Lessons In Retail Etiquette

How To Refund Without Ruining Your Retail Karma – Pt 2

How To Refund Without Ruining Your Retail Karma - Part 2

Refunds – Part 2: How To Maintain The Zen

In Part 1 we discussed why The Refund is such a downer after we’ve scaled the heights of a retail high. In this post we are going to talk about how to circumnavigate all that ill-feeling. Wouldn’t it be lovely, to breeze through a refund transaction stress-free and Zen-like? Here we show you how…



Like Horse Whispering its all about the attitude! (I’m making a giant assumption here, as I’m dead scared of anything larger than a medium sized dog, but anyway…)

If you understand that solving your problem (refunding) will create a problem for the sales assistant (lost sales) then you will understand that approaching this scenario with a collaborative attitude will ensure the best outcome for everyone.

You need to establish with the sales assistant early on that you are going to do your utmost to be pleasant and cooperative and make this refund as pain free as possible. Sales Assistants, intuitive beings that they are, should respond in kind. If you are friendly and genuine, they relax. This is not the time to establish you are alpha-dog.  (Yes, we’ve moved on to Dog Whispering.) If you’re unpleasant and arrive in store with a chip on your shoulder, you only have yourself to blame for the outcome.

Smile. Use your manners. And let the enormity of the refund guide just how thickly you need to lay on the charm.

A refund for a $5 pair of socks with the receipt is going to be a vastly different experience to requesting a refund for a $500+ designer dress with no receipt and no swing tags. The bigger the hassle, the more understanding and pleasant you need to be.

Its important to note, if you are in need of a little rule-bending when it comes to your refund, you need to be ready to accept the store might not be able to help you. Be open to negotiation. Ideally you’d already have a go-to sales person if you’re a regular shopper. They’ll be keen to continue receiving repeat business from you, so will usually turn a blind eye to small things. If its a lot of rule bending, you will need to lay the groundwork first and with someone who has a lot more authority to bend those rules. See Timing.

If you’ve snagged yourself a good sales assistant they should be offering alternative products to the one you didn’t want. Don’t take that as a sign they want to keep your money and are not going to give it back to you. Of course they’d prefer to keep your money in their store. But they also want to satisfy your original need. They want to redeem their failure. Let them at least try.

Again, the greater the hassle your refund is creating, the more willing you need to be to exchange rather than refund.

Most stores will offer a good-will refund as a last resort to maintain a good customer relationship with a customer they value. As a customer, consider what your relationship with the store means. Perhaps extending the same ‘good-will’ and accepting an exchange instead will help strengthen a relationship you really want to keep.

Avoid the temptation to big-note or name drop. Telling the sales assistant you’re a shareholder or telling them just how many thousands you have spent in the store is not only elitist but also not likely to impress the sales staff. Saying you know the Store Manager personally to get your own way will probably blacklist you from any gooMrs Sd customer service in the future and make it very hard for the staff to stifle an eye roll when they see you. You are already important. Going to great lengths to impress your importance upon the sales staff just convinces them you don’t deserve the extra attention you are demanding.

Remember Mrs S? Don’t be Mrs S!



Be honest. Sales staff have an inbuilt ‘bullshit detector’ just as they have an inbuilt ‘Difficult Customer radar.’ Remember that good sales staff are extremely intuitive people because they have to be able to ‘read’ their customers to know how best to sell to them. If you’ve messed up in some way, confess. The store can probably still help you and your honesty goes a long way to making them want to.

Something along the lines of:

“I’m so sorry this is going to be a giant hassle… I cut the swing tags off this dress before I realised I picked up the wrong size. Is there anything you can do to help me?”

Don’t add insult to injury by wasting valuable time with some longwinded / unrelated / completely fictional reason for your return. Its so unhelpful. The staff will ask you because they need to know if its faulty, or if there is some other recurring issue the store might need to address. Not because they are trying to catch you being fraudulent.

Covering up your reason for return is the very thing that makes you look shifty and might earn you a place on the ‘watch list.’ Yes, stores have them. Because people try and defraud retailers every day of the week. Don’t be that customer.

73b12d035d1be434ad32831a5e83cefffabbe2f967771e5cd3612a9f3fbbe896If you’re refunding because you changed your mind, thats ok, and thats all you need to say. If its faulty, again say so, but don’t get angry at the sales assistant for a product that was not up to scratch. They are not the buyer, or the manufacturer, and probably not even the sales assistant who helped you with the original purchase. (I will cover warranty returns on a completely separate post – its a huge topic.)



If you want to minimise the potential for things to go awry you want to time your refund just right.

Don’t be the first customer to walk through the door when the store opens in the morning and don’t be the last customer of the day. 

Why? Again, its about minimising your negative impact or rather in this case the perceived negative impact. The impact of a refund is the same no matter what time of the day, but lets not light it up in neon with our ill-considered timing. Remembering, Good Customers get the Good Customer Service, so lets not leave a bad impression.

You might be thinking “lets get this over and done with,” but when you’re the first customer of the day and you make a refund, that poor sales assistant is going to start out with their sales results in the red. If its a big refund, they may never make that back and they’ll be cursing your name for the rest of the day. Not the way you want to be remembered.

Similarly, if you’re the last customer of the day they definitely won’t have the chance to make up for the hit they took on your refund. You’ll also be adding to the pressure of the situation by trying to squeeze your transaction in at the close of trade. Which we know never turns out well.

If your refund equates to a large amount of money, needs some rule-bending, is complicated with warranty/statutory rights issues, or flat out does not comply with the store’s refund policy, you need to call ahead and arrange a time to meet with someone who has the authorisation level to deal with you. Trust me on this, you will be saving yourself a huge amount of time and inconvenience by by-passing the regular sales staff and contacting the right person to handle the situation. I’ve seen countless staff members get upset needlessly because a customer has erroneously assumed anyone can help them with a particularly hairy refund request and has consequently become loudly dissatisfied at the outcome.

Big ticket items may require extra identification from you, or a higher authorisation level from the staff (they can’t just hand over large amounts of cash willy-nilly). Likewise, refunding against the store policy needs a Rule-Maker to be the Rule-Breaker. And issues concerning statutory rights requires someone employed to be well versed in them to assist you – not someone working for the minimum wage while they study for their future ‘real job’.

Don’t assume that the right person for your singularly high-maintanence refund will just happen to be available when you pop in. Make an appointment. Then everyone is prepared.



Remember that refunds are not a right* but a privilege. Requests are always thoughtfully considered. But demands are likely to be met with resistance.

And in all circumstances, ask yourself, is a refund really what I need? Or is eBay the answer?


Now tell me, its confession time. What is the worst refund experience you’ve ever had – as either customer or staff member.

Mine would have to be the time that guy threw his steam iron at me… yes really. An iron. And then called and complained I had given extremely poor service.

*except when your statutory rights state a refund should be provided. For more information on this topic we’ve provided some starting points here. Consumer rights legislation varies from country to country and even state to state, so make sure you do your own research.

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4 Amazing Comments

  • Reply Jess April 10, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    I’ve had something thrown at me too! A discman (I’ve been in retail THAT long!) the worst though is when someone lies or purposefully sets out to trick you. A customer once brought back school shoes, with her receipt, that had serious signs of wear and tear to the point of having fallen apart only a week after they were purchased. It turned out she had two pairs of the same shoe. One purchased years earlier for one child, and an identical pair purchased a week ago for another child. She was purposely trying to trick us! Returning the old with the receipt from the new and demanding a refund for manufacturers fault! I CAN SEE WHAT YOURE TRYING TO DO!!!

    I love that you point out request rather than demand a refund. Makes the biggest difference!!

    • Reply CC April 10, 2016 at 12:56 pm

      A discman! Like, woah. Blast from the past!

      Is it just me, or do some customers have this idea that because you work in retail you can’t be that smart? Because, you know, if you were smart you’d be a doctor or a lawyer and not work in retail at all. Except all those doctors and lawyers were Students at some point and probably worked in retail while they studied.

      In actual fact retail workers are some of the most socially intelligent people I know. And also some of the most cynical. We’ve seen ALL the tricks. We’ve seen the entire spectrum of human behaviour. Don’t for one second think we’re easy to fool.

  • Reply Kat April 10, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    Calling ahead is a good idea! Would have saved me trouble recently when I’d been overcharged (50% discount not applied) for some items. Was so angry! When I went in they showed me the discount HAD been applied, but the layout of the receipt sort of hid the discount so it wasn’t obvious at all. A call would have saved me the trip and the day of seething!

    • Reply CC April 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      I should add that calling ahead can be a double edged sword. If you’re not in the right frame of mind because you feel the retailer is at fault and you call to address it, things can go down hill very quickly. I’ve fallen foul of this before. Because you’re not in front of the person and they’re just a faceless bodiless voice you can feel a little too free with your words shall we say. Its only something you should do when you’re not emotionally involved!

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