Refunds – Part 1: Understanding The Implications
In the words of Homer J Simpson, ” You don’t win friends with salad…” Or REFUNDS. Nothing kills our retail vibe more.
A request for a refund can instigate an endless array of possible horrible experiences. For you as the customer, but also for the sales assistant.
As customers, a particularly bad incident has the potential to ruin a long standing relationship we have built with the store involved. The retailer we were once obsessed with now leaves a bad taste in our mouth. I think we can all relate to the words:
‘I am never shopping here again!
On the flip side, every single retail worker can relate to having a customer turn on them and in the throws of a tantrum scream the same words in their face.
I’m a firm believer that Retail Karma is a real thing. Your behaviour as a customer will dictate the kind of service you receive and Drama Queens will never get treated like royalty. Conversely if we have taken the time to build up a rapport with a retailer, then we tend to be treated like an old friend when we’re shopping. Thats a relationship worth preserving and cultivating.
What is it then, that makes the Refund such a home-wrecker when it comes to retail relationships?
Well, refunds are an expression of dissatisfaction on the customer’s part. And guess what? The sales assistant’s entire job boils down to one thing: satisfying the customer. When a retailer looks at how they score in terms of customer engagement and customer satisfaction, one of the key metrics they look at is the rate of returns. A high rate of returns in comparison to sales is a key indicator that customers are not getting what they want. Whether thats the products available, or the customer service provided, or both.
So, a refund is a mark of failure for the store – and no one likes receiving an ‘F’!
Sometimes though, a refund is what we really need. How then, do we maintain ‘the Zen’ when requesting one? It starts with understanding the impact refunds have on the sales staff and the store and also understanding our obligations as customers when a refund really is necessary.
Understanding Your Impact
Its a refund, so immediately everyone is on edge. Why is that?
You’re on edge because you want your money back and you don’t want the store to say no. You’ve have bad experiences before. You don’t like how the staff question you as to why you’re returning the item. Or the way it seems you need to jump through hoops to satisfy their ‘policies.’ There is a palpable feeling of mistrust.
The sales assistant is on edge partly because they are taking their cue from you. When you enter the store with the air of someone about to engage in battle, their ‘Difficult Customer radar’ will be crackling and popping. They are obliged to ask you for proof of purchase and examine the article in question to determine if it meets the store refund policy. They know how that appears to customers in ‘Battle Mode.’ Needless to say, it usually inflames things.
They’ve also seen customers try a-million-and-one ways to flout the refund policy. They want to do the right thing and protect their company from fraud. They also want to protect their sales and customer service results. The money they will be refunding you comes directly off that day’s budget. Your refund can put a dent into how their company measures the level of satisfaction that staff member delivers to his or her customer. You’re about to hand them a set-back and thats hard to handle with a smile.
By understanding the situation, you can do your bit to diffuse it. This needs to be a team effort on both sides to ensure everyone gets the outcome they want. Not a ‘Them against Me’ battle. Attitude, when it comes to fostering a collaborative relationship, is everything. We will discuss this in Part 2.
Here, I would also like to say something important:
If you’re a serial buy-to-return customer, know that you will be earning yourself a reputation in store and you need to stop. NOW. Your habit of buying before deciding you need an item means you are constantly in contact with the staff for a negative reason and constantly loosing brownie points you can’t afford to loose. You are wasting their time and reducing their budget. Plus every refund you make is a slap in the face to the customer service you were offered when you purchased. Eventually you won’t be offered any customer service. And every new refund will become more and more unpleasant.
Contrary to what you might believe, refunds are a privilege, not a right* and retail karma once you ruin it, can be a real bitch. Don’t make such a Bush-League error.
Understanding Your Obligations
We’re talking Terms and Conditions. It’s YOUR responsibility to know them. Make sure you take a look before you even think of walking back into the store. Ideally, you should know them before you make a purchasing decision (especially if its a big ticket item). If the the T&C’s aren’t listed in full on the sales receipt, there should at the very least be a link to the store’s online version. All stores must make their conditions of sale and refund policy public.
Most retailers will require the following:
- Proof of Purchase. The original sales receipt or sales confirmation for online purchases. The burden is on the customer to retain and provide this. NOT the store. I repeat, NOT the store. A store could process hundreds, if not thousands, of transactions daily. You are in charge of one. Keep your receipts.
- The Product must be in original resalable condition. Unworn/unused/unopened/sealed in its original packaging which must not be damaged in any other way. It can not be classed as ‘second hand’ or ‘used.’ Any Gifts With Purchase received must also be returned in original resalable condition if the original purchase is being returned.
- The Refund must be within a set period of time from the date of sale. The time frame will not be the same for every store. Some stores have no time frame. You need to check.
- The Product must not be on the Refund Exceptions list. Some items cannot be returned for change of mind reasons.* These usually include: Software, Giftcards, Custom made items, Pillows, Pierced jewellery, Final sale/Clearance items.
Here is one very important thing to note:
Just as you have rights as a consumer, so does the store. If you made an error in your selection, you may just have to wear it, the store is under no obligation to give you your money back. That’s what eBay is for.
If your item is faulty however, you will have statutory rights covering how the store must correct the problem. These can differ from country to country and even state to state. I’ve put some starting points below:
- UK: Citizen’s Advice Bureau
- US: Federal Trade Commission
- Australia: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)
- Canada: Individual provinces and territories have their own laws and Consumer Affairs offices. You can find their contact details in the Canadian Consumer Handbook
Make sure, when you are tempted to declare loudly at the counter, “I KNOW MY RIGHTS,” (like so many other customers before you) you actually do know them. Then check yourself. Walk away. Cool off. And make an appointment with a next-level employee, like the department or store manager. If you are needing to discuss your rights, then you are needing a staff member who is able to engage with you at that level. And for that, its best to pre-arrange the time so everyone is prepared.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we discuss the best approach for the best out come when you need to ask for a refund. In the meantime, what are your refund war-stories? Come on, there is plenty of space in the comments for you to vent…