Democracy works best when consumers vote with their wallet. No purchase means no profit; no profit means failure. All we have to do, as consumers, is be more selective with our spending, and we can help shape the future of retail. Yes, it’s that simple!
However, I was reminded lately of the need to speak up first. If the store manager doesn’t know you are an unhappy customer, how is he or she supposed to do something about it? If you find the staff rude and dismissive, what good does it do to commiserate with your friends over a beer? Sure, we all like to share horror stories about our retail battles, particularly the juicy ones where the “duh” factor is huge, but what then? You can’t expect change if you’re not part of it.
I recently purchased shoe insoles for my mother, packaged in that ridiculous and rigid heat-sealed clamshell plastic, which has to be cut open with large scissors to avoid nasty cuts (a Wikipedia search will lead you to “package rage”). Aware of the ongoing packaging vs. consumer war, I asked first if the insoles could be returned. I explained that (of course) my mother would have to open them to try them on. The cashier did not want to give me that assurance; she called another person and asked. The other person came to the counter and said “Yes, we will let you return these, even if opened.”
Cut to scene two…
Three days later, on a weekend when I was fitting in a lot of errands, I brought the insoles back; wrong fit for my Mom. Along with a pile of other purchases, I approached the cashier with confidence.
“I’m sorry, you can’t return these. The package is open.”
“Yes, I know,” I replied, still smiling, “Which is why I asked before buying them if I could return them open. I was told I could.”
“No….” said the cashier, “That’s not store policy.”
“Which is, again, why I asked!” I replied, still smiling brightly.
“Who did you speak to?” asked the cashier, a glint of suspicion in her eyes. I stopped smiling.
“Well,” I said, feeling the creep of sarcasm, “I didn’t get a name. Was I supposed to?”
To make a long story longer….
The cashier refused to acknowledge my story. I asked her to speak to the store manager, she told me he was not at work that day. She did not offer any other solutions, and there was a line forming behind me. She was not rude, just consistently unhelpful. Uncaring.
I asked for the store manager’s name, left my purchases on the counter (but took the offending item) and told her she had lost a customer. This had no effect on her whatsoever; it seems people who work in stores have become desensitized.
Then, before I could find excuses not to, I sat down and wrote a long letter to the manager, explaining in simple terms WHY the store had lost a customer. I thought he should know that someone was giving assurances that weren’t honoured, that I felt dismissed, that the treatment of my simple dilemma (no doubt one of a million similar ones in stores everywhere daily) was no longer acceptable. I put the letter in the mail that same day.
Two days later, I received a phone call from the store manager. He apologized twice, quite sincerely. He told me to come in with the item again, assured me that they would certainly reimburse me. He sent me a text message confirming… which was a good thing, because when I went back I was AGAIN told I couldn’t return the now really-offensive item, with another gal pointing to the back of the bill, saying “No, it says here you can’t,” and finally I had to pull out my smartphone and show the cashier the text. OH FOR PETE’S SAKE.
“What do people generally do if these products don’t fit?” I asked the cashier as she finally reimbursed me the measly $17. “They return it to the manufacturer,” she said glibly. I didn’t believe her; I think this is just what she says when asked. I suspect she has no idea and doesn’t give a damn. But that’s another post.
Now I shall turn to the offending package, and send a letter to the manufacturer. Obviously, consumers are expected to buy these items at a potential loss, because if they don’t fit, you can’t return them. Message to consumers? Tough luck!
NOTE: I have been unable to devote much time to my marketing mission lately, after I took on caregiving for my parents, both with dementia. It has been an astonishing year of delving into the world of health care, home care, medical research and eye-opening experiences that I plan to share on another blog, when I have more time.