When a Chinese restaurant in the US overcharged a man by $4 for his take-away, they didn’t realise they had picked the wrong guy to slightly inconvenience.
Ben Edelman is a lawyer, Harvard business professor and (very unluckily for the Chinese restaurant), also runs a consulting practice on preventing and detecting online advertising fraud.
So, when Edelman realised that the price that had been charged to his credit card was $4 more than the price that had been advertised on the Sichuan Garden restaurant website, he went OFF. Like, ‘I’M FURIOUS AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE’ off.
The email exchange between Edelman and Sichuan Garden’s owner, Ran Duan, is addictive reading. Boston.com broke the story and have screenshots of the emails, and we’ve got some of the more bizarre parts of the exchange here.
So who’s in the right here? It seems like Duan is genuinely sorry that Edelman got overcharged, but he also doesn’t seem to care that his website is advertising misleading prices. Edelman, on the other hand, is going slightly overboard with the talk of legal action, considering it’s only $4.
Take a look and decide for yourself:
First Edelman sends a simple complaint saying he’s been overcharged by $4. Duan replies with this:
“I apologize about the confusing. Our website prices has been out of date for quite some time. I will make sure to update it, if you like I will email you a updated menu.”
That clearly pisses Edelman off. He starts the law-talk immediately:
“Under Massachusetts law it turns out to be a serious violation to advertise one price and charge a different price. I urge you to cease this practice immediately. If you don’t know how to update your website, you could remove the website altogether until you are able to correct the error.”
“In the interim, I suggest that Sichuan Garden refund me three times the amount of the overcharge. The tripling reflects the approach provided under Massachusetts consumer protection statute, MGL 93a, wherein consumers broadly receive triple damages for intentional violations. Please refund $12 to my credit card. Or you could mail a cheque for $12 to my home.”
Duan (in a stroke of passive aggressive genius) stays very civil, but only offers a $3 refund. This infuriates Edelman, since the original overcharge was actually $4, and he was no doubt hoping all his legal talk in the previous email would scare the crap out of Duan.
“It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred. To wit, your restaurant overcharged all customers who viewed the website and placed a telephone order – the standard way to order takeout. You did so knowingly, knowing that your website was out of date and that consumers would see it and rely on it.”
… Much more scary legal talk… (head to boston.com for the full transcript)
“I have already referred this matter to applicable authorities in order to attempt to compel your restaurant to identify all consumers affected and to provide refunds to all of them, or in any event to ensure that an appropriate sanction is applied as provided by law.”
Then Duan gets pissed. Like, ‘Seriously? All this for $4?’ kind of pissed. He suggests (since his restaurant is in several locations) that Edelman may have been on the wrong location’s website. Then he asks what everyone is kind of thinking by now:
“I have told you exactly how I am going to resolve this situation and have already acted by fixing our website and honoring the website prices, unfortunately that wasn’t good enough and you notified the authorities so this is out of my hands now. I can only wait for them to see how we can get this resolved.”
“Like I said, I apologise for the confusion, you seem like a smart man. But is this really worth your time?”
That sets Edelman off. Because it’s not about the $4, IT’S ABOUT THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING:
“You’re right that I have better things to do. If you had responded appropriately to my initial message — providing the refund I requested with a genuine and forethought apology — that could have been the end of it. I would have counted on your honesty to notify other affected customers. Instead, you’re making up excuses such as the remarkable but plainly false accusation that I was on the wrong website. The more you claim your restaurant was not at fault, the more determined I am to seek a greater sanction against you.”
-Much more pissed off talk- And then, a BIG half-price bombshell:
“On reflection, I suggest making my order half-price — that’s appropriate thanks for my bringing this matter to your attention, since it seems you wouldn’t have recognised the urgency of correcting the website had I not pushed you to do so. When appropriate authorities ask you about this, I’m sure they’ll be please to see the you have provided generous more-than-refunds to all customers who flagged the problem.”
By this stage, Duan has pretty much stopped giving any shits:
“Once again, thank you for bringing it to my attention, I will wait for proper authorities to direct me on how to resolve this situation.”
“I will keep you updated as soon as they contact me.”
After a pretty massive bollocking on social media, Ben Edelman released an official apology:
“Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline.
Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future.
I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well.”
But do you think he should have? In this massive war over $4, whose side are you on?
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