Tis the Season for….Returns.

“I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out and customer is still satisfied.”  L.L. Bean, 1916

Research shows that nearly $50 billion in merchandise is returned to retail stores during the holiday season.  This year,  I had three items up for returns:  running shoes (wrong size), two t-shirts (wrong size) and a DVD (which didn’t work)   I had all the receipts, original bags and my story well-rehearsed to avoid any confrontation.   I figured this should be pretty easy; all three are exchanges not returns.

Store #1:  I brought in my shoes and handed the clerk the receipt.   I said “I’m looking for the same shoe in a different size”.   She grabbed the receipt and said “the best that I can do for is you give you a gift receipt”.  I said “all I want is the same shoe in a different size”.  And she snapped back, “Sorry sir, I can’t do that, since we need to be able to track all the returns”.   Two minutes later, I was walking out of the store, completely stunned and frustrated, with a plastic little gift card that I figured my wife or daughter could use on her next purchase.  They just lost $100 sale, and created a frustrated customer not to return again.

Store #2:  I brought in the DVD that failed to work.   It was only $15, but in my mind “Brian’s Song” is a rare movie I wanted to share with my son.  The clerk said “we can exchange it if you’d like”.   He looked up in his computer and said “oh we are out of it, we could order one for you, it should be here within two weeks”.   Since the store is 45 min from my house, I said “no thanks, I’ll just take the cash then”.   The store manager then murmured something to the clerk, never looking at or addressing me directly.  The clerk then said “I’m sorry sir; we can’t do a return if it’s been opened”.   I said “how can I know it didn’t work if I didn’t open it?”    After a few more back and forth, they did eventually give me my money back.  Another lost sale and frustrated customer determined to find it on I-tunes.

Store #3:  This should be easy,  I wanted the same t-shirts in a different size.   With no return desk, I went to shelf, grabbed two t-shirts and got in line at the cash.  I said “I’d just like to exchange sizes”.  She scans each of the 4 shirts in and says “that will be $2.26”, handing me a coupon for my next visit.   I said “I just want to change sizes, shouldn’t that be free?”  After a two minute conversation, the manager came over to do the classic over-ride followed by a long explanation to me of what just happened.   All I wanted was my t-shirts.  And while I was now a frustrated customer, I thought it was hilarious that the store clerk took the coupon away, since it wasn’t a sale after all.

Each store completely forgot about the consumer.   All the work the brand had done to create loyalty over the years is gone in a blink of an eye.   If your brand is loved, it can turn to Indifferent in a heart beat.  Imagine losing a life long customer over $2.26.   Most marketers think that creating a great brand is about creating awareness and demand.   But they forget the post purchase experience which includes a great returns policy.   Brands that get it include Costco, which has such an amazing returns policy it makes the membership fee worth it.  They never ask questions, sending it right back to the manufacturer.    L.L. Bean still has that same amazing returns policy fast forward to the modern day:  Customers can send any item back, at any time, with or without receipts, in any condition…and still get a refund or exchange.  Brands that get it, stand behind the sale.  

With these three brands, two out of three expected exchanges turned into full refunds.  I walked away frustrated and stunned at how bad the policies were.

And for some humour, the best clip I could find on “returns” is from the Office.   I’m sending it back!!!

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