If you have ever thought of buying anything on line in France, you will almost certainly have come across Cdiscount, the self-proclaimed No. 1 of e-commerce. Chances are that they will come out cheapest in any price comparison. You might be slightly alarmed by their gaudy website, but they seem to be well rated by users. Anyway, this is Europe in the 21st Century. Things don't often go wrong and if they do, we have consumer protection laws. When an advertisement declares that their product carries a 2 year guarantee, that goes without saying because that is what consumer law demands as a minimum.
Knowing all this, we didn't think we had much to worry about when we ordered a cooker from Cdiscount in 2013. The appliance worked well for almost six months, then there was a loud bang, This seemed to suggest that something had gone badly wrong and on examination, it appeared that the bottom element of the oven (aptly called the "resistance inferieur" in France) had failed rather dramatically, fusing itself to the bottom of the oven cavity and destroying the interior finish in the process. My guess was that the extent of the damage was such that it was beyond economic repair.
The following day, we telephoned Cdiscount's "Service Clients" and explained the problem. They offered to send a technician and explained that there would be a call-out charge and half-hourly labor rate. We replied that since the appliance was only six months old, we were entitled to a free repair and if that was not possible, a free replacement. As we didn't appear to be getting anywhere, we abandoned the telephone call and sent a recorded-delivery letter to their head office. Cdiscount have a great system. When you write to them they answer by email from a "ne pas repondre" address, asking you to reply by telephone. That means that you will not have a record of the conversation, so you are forced to respond with another recorded-delivery letter. By the end they had sent us half a dozen emails and we had sent them the same number of written replies. At one stage, we thought we were almost there, because they agreed to a free repair if the damage was found not to be our fault. The following day they retracted the offer. In the end we consulted our local "Que Choisir" branch and they wrote a letter on our behalf, but this also received the same stonewall response.
Eventually, having exhausted all possibilities of an amicable settlement, we decided to invoke the law. This involved preparing a dossier and arranging to attend a hearing at the local "Tribunal d'Instance." A fairly intimidating process, especially for a foreigner with failing hearing, but it all seemed to go quite well and Cdiscount did not offer a defense. A judgment was to be delivered six weeks later. It didn't quite work out that way, because they called us back for more information and then the summer holidays intervened, and it was four months we before we got a judgment in our favor, covering the cost of the cooker and expenses. Then we needed a "huissier" (French equivalent of a bailiff) to go to Cdiscount's head office to claim our money. We finally got our cheque, more than a year after the cooker had gone wrong. Unbelievably, we also got an email from Cdiscount, asking us to complete a survey on our experience with their "Service Clients!"
We never could decide whether we were dealing with a policy of deliberate obstructiveness, ignorance, or plain incompetence. Possibility it was a mixture of all three. We had to put in a lot of time and effort to get out legal rights in this case. This was only really possible because we are retired. A working person would probably not be able to go to so much effort, or take time off to attend hearings. Unscrupulous online traders must be aware of this and will find it cheaper to pay the occasional customer who is prepared to take his case all the way, while getting away with the majority who don't understand their legal rights, or who will let the claim drop and write it off to experience, rather than pursue it as a matter of principle. This abuse will continue, because the courts are not able to impose fines, they are only able to award compensation.
It gave us great satisfaction to be able take the useless cooker to the "decharge" and buy a new one from our local Conforama.