Last April I told the story of Courtney Thompson, who spent $24,000 on jewelry for his wife while on a cruise stop in Santorini, Greece. When Thompson returned home to Florida, two appraisers valued the jewelry — a necklace, a bracelet, a ring and several pairs of earrings — at less than $9,000. As Tripso's cruise ombudsman, I looked into the case for Thompson, but I was unable to help. Recently all that changed.
In October, I received a phone call from Thompson saying that the owner of the jewelry store had contacted him to work out a resolution. Thompson was thrilled. He had waged a battle with the jewelry store, the cruise line, and the cruise line's shopping partner, Onboard Media, since June 2006 — and had gotten nowhere. But recently my story, which had been picked up by msnbc.com, made its way to Greece and set some waves in motion. Here are the results.
The jeweler's side of the story
A few days after hearing from Thompson, I had my first conversation with Alexandros Rogavopolous, owner of Alexandros Jewellers in Santorini. I had tried to contact Rogavopolous many times before the first story was published, but he never returned my messages. Now he had a lot to say.
Two reasons for the earlier lack of communication immediately became clear: There is a big language barrier, and Rogavopolous' store closes for the season from the end of October until April. Rogavopolous feels that both factors contributed to his employees' failure to pass along my messages and Thompson's.
Still, why did it take more than 18 months to solve this problem? The problem was that Rogavopolous felt he had no problem at all.
In fact, Rogavopolous thought he had taken care of Thompson's issues a year earlier, four months after Thompson made his purchases. He says there was a price error on the necklace and that it was a simple case of "price tag misplacement." Rogavopolous claims that two similar necklaces were marked incorrectly: the one with more diamonds was marked lower, and the one with fewer diamonds (the one Thompson purchased) was marked higher. He says that as soon as Thompson lodged his complaint, the store audited the price list and the invoices and confirmed the mistake.
"My store does inventory in October and I discovered a tag problem with Mr. Courtney's necklace," Rogavopolous explained (Rogavopolous always refers to Thompson as "Mr. Courtney"). "Since our firm was directly responsible for the mistake, after an agreement with the customer, we instantly returned the price difference of $3,500."
Indeed, there had been a credit on Thompson's credit card for $3,500 (2,800 euros), but Thompson didn't know the credit was from Alexandros Jewellers because American Express did not list the credit as such. Thompson thought it was a courtesy credit from the card company for the jewelry dispute. He still had a beef with Rogavopolous, but Rogavopolous thought they were done. "After October 24, 2006, I thought I had no problems with Mr. Courtney," says Rogavopolous.
Though he was happy they had settled their dispute, Rogavopolous still had a big problem with Thompson's two certified appraisals. Rogavopolous makes one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces that he considers to be works of art. "You go to local jeweler and they are not going to appreciate what I make," he says. "You buy jewelry at Cartier and you take to local jeweler and they are going to appraise it at half price. Mr. Courtney's appraisals were ridiculously low." Still, Rogavopolous felt that he had to put Thompson's issue behind him. So, on November 1, 2007, Courtney Thompson received a check for $12,500.
A relieved Thompson says, "I am just glad the matter is put behind us both."
Mistakes were made
Rogavopolous wants to clear the air on two other matters that arose in my story last year. First, he was very upset that Thompson said his store was closed when Thompson ran back to the store to question the sale before the ship left port. The ship's jeweler had advised Thompson that the jewelry was not worth what he'd paid for it. Finding the store closed — and before the posted closing time — Thompson thought he was a victim of fraud.
But Rogavopolous faxed me several time-stamped sales receipts indicating that the store was not closed at all. When I told Thompson this, he conceded that he had been completely exhausted from running up the hill into town and that it was "quite possible" he had gone to the wrong store.
The other matter Rogavopolous wanted clear up was why he left Onboard Media's group of recommended merchants in Santorini. "I was not kicked out of the program," Rogavopolous says. Indeed, he says he left voluntarily, because was it was costing him too much money.
Onboard Media contracts with Celebrity Cruises to run its "Guaranteed Shopping Program" in Santorini. According to Rogavopolous, Onboard Media gets 10 percent of every sale made to cruise passengers, plus an additional 5 percent to cover advertising costs on board the ships. "Every time the ship come in I send them [Onboard Media] a check for $5,000, $6,000 — sometimes more," Rogavopolous complained. "Onboard Media are pimps to the cruise tourists."
Rogavopolous says my article led to a "conspiracy attempt" by Onboard Media to destroy his business. He says he has proof that Onboard Media printed the story from msnbc.com and sent it to all its retail partners on Santorini. He says his competitors then showed the article to cruise tourists in an effort to steer them away from his shop.
The strange story got even stranger last September, when, according to Rogavopolous, Onboard Media's executive director of sales and marketing, Rod Musum, came to Alexandros Jewellers to discuss business and to persuade the store to come back into Onboard Media's shopping program. According to Rogavopolous, when he confronted Musum with his accusations about printing the article and distributing it to his competitors, Musum replied it was "business" and they were trying to "protect" their customers. Rogavopolous says he then offered to throw Musum "off a cliff."
Are Rogavopolous' accusations for real or is it all sour grapes? I contacted Onboard Media for its side of the story. Turns out this Greek is telling no myths.
Onboard Media speaks
I spoke with Sarah Beth Reno, vice president of operations for Onboard Media, who said the company was happy to hear that Thompson finally received a full price adjustment from Alexandros Jewellers.
When I inquired about the circumstances of the store's leaving Onboard Media's shopping program, she said, "At the end of the 2005 Europe season, we had outstanding customer service claims that Alexandros Jewellers refused to close according to our customer service guidelines. This was the primary reason we decided not to include Alexandros Jewellers in the program for the 2006 season. We cannot comment as to whether or not Mr. Rogavopolous would have decided to participate, providing we would have allowed him." As for the commissions paid to Onboard Media to be in their shopping program she said, "We cannot comment on the dollar amounts paid for advertising due to confidentiality."
Reno confirmed that the msnbc.com article was sent to certain retailers in the Onboard Media program "as a cautionary measure." She added, "We cannot comment as to whom may have been showing the article to tourists in Santorini. We do know that many guests came onboard the vessels with this particular article to show to our shopping guides."
As for the confrontation in Rogavopolous' store, Reno would not confirm the identity of the agent, saying only that, "Our sales representative for Greece did enter Alexandros Jewellers in September 2007 to see if he could convince Mr. Rogavopolous to offer Mr. Courtney Thompson a refund. During that meeting Alexandros did inform our sales associate that the refund had been sent to Mr. Thompson."
Rogavopolous vehemently denies that Musum — or whoever it was — came in to discuss Thompson. "He never mentioned him," says Rogavopolous. "He came in to get me back in the program. They miss the commissions from my store." Oddly, in this instance, Rogavopolous has an ally in Thompson. "Onboard Media did nothing to help me when I asked them," Thompson says. "Then they say they sent someone all the way to Greece on my behalf. It's crazy."
In the end, Reno opines that if Alexandros Jewellers had done the right thing from the beginning, the entire situation could have been avoided. "We believe your article was the catalyst in convincing Mr. Rogavopolous to offer the refund," says Reno. Courtney Thompson concurs with that assessment.
As for Rogavopolous, he's just happy his side of the story has been told.
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