Sunday, March 20, 2005

Customers Who Abuse the System

I'm a Retail Store Manager, though I won't name the Retailer. I've been in retail for several years, with several different companies, and I've seen lots of abuse, and the biggest abusers by far are the customers.

Example: Today a customer called me about returning an automotive accessory. The conversation went something like this.

CUSTOMER: Are you the Store Manager?
Joe: Yes, I am.
CUSTOMER: Can you tell me what your return policy is?
Joe: What's the product?
CUSTOMER: {he described the item, which was an electrical automotive accessory}
Joe: Generally, most products have a 30-day return policy if you have the receipt, the box, all accessories, and it hasn't been installed.
CUSTOMER: I have the receipt, but no box.
Joe: Has it been installed?
Joe: Then it normally wouldn't be returnable even if you had the box.
CUSTOMER: What if it's defective?
Joe: Then I'd be happy to exchange it, but I'd have to keep the new box and any missing accessories to return it to the manufacturer for credit.
CUSTOMER: Can I just exchange it for something else in the store?
Joe: Unfortunately, without the box I can't resell it or send it back for credit. The only thing I could do is throw it in the dumpster, and that'd be like throwing away the $160 you paid for it. I'm sorry, I can't give you a refund without the box, but I'd be happy to exchange it.
CUSTOMER: The problem is, I got pulled over because of it, and the police told me if they caught me with it on my car again they'd have to impound my car. I didn't know they were that illegal.
Joe: That would be your responsibility to check before you install it. {the box was clearly labeled OFF-ROAD USE ONLY}
CUSTOMER: So I can't return it?
Joe: No, sir. I'll be happy to exchange it, though, and if you don't want to reinstall it, maybe you can sell it on eBay to someone in a state where they aren’t illegal.
CUSTOMER: Do you have any more in stock?
Joe: If you can hold a moment, I'll go check.

Joe: Yes, sir, and I can hold it for you if you can tell me when you'll be in.
CUSTOMER: It'll be late tonight or tomorrow.

Case closed, right? Wrong! I received a phone call from my Corporate Office because the customer had called them. I explained the situation and concluded by saying, "Unless someone above store level tells me to, I'm not going to refund it."
I then sent an email to my boss explaining the situation and my stance. He seemed to indicate agreement. Later, the customer called me again. That call went something like this.

CUSTOMER: Can you tell me the website of the manufacturer? I'm going to see if they can send me a box so I can return it.
Joe: {I gave him the web address, deciding that if he was going to go to the effort to get a box, I would allow him to return it and send it back for defective credit.} Let me know if they'll be sending you one and I can extend the return period.

Case closed now? NO! A short time later I received a message from my boss instructing me to call the customer and offer him an in-store credit.

I called the customer with the pretense of checking on whether he was able to get a box sent to him by the manufacturer. That call went something like this.

Joe: I'm calling to see if you were able to get the manufacturer to send you a box.
CUSTOMER: Well, I talked to the District Manager, and he's supposed to call the manufacturer to see if they can make an exception this one time, then he's supposed to call me back.
Joe: Okay. I'll talk to him and find out what we can do for you, then either he or I will call you back.

Of course, by this time I was fuming! This is how idiot customers abuse the system. This is why you – the customer – constantly pay more and more for the same product: the retailer's loss is built in to future price increases.

It seems the "in-store credit" is every retailer’s answer to customer complaints. A stupid customer (and they aren't all stupid) makes a stupid buying decision. He later has buyer's remorse and tries to return the item broken, without a box, without a receipt, or several months after purchase (I've seen as much as a year and a half). Store Associates try to do what's reasonable and refuse the return. The customer complains. Store Management supports the Associate and refuses the return. The customer calls or emails the Corporate Office with whatever lies they think will get them what they want. And they get it in the form of an in-store credit.

Does this sound like you? Someone you know? Or have you been in my place in a similar situation?

Drop me a note.


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