”

    I waited and waited and waited. The adjacent machine was rebooted, but the machine I had used continued to show the message, “Please remove your cash and receipt”. The cash didn’t come.

    Another call to customer service. “No problem, if the machine doesn’t actually dispense the money, then it won’t be deducted from your account.”

    I logged into my account from my cellphone and saw that the money had indeed been deducted from my account. I made a quick call home to my wife to explain the situation, then we both called the bank, hoping one of us would miraculously find the right person, the one with the know-how to fix the problem and get me my money.

    Can I speak to a supervisor?

    “No, you don’t need to speak to a supervisor for this.”

    Can a supervisor call me back?

    “No, we don’t make outbound calls. We only take inbound calls.”

    Can’t you make an exception for this? I’ve got a prepaid cellphone and I’m running out of minutes from being placed on hold so many times. Can you please have someone capable of dealing with the problem call me back?

    “No, we don’t make outbound calls.”

    After more than an hour, the machine was finally rebooted by the bank’s IT department. This succeeded in clearing the “Please remove your cash and receipt” message, but did not succeed in getting me my cash or in restoring the money to my account.

    I can’t begin to find the words to describe my frustration as one phone call after another failed to achieve any positive result. The closest I got to a resolution of the problem was that the bank would “investigate” the matter.
    The investigation will last for an undetermined amount of time, possibly 10 business days (hmmm, quick math – that’ll be sometime in January of the new year).

    IF (yes, that’s right, IF!!!!) they conclude that the bank machine malfunctioned, and IF they determine that the money was not dispensed, I would PROBABLY see the money credited back into my account in the near future.

    Are you kidding me? I need that money now, not sometime next year!

    “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    I’ve got bills to pay. I’ve got a family to provide for. I’m trying to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.

    “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    My wife isn’t working right now. We had a baby this year and she’s staying home with the kids. I’m the sole breadwinner in this house right now and I NEED that money.

    “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    It’s almost Christmas. How am I supposed to put presents under the tree if I don’t have money to buy them?

    “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    I’ve been standing outside in sub-zero temperatures for more than an hour waiting for this machine to spit out my money. I can’t leave for even a minute in case the money does come out and someone passes by and snatches it.

    I’m suffering from a really bad cold, possibly laryngitis, and I’ve almost completely lost my voice. I’ve made numerous calls to the customer service department and nobody has fixed the problem.

    “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    I’ve got my three year old son with me. He’s shivering in the cold and doesn’t understand why we can’t leave. I had to pull down his pants and help him pee on the sidewalk because he couldn’t hold it any longer and there was
    nowhere else to go.

    “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    I was supposed to take my son to his grandmother’s house tonight for a sleepover. He’s been looking forward to it for weeks. I was going to take my wife out to dinner so she could have a break from cooking every night. Now I won’t have time to do either one because I need to be at the airport tonight to meet a flight and I can’t be late.

    “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    CIBC has deducted money from my account and has not provided me with the corresponding cash. In essence, the bank has stolen my money. I think that goes well beyond a mere inconvenience.

    “Is there anything else we can help you with today?”

    Anything else? ANYTHING ELSE? You haven’t even helped me with this problem yet and you want to know if there’s ANYTHING ELSE you can help me with?


    The bank wasn’t out there driving that truck. I was!

    The bank wasn’t putting in 16 hour days and then sleeping in the truck instead of a nice warm bed at home. I was!

    The bank wasn’t working seven days a week to provide for my family. I was!

    The bank wasn’t driving all night to get the load delivered on time for a 5:00 am appointment. I was!

    The bank wasn’t down there in Buffalo the night 10 inches of snow fell and turned the roads into parking lots. I was!

    The bank wasn’t running down I-90 the day hurricane-force winds were blowing trucks over onto their sides. I was!

    The bank wasn’t sitting in mile-long backups to get a load across the border. I was!

    The bank wasn’t shivering outside in rain, snow, sleet and biting winds to inspect and maintain my equipment to ensure it would get safely down the road. I was!

    The bank wasn’t sacrificing quality time with the family just to make ends meet. I was!

    The bank wasn’t the one who had to swallow the lump in his throat after hearing over the phone about his daughter’s first steps instead of being there to see it firsthand. I was!

    The bank wasn’t the one rushing in late for his son’s preschool Christmas pageant and then rushing straight back out for another night’s work. I was!

    That’s my money. I worked hard for it. I made sacrifices for it. The bank has no right to take my money right out from under my nose and then just shrug their shoulders and say “sorry for the inconvenience, but there’s nothing we can do to help you right now.”

    As angry as I am with the lack of help I got from these so called customer service representatives, I honestly hope they never see the day when a giant, faceless, money-loving corporation steals their money and says “Sorry for the inconvenience.” I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    I understand that technical glitches can occur with an ATM just as they can with any machine. I’m not angry about that. I’m angry with the bank’s response, or rather, their lack of response to the issue.

    If they ever do complete their investigation, I’m not sure how they will contact me since they don’t have my name, address, or phone number. In fact, they repeatedly
    REFUSED to take my phone number. Apparently, CIBC policy does not allow OUTGOING calls from the customer service department.

    Does this bank even know what the term “customer service” means?

    If my truck gets a flat tire, I don’t tell the customer “I’ve got a flat tire so I can’t deliver your load today. I’ll try to get it fixed next week or possibly the week after. You should get your load sometime next month.
    Sorry for the inconvenience.”

    HELL, NO!!! That’s not customer service. That’s not how I treat my valued clients. I call them and apologize for the delay. I tell them the service truck has already been called and should be here soon. I say I’ll get it
    fixed no matter what the cost and if that means I lose money on this load, so be it.

    I say, the repair shouldn’t take long and as soon as I get rolling I’ll call back with my ETA. That’s what I call customer service! That’s what I call getting the job done! No excuses, no passing the buck. If there’s a problem, fix it and fix it fast. Not next week, not next month, not next
    year. Fix it now!

    It’s too bad the CIBC doesn’t share that kind of work ethic.

    Over the years, I’ve paid this institution hundreds of dollars in “service charges” and received virtually nothing in return. I do almost all of my banking over the internet or at ATMs. Now when I have a situation that actually requires personal service, I can’t get any.

    So what did all those service charges pay for? It seems to me like they went straight to the bank’s quarterly profits. It’s bad enough when the bank slowly nickels and dimes you out of your money each month to pad their bottom line. It’s much worse when they take away your money in large amounts and leave you out in the cold with no answers.


    One day later, Dec. 22:

    Ellen, THANK YOU! Whoever you sent this to got the ball rolling and we have our money now (which was sitting in the ATM all along, as we were trying to explain to them!).

    Finally we got through to the right person at CIBC to listen to us. Thanks a million times over.

  2. WB

    Dec 25 2009

    Here’s a comment I sent to Sears in early December about toys from the Wish Book being unavailable through the Sears.ca website.

    The local retail store was unwilling to check into the fact that ALL toys in the Wish Book were basically unavailable through sears.ca.

    Numerous people who have contacted us regarding this issue have basically walked away towards Wal-mart and Zellers.
    10 days and counting.


    My wife tried to order a few toys from the Wish Book through sears.ca, only to have every one come up “unavailable”. I tried again today with two toys. Each toy said “unavailable”.

    Just now (Dec. 15, 4:30 pm) I called 800-267-3277 and I was able to purchase and have delivered to my local store by Dec. 21 one of the toys – the other one is “unavailable”.

    Why are all toy products that are available through the Wish Book coming up as being “unavailable” when attempting to order through sears.ca? Many other people have raised the same concerns.

    I find it hard to believe that it’s 10 days until Christmas and Sears Canada is unable to provide toys for children from their nationally known Wish Book – something all children and adults look forward to each year.


    One week later:

    When I said one toy was available when ordered through the 800 number… just ignore that part. My wife went to the local Sears to pick up the package today only to be told “unavailable”.

    Wow. No re-order, nothing available, no phone call to say sorry we do not have the product available that we said would be at your local store on Dec. 21st.

    So I say to my wife: “No wonder people do cross border shopping. No wonder people do not shop at Sears.”

    The product we requested apparently is on the shelf at Wal-mart south of the border.

    Two full shopping days until Christmas and we find out the product is not available when we could have been south of the border and back again many times this past week while waiting for it.

    So much for a Wish Book. Guess we will have to rely on Santa Claus for this one.


    Dec. 24:

    I got a response from Sears this afternoon – 2:46 pm on
    Christmas Eve – just hours before Christmas is actually here. I am not sure if this response is from my original comment back on Dec. 15th or if it is from comments you sent in.

    If it was from my comments – 9 days before an actual reply -not 24 hours like most companies do.

    The comment below “we did not have stock at time of purchase” – well how in the world would the lady on the phone say it would be delivered to my local Sears store on Dec. 21st? That just amazes me.

    Inconvenience? Not even close to reality here. I guess Sears doesn’t understand the disappointment on a child’s face on Christmas morning.

    My point: you say it will be delivered so I quit looking. No phone call to say it was a mistake. A week later, two days prior to Christmas – not available, no re-orders.
    It is not “inconvenient”, it is disgusting.

    —– Original Message —–
    Sent: Thursday, December 24, 2009 2:46 PM
    Subject: CASE: 1611425 Sears.ca

    Thank you for taking the time to contact Sears.

    Please be advised that we did not have stock at time of purchase. Our supplier was not able to fill the demand for this item. We do not anticipate getting more of this stock in the future.

    We encourage you at this time to browse one of our general merchandise catalogues or our website to find a suitable replacement.

    We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

    If you require any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

    Thank you for choosing Sears.

  3. LT

    Dec 25 2009

    I’d love to see a story on stores’ return policies – particularly very limited/poor policies that are neither well-displayed nor identified by sales personnel.

    It’s very much a “buyer beware” atmosphere at certain retailers and at least one of those with a poor policy (in my opinion) is one that many would least expect.

    I have always bought from major department stores like The Bay and Sears with full confidence, so imagine my surprise when my mother inadvertently discovered that Sears neither refunds nor exchanges clearance items.

    While the policy is written in small print on the back of sales receipts, it is not displayed in the store, and it is not offered by salespeople at the time of purchase.

    This is particularly startling during the Christmas shopping season, when other retailers are extending their return times to accommodate shoppers. Winners extends their usual 10-day policy to a date in early January. Cleo, a small women’s apparel chain, allows customers to return at any time.

    By all means, stores have the right to set whatever policy they want. Just as consumers have the right to choose where to spend their money. But whatever the policy, it should be prominently displayed and/or discussed at the time of purchase so that consumers can make informed choices.

  4. JT

    Dec 25 2009

    Recently, I added a comment to your blog, “What to do about online price errors?” to share my story.

    I ordered Call of Duty – Modern Warfare for XBOX 360; it’s already wrapped and under the tree.

    I’ve been pursuing my $22.60 credit since Nov. 23, when I emailed service@futureshop.com.

    “Dan Agent 48058” replied:

    The reason you were overcharged on your giftcard was because the $20 discount was not applied to the order. It may take up to 5-7 business days for this credit to appear on your gift card. If it does not, please get back to us so we may sort this out.

    I waited the 7 business days, and emailed again on Dec. 4. This time “Kevin Agent ID: 45795” asked me to call them.

    I spoke with Jody, who told me that he would submit a form and that it would take 48 hours for a response.

    This brought us to Dec. 9, when I spoke with Tracey. She submitted an escalation and again told me it would be 48 hours.

    On Dec. 11, Jordan told me 48 more hours would be required.

    On Dec. 15, Kate tried to convince me that I should just wait and, in response to my request to speak with someone else, said that a supervisor couldn’t help. I insisted and, after some time on hold, I was transferred to Diane.

    In that conversation, Diane indicated that something had been processed on Nov. 12. I told her I didn’t see a change to my gift card balance nor a credit to my credit card. Diane indicated that she would refer this to a “Credit Specialist” and that I would get a call back the next day.

    The next day came and went. On Dec. 18, I spoke with Judy. Although she extended “apologies” numerous times, she became less-and-less friendly as I pressed for resolution.

    She told me that no supervisor was available. I offered to hold, but Judy said she’d have someone call me back. She took my info and then told me it would take up to 5 days for a reply. If her objective was to get me off the phone short of hanging up on me, she was successful.

    Ellen, I’ve spent far more than the $22.60 in pursuing this issue, but as you said in your article, we need to insist retailers be accountable. Please, can you help?


    Shannon Kidd, Future Shop spokeswoman:

    The order has been reviewed and the discount has been processed. The customer should see the credit appear within the next few days.

    Thanks for passing this on.


    JT again:

    In the end, I’ve paid $49.99 plus taxes. So the credit must have been applied to the card sometime after the evening of Dec. 24th.

    Based on the timing, it’s clear to me that the additional credit was entirely due to your intervention. I doubt that Future Shop would have given the case a second look if it weren’t for your inquiry.

    Thank you for lending your support to consumers like myself.

  5. Koozies

    Dec 25 2009

    no big comment on that…but I LOVE this blog, it is great and pls keep up the great work

  6. Cynthia

    Dec 25 2009

    I recent had an issue with toysrus.ca. I placed an order for my nephews for Christmas, to be shipped and wrapped. The price with 5 gifts wrapped was $123.

    A few days later, I see my bill was actually $138 to my CC. I emailed and said what’s up with the overcharge? They said they made an error and they would credit it back.

    A few days later, when the packages arrived, my brother tells me that 3 gifts were not wrapped. I again emailed. They said that the original credit was in fact for the gift wrapping that did not happen.

    How could that be when I ordered wrapping for 5 packages and the total came to $123, then I was billed $138? They were to credit $16 back.

    Reality is, they should be giving me an additional $16 back since they didn’t wrap the gifts, but I paid for it. I will be replying to the email one more time to push that point.

  7. Wendy Robson

    Dec 28 2009

    This is almost unbelievable. However, since you told the story so well, I think Ellen deserves a treat for all her hard work.

    It is NOT too late, I believe, for her to nominate a Canadian Bah Humbug Award for the most unbelievable Christmas shopping story:

    b) Part of the criteria being how hard it was to RESOLVE the issue, and

    c) Part of the prize being recognition of POSITIVE or NEGATIVE efforts on the part of lowly call centre reps trying to be fair.

    I myself nominate Bell Canada, with 611 complaints as of yesterday. Mine is about a phone call from Accounts Receivable and 2 screwed up cell phone plans. It has gone to Executive Offices, who are not receiving e mails.

    AND, also, I nominate Bell for their delivery of CHANGES TO INTERNET SERVICE AGREEMENTS, on Dec. 25.

    Anybody else who has read the above story about CIBC who has a nominee might want to back this up to Ellen. She works so hard and so effectively, time to have some fun??

  8. JimE

    Dec 30 2009

    Actually, I find this whole blog/posting by PB quite disturbing. Just because he didn’t get his TV, he decides to go on a smear campaign against The Brick. Wow, too much time on his hands, or what?

    Did he really say in his blog “…to Mike Comrie, when I say “break a leg” I mean it literally!”

    Hey, stuff happens. Get over it. Sorry that your Christmas present for your family didn’t work out. Move on.

  9. Steve

    Dec 30 2009

    Hi Ellen, Happy New Year! My problem is as follows:

    I terminated Bell’s home phone service from Sept. 9. Right after that, I called them and confirmed that I owed them nothing.

    On Sept. 16, they sent me a bill, claiming I should pay them $18.36 ($22.72 after tax) for “home phone deactivation charge”. Why on earth should we pay “that” fee? A fee for nothing?

    I didn’t have any contract with them. I was with Bell in the past 6 years and was fed up with it.

    Since I was assured in September that I owed them nothing, I just ignored their bills. Today I got a call from a collection agency, threatening that if I don’t pay, my credit would be downgraded to zero.

    I have been always paying every penny owing to any services and bills. I have accumulated AAA credit so far. Why should I pay $20 some for nothing?

    So, Ellen, can you please tell me what the best option is for me? Is it legal to charge a customer a “deactivation fee”?

    Thank you for your time and I look forward to your reply ASAP. Wish you a wonderful holiday.

    Never-use-bell (signed)