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You should not buy jewelry during your cruise! This is why

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Should you ever buy jewelry on a cruise? Well, if you’re Charles Onufer, the answer is no. But he came home from his last Regent cruise with over $9,500 of unwanted gems from Diamonds International. He says that during a port stop in Mexico, salespeople intimidated him into buying all of that unwanted jewelry. The jeweler says no such hard sell occurred and that this is a simple case of buyer’s remorse.

Is there a way to fix this cruise fiasco?

This tale should serve as a warning to all travelers. Making unplanned, high-value purchases while your brain is in vacation mode is never a good idea. And if you believe that you’ve been forced to make a purchase, it’s critical to report the incident immediately.

Visiting Diamonds International in Cozumel during a cruise excursion

Let’s begin this story by looking at the alarming complaint as I initially received it.

Charles said that after an enjoyable excursion from their cruise ship around Cozumel, he and his wife popped into Diamonds International. They wanted to take a peek at the “free bracelets” offer they noticed.

The couple say they had no intention of buying any jewelry. Unfortunately, they were not prepared for the aggressive sales tactics of the employees.

For the next 2 hours, a third and then finally a fourth jeweler and manager surrounded us. Four men were telling us how they could make the price more appealing by purchasing two rings. My wife’s response was, “NO…I have enough jewelry, I want to go on another cruise!”…which she repeatedly said over the next two hours.

Charles explains the events leading up to his “forced” jewelry purchase

Charles reported that he and his wife told the salesmen that they didn’t want to buy anything. He says his wife continued to insist that she just didn’t want or need any new jewelry and preferred to spend her money on taking another cruise.

This cruise ship passenger says he was forced to buy jewelry during a shore excursion in Cozumel. Can we help?
The tiny island of Cozumel is where this couple says salesmen at Diamonds International intimidated them into buying nearly $10,000 worth of jewelry during a cruise excursion.

A relentless sales pitch

Despite their protests, the sales pitch continued.

Of course, anyone who has visited Mexico knows you’ll never leave any shop without some haggling attempt. If you really don’t want to purchase an item, it’s important to be firm with your response and exit.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened here. Instead of leaving, Charles handed over his credit cards and purchased two rings.

We ended up submitting credit card payments on two cards feeling that was the only way we would escape these four men surrounding us. The total cost was $9,500. They claimed by filling out the tax papers, conveniently located in their store, we would receive around $800 back from the Mexican government.

Charles went on to explain that the more expensive ring didn’t even fit his wife’s finger. He says that the employees assured him that the oversized piece of jewelry wasn’t a problem. In the next port, he could exchange it for a different ring — one that would fit. The couple bought the jewelry, filled out the rebate forms and headed back to the cruise ship.

If you don’t want to buy jewelry on a cruise, then just say no

If you’re a regular reader of my column, then you might recall a similar story from Kathy Hoffath.

In that case, Kathy said that she was forced to buy one expensive diamond ring after another at the various ports of call on her cruise (including the Diamonds International in Cozumel).

When Kathy returned from the cruise, she didn’t want the $20,000 diamond ring that she eventually settled on. Kathy wanted a refund. But the contract indicated that a refund would only be offered under specific conditions. If the ring did not appraise at the value of the Diamonds International appraisal, she could return it.

In fact, an independent jeweler appraised the ring Kathy bought on the cruise at a higher value.

Diamonds International offered Kathy an even exchange, which she eventually accepted. In its response to the complaint, the jeweler pointed out that buyer’s remorse is specifically mentioned in the contract. It should come as no surprise that buyer’s remorse is not a valid reason for a return and refund.

Is buyer’s remorse the basis of this refund request?

Charles says this is not a case of buyer’s remorse. He requested a refund based on the intimidation that he says he felt during his visit to Diamonds International.

We were exhausted and were becoming afraid for our lives. We were aware of how tourists have disappeared in Mexico. As a matter of fact, it was on TV at 11:00 pm news last night of such an incident and how the problem is increasing in Mexico. In fear for our lives and personal safety, we finally succumbed to an agreement to pay for the total purchase over three years without any interest. This seemed like a ransom to be able to escape safely.

As I read through this harrowing complaint, I wondered what Regent’s response was to his report of the attempted kidnapping. But it turns out the couple did not report their experience at the time. They continued on with their cruise.

At the next port of call, Charles and his wife attempted to exchange her ring for one that would fit or have hers resized. When they tried to make the switch, they received bad news. Because of the structure of the ring, it could never be resized. And that store would not take back the ring.

Now they were stuck with it.

If you decide to buy jewelry on a cruise, don’t expect a refund later

When Charles reached out to our advocacy team, I asked for the paper trail.

And that’s where things headed even further south. He had already sent an ill-advised, lengthy email to the top of Regent and Diamonds International.

It’s imperative to read my article about how to resolve your own consumer problem before you start firing off complaints. The tone you set in your initial request can make all the difference between a successful resolution and your email getting hit with the delete button.

The email that Charles sent to the CEO of Regent Cruise Line was quite lengthy and suggested that the cruise line was complicit in his distressing experience.

“I can’t believe that Regent condones this type of customer intimidation, fear tactics and outrageous policies!” Charles complained. “This adds an international incident to this scam operation and Regent Seven Seas is involved!”

Our advocacy team knows from experience that this type of letter never works in the consumer’s favor. A company’s CEO rarely handles customer service. So although it may feel good to send your complaint right to the top of an organization, it’s generally not recommended as your first step to a resolution.

By writing a concise, polite email to a lower-level executive, you significantly increase your chances of reaching a positive resolution. And, it goes without saying that insulting a cruise line and a jeweler will not endear you to either.

As expected, the email Charles sent didn’t result in his desired outcome. Regent did not respond. However, Diamonds International did have some ideas for a resolution.

Diamonds International responds

Diamonds International responded to Charles by offering an even exchange. He could bring the two pieces of jewelry to any Diamonds International branch and exchange them for something else of equal or higher value.

This offer seemed like a fair resolution.

But the offer did not impress Charles. He told me that he believed that Diamonds International expected him to buy an additional $9,500 of jewelry to qualify for the exchange of the original purchase.

That didn’t seem like the offer as I understood it, but I thought we could easily clarify with Diamonds International. And Charles still wanted that promised $800 rebate from MoneyBack Mexico.

It’s important to note that there is no affiliation between MoneyBack Mexico and Diamonds International. The jeweler, though, does assist travelers in completing the necessary paperwork for the rebate. So I thought that, at a minimum, I could find out if the shop had filled out the necessary rebate paperwork and submitted it.

Don’t let vacation brain cloud your judgment

Each month, a fair number of requests land in our inbox from passengers who buy jewelry on a cruise and later don’t want it. Or buy a timeshare during an enjoyable beach vacation and regret it. These travelers get caught up in vacation mode. They let their guard down and make spur of the moment, expensive purchases with long-term repercussions.

Then the bills arrive, post-vacation. Reality hits — buyer’s remorse sets in and they want a refund.

Unfortunately, when you buy jewelry on a cruise or sign any legally binding contract during your vacation, our advocacy team generally can’t reverse these transactions. Unless there are some extenuating circumstances, these contracts are binding.

After I wrote the article about Kathy, some readers asked if this might be a case of elder abuse. They wanted to know if perhaps Diamonds International took advantage of a traveler who was unable to make decisions for herself. So I asked Charles about that angle. He told me that he has no (mental) deficits and that he is a retired pediatrician. Understandably he was a bit insulted by my question.

I decided to contact Diamonds International to see what I could find out. Although I wasn’t asking for a refund of the jewelry, I wanted to find out if the paperwork had been submitted for the $800 rebate.

Soon I heard back from the director of customer relations at Diamonds International.

No one at Diamonds International intimidated the this couple into buying jewelry

Of course, the accusations that Charles had lobbed at the company alarmed the director. He acknowledged that the salesmen in the cruise ports of call have a limited amount of time to seal the jewelry purchase. They might be more aggressive than a jeweler in your hometown, but that’s the nature of this business.

Diamonds International denies that any of their professionals would intimidate an elderly couple into buying jewelry that they didn’t want.

And then the director told me the surprising news.

First, he would like our readers to know that Diamonds International always wants its customers to have the best jewelry buying experience. The company never wants anyone to feel that they’ve been duped into buying anything.

Although the lower-level customer service representatives had followed protocol and offered the couple an even exchange (no additional purchase required), the director said he was struck by the different story Charles told him.

In the conversation Charles had with the customer service director, he backed away from his earlier accusations. He said that the $9,500 was a tremendous amount of money for the couple. They weren’t sure how many more trips they would be able to take in the future — that $9,500 could be another cruise.

The two discussed a variety of options. And the director corrected any misunderstandings about the terms of the exchange. The couple was under no obligation to purchase additional jewelry. They would have a $9,500 credit to spend at Diamonds International.

Charles said that their preferred outcome, if at all possible, was a refund.

As a goodwill gesture, Diamonds International granted that request.  The couple returned the unwanted jewelry and received the full refund.

Should you buy jewelry on a cruise? Here are some tips to keep in mind

You should never buy jewelry on a cruise unless you’ve done your homework. That involves a few critical things to do before stepping off the ship for a shopping excursion:

  1. Research the jewelry shop you intend to visit.
    If you intend to make a jewelry purchase during your cruise, it’s critical to do your research before you head out on your shopping excursion. You’ll want to know that you’re dealing with an established jeweler with a positive customer experience track record. Google the name of the store and the word “reviews” and you should get a pretty clear picture of the merchant (For example: “Diamonds International reviews.”).
  2. Research the type of jewelry you want to purchase.
    Walking into a jewelry store with no idea what you want or if you want anything is typically not a good idea. This can make you a prime target for predatory salespeople. Knowing what you’re looking for will lower the chance of an impulsive, unwanted jewelry purchase.
  3. Research the reasonable cost of whatever piece of jewelry you want.
    This involves a more detailed investigation since it’s critical to ensure that you’re comparing the same quality gems. But heading into a jewelry store with no idea of a reasonable cost for a particular item is a recipe for disaster. Don’t do it!
  4. Give yourself a budget and don’t deviate from it.
    Unexpectedly spending a giant chunk of money during a cruise is a quick way to ruin your trip. If you set a budget before your shopping excursion you’ll be less likely to end up with a bad case of buyer’s remorse. Don’t spend more than you can comfortably afford.
  5. Prepare yourself for aggressive salespeople.
    If you’re not able to withstand hard sell tactics, it’s best to stay out of the jewelry stores during your cruise. Remember, the goal of the salespeople is to make a sale. Let employees know what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to spend. If you don’t want to buy a piece of jewelry the last thing you should do is hand over your credit card. Be firm and if you’re feeling intimidated, leave. You should never buy anything under pressure.
  6. Don’t sign the sales contract until you’ve read and understood it.
    Read the entire contract very carefully before you sign it. Keep in mind you’re signing a legally binding contract. Don’t sign anything unless you understand the entire contract.

If you follow all these guidelines, you will significantly decrease your risk of returning from a cruise with an expensive piece of jewelry that you don’t want. And you won’t find yourself with an uncomfortable case of post-vacation regret. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.