Friday, January 1, 2010

Customer return etiquette!

In light of yesterday's marked down Sleepy Wrap (50% off, what a bargoon!) and the surprise that some people expressed over the fact someone would return a dirty sling as 'new' (she exchanged it for another color, the sling had obviously been removed from the package, but due to the fact it was an exchange, it wasn't properly inspected).

As it is, we already have a pretty generous return policy, 30 days for a cash refund or exchange with proof of purchase -- 45 days if the product is returned with a gift receipt. Items must be in like-new, unwashed condition, with the original packaging. Not an unreasonable request, we can't sell used items, and we can't sell unpackaged products (not without discounting them). If you don't have a receipt, with a credit card statement or bank statement that lists the date of purchase, we can likely dig up your proof of purchase. You see, we are actually pretty nice about it all! Despite our best efforts to ensure customer satisfaction when it comes to returns, it amazes me how some people have tried to thwart the system, the lengths people will go to can be pretty astonishing, to put it bluntly. There are a few that stand out!

Most shameless customer return -- When I was in labor with Owen, who was born at home, the business number listed in the yellow pages was our home phone number (we had a storefront at the time, however, the lease was signed after the phonebook was published). As I was lying in the bed (in labor, picture it!), a customer called to ask if he could return some washed (but not used diapers). I informed him that I was in labor, I could not discuss it at that time, call back in a week (he knew the return policy when he purchased the diapers, I specifically told him at the time of the purchase to wash and try a few diapers before washing them all, there was a question about size). What did he do? He ran down to the store immediately (immediately!) and told the salesperson I had OK'ed the return, he got a cash refund for his washed diapers. Thank-you, thank-you very much!

Most WTF happened? return -- I will preface this one by saying the customer in question was quite nice when he came in to exchange said item, and that makes all the difference in the world. It began with a phone call:

Him: Hi there, we just bought a wool cover there a couple of weeks ago, it has a broken snap.
Me: Sorry for your trouble, no worries, that manufacturer offers a lifetime warranty on snaps, we can exchange it for you.
Him: Thanks! I'll be right down.

So he comes into the store with his wool diaper cover. OK, so technically, I guess he was right. There was a broken snap. OK, there were, like, eight broken snaps. Maybe not so much 'broken', per se, as torn right out of the cover. And the elastic around the entire cover was busted. And there were small holes throughout the cover. And it was filthy (dirty, not poo!) in places. I was speechless at what he was holding, with a receipt as his proof of purchase, the cover was in fact only a couple of weeks old, and he swore up and down it had only been hand-washed and air-dried. To say what I was seeing and what I was hearing made no sense was an understatement. I really shouldn't have exchanged it, but I was stunned (so was a co-worker, lol), he was really quite nice about it, and he had been a good customer to boot, so as a gesture of goodwill, I made the exchange. He has returned to the store many times after that, so it was the right call on my part, and if there's a lesson to be learned here for you, the customer, the old adage 'You will catch more flies with honey than vinegar' is true. Be nice to us, and there's a good chance we'll be nice right back (although, seriously, if you accidentally ran over your wool diaper cover with your car, please don't bring it back, that doesn't qualify as a 'manufacturer's defect') !

Most 'please just leave me alone already' return -- this was just plain weird, thank God she lived four hours away, I shudder to think what this person would have been like to deal with in real life! She purchased two carriers in January, I assumed she was ordering both to compare, and that one would make its way back to us (we rarely sell two carriers at a time). I was right, five weeks later I received an e-mail indicating she wanted to return a carrier, was it OK since she was outside the thirty days? Because I'm not an asshole (I'm not!), I said "sure, no problem", and I gave her the necessary information. No carrier was returned. Until April (yes, three months after it was purchased). No phone call or e-mail beforehand to check if a return was still OK (no, it's not!), it just arrived on our doorstep out of the blue.

I e-mailed the customer to give her a heads-up that I was returning the carrier to her (mailing it back 'return to sender' without opening it), returning a product three months after purchase was simply unacceptable. She swore up and down that it was in like-new, never used condition, however, I had been burned in the past with such claims (case in point, a Hotsling that was covered in dried-up, crusted-on barf, a clearly washed (and faded, pilly) Ergo that was wadded back into the package, the list goes on!). If I were to open the package to inspect it, that sucker's mine, so I replied to her e-mail "Sorry, no-can-do". She called me. Wailing (and wailing, and wailing) that she 'needs' to return the carrier. She *neeeeeeeeeeds* to return the carrier! It was a very (very, very, very!) awkward conversation, I was thisclose to caving just to end the phone call. I put the package back in the mail to her, and received a handwritten letter in return. I admit I never read it, I felt quite horrid about the whole thing, I didn't need to feel even guiltier about it (my husband read it, but I made him swear not to tell me its contents).

I received an online order that week for the same carrier (same color even!), the new customer was in a town not too far away from crazy original customer, I put them in touch with each other, so I hope I redeemed myself somewhat.

Most customer returns are quick and painless, these examples are definitely the exception to the rule. If ever there's an issue with a customer return (should we or shouldn't we?) I have advised staff members to refer customers to me. I'm a reasonable person to deal with, I just ask that people are honest and upfront about what they're trying to return (if you didn't buy it from us, please don't try to return it to us!). There have been a few bad apples who have caused a scene in front of other customers to get their way, and yes, this approach works (sad, but true), however we want our customers to be happy with their purchases. So, what can you do to make the process easier on us all?

Be aware of a store's return policies, and please adhere to them. Our return policy is printed on the bottom of the receipt, so you can rest-assured you have a copy. If you've washed the item in question, please don't try to pass it off as unwashed, we will know (wrinkled tags, the smell of detergent... it's usually quite obvious), and it's just plain awkward when this happens. If you don't like something, keep in mind we hold regular cloth diaper swaps, a great opportunity for you to sell your used items, recouping part of the original cost.

Please keep your receipt! If you don't have it handy, we can likely look it up, but on the odd day that a sales report has not been generated, you are out of luck. For warranty & recall purposes, it is good practice to keep your receipts anyhow.

Be gracious about it. Yes, barging into the store and yelling at us in front of prospective customers will get results, but it's just not nice. Fortunately, we don't encounter this type of exchange often, but when it happens, it sucks, and to be frank, it ruins our day (sometimes, our whole week!). We're a small business, and we can't afford to offer a 'we'll take anything back, whenever you're through using it, for whatever reason you might be dissatisfied' return policy. Yes, Wal-mart might, and MEC does, but they are considerably different operations. If you've used your Fuzzibunz diapers for almost a year, and you need to size up, please don't bring them back to us on the premise of customer dissatisfaction expecting to exchange them for the next size up. It's not nice, and you know it's not nice (yep, that's an explicit reference to a recent unpleasant exchange, being a jerk results in bad karma, but I expect you know that already). If I do bend the rules for you (like I already said, I'm reasonable!), please say 'thank-you', and please don't expect it to happen again.

Of course, avoiding customer returns is the ideal scenario, which is why we try to up be upfront about the products we sell. We encourage prospective parents to wait until their baby is born before purchasing a carrier, on a similar note, we suggest you wait until after your milk supply is established before purchasing your nursing bras, and we encourage a cautious approach to purchasing cloth diapers. Ultimately, our goal is for you to be happy with any purchases you have made from us, however, customer returns are a normal part of any retail environment, we only hope it can be a smooth process for both you and us!


  1. i like this. i like you. i dont know you, but a person that says WTF and asshole in the same blog, deserves props.

    with that said, wow some people really are assholes. hopefully they read this blog and realize, hey is that me she is referring to? hmm why yes, yes it is.

  2. I agree with Meg - you're gracious and real. It's refreshing. I read some of the stories (especially the shameless return!) with mouth agape. The nerve! And I'm glad that we customers do get points for being nice. You shopkeepers, do, too :)

    Natalie @YMCbuzz
    Happy New Year!

  3. Yeah Susie! I am so glad you have a place to vent! Keep your receipt people! You rock Babe!

  4. My peeve are customers coming in and trying to arrange non-standard returns/exchanges and claiming "friendship" with another (not present at the time) member of the staff. It's like they think being vaguely connected to a person entitles them to special treatment. It's so awkward dealing with those transactions!

    I saw the wool cover, btw, and my mind boggles trying to figure out precisely *how* it could sustain that particular type of damage.