PhotoPlanetRX is on online marketer of popular health products. Like any other online merchant, the transaction is fairly straightforward. The consumer supplies their credit card information and the company ships the order.

But this month a number of consumers complained that PlanetRX was very quick to charge their credit cards but has been just the opposite when it comes to shipping their order. Wendy, of Fresno, Calif., said she used PlanetRX back in June and was pleased with the service.

“This time, I placed an order with PlanetRX.com on Aug 31 for $68.15,” Wendy told ConsumerAffairs.com. “After about a month, I waited because I've ordered things before from other sites that have been back-ordered and they've always come through eventually. I inquired using their system. Someone responded within a couple of days stating that my items were on back-order, coming directly from the warehouse. It could arrive in two or three weeks, but I could cancel my order at any time.”

No response

Wendy says she decided to wait it out, but inquired three more times. All three times, she says, she received no response.

“I also called a few days ago, spoke to a live person and told her my issue, Wendy said. “She told me to call back during business hours, dial extension 300, and they would be able to cancel my order. I have tried that, and gotten the same result as everyone else - automated message that never goes anywhere. When I dialed extension 300, it kept looping me back to the same useless recorded message, instructing me to the website, which now appears to have been downgraded to the bare minimum.”

Carpenter, of Indinapolis, Ind., also reports a frustrating delay on his order placed on Oct. 4.

“On October 17, I emailed the Help Desk about a shipping date, and received a reply that "someone should respond to your request within three to seven business days, posted on my online account and emailed to me,” Carpenter said. “On October 26, I emailed the Help Desk again after receiving no reply to my first two requests for information. This is also the very first time I've ever had a problem with an online order.”

A bad feeling

Jennifer, of Bloomington, Ill., said she had a bad feeling when she placed an order on September 21 and her credit card was immediately charged, but days went by with no delivery, or even a confirmation of her order.

“It's now October 23 and nothing,” she told ConsumerAffairs.com. I have sent three emails asking about my order and have gotten no response whatsoever. I have tried to cancel, but nothing. I used my debit card, so the money is just gone. It's not just me having this problem, it's everyone! How are they legally operating?”

According to PlanetRX's website, Jennifer should have received a confirmation of her order. When the confirmation did not arrive, the site says Jennifer should have logged in to the Order Status Wizard where she should have been able to check the status of her order.

Can you charge before you ship?

But for many consumers writing to ConsumerAffairs.com, it's the speedy charging of their credit cards and the weeks that have passed with no delivery that is the issue. Some want to know if it is legal for a merchant to charge their cards before shipping their product.

Ordinarily, the answer is no. But the CreditInfo.com website quotes a spokesman for Mastercard as saying they can if you specifically agree to let them. The site quotes Visa as saying "a merchant is not permitted to bill ahead of time" except in case of a deposit or down payment that the customer agrees to.

American Express said the merchant can charge your card as soon as you give your account number; but if you receive the bill before the merchandise, call American Express customer service and you don't have to pay while they investigate.

For consumers who have received no response in weeks and have been unable to cancel their orders, it might be a good idea to contact your credit card company and dispute the charge.

On the other hand ...

Well, that's all fine and good but we're not certain any of those supposed exceptions would pass muster with the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates mail order and online commerce.

The FTC's guide for merchants is pretty clear.  It says:  

When you advertise merchandise, you must have a reasonable basis for stating or implying that you can ship within a certain time. If you make no shipment statement, you must have a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship within 30 days. That is why direct marketers sometimes call this the "30-day Rule."

If, after taking the customer’s order, you learn that you cannot ship within the time you stated or within 30 days, you must seek the customer’s consent to the delayed shipment. If you cannot obtain the customer’s consent to the delay -- either because it is not a situation in which you are permitted to treat the customer’s silence as consent and the customer has not expressly consented to the delay, or because the customer has expressly refused to consent -- you must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money the customer paid you for the unshipped merchandise.

That's it in black and white.  Unless customers have expressly given their permission for the company to take their money and fail to fill their order, anyone having this problem should immediately inform PlanetRX that they will complain to the FTC if the charge is not rescinded.


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