After the chaos of holiday gift buying ends, comes the even more excruciating season of returns and exchanges. On top of the lines, and the fact that it’s almost impossible to explain to a toddler why two identical Tickle Me Elmos aren’t better than one, you are also facing down an almost impossible gauntlet of gift receipts and arcane return policies.
After our own experiences with returns today alone, it is obvious that big box stores have little to no interest in service and customer satisfaction – two things that small businesses need to keep in mind every day. Our family’s first experience with customer dissatisfaction came today at Target. Someone who shall remain nameless, received an article of clothing purchased from Target, and upon trying it on, found a small hole in it. Hoping to exchange it, we took that item to Target this morning along with a few items we had duplicates of and needed to return. We had receipts for the items we wanted to return, but not for the damaged clothing, which still had all of its hang tags on it, and happened to be from one of Target’s own brands.
In the customer service department, we got merchandise credit (what ever happened to real money??) for the items we had receipts for, but when it came to the article of clothing, it was a different story. The clerk politely told us that since the item was over $20 and we didn’t have a receipt, we could not exchange it for an identical but undamaged item! Where on this planet would a store get the idea that it is good customer service to deny the exchange of one obviously unworn but defective piece of merchandise, for another identical item of the same size because it cost a few cents more than $20?
Our next moment of customer dissatisfaction came while sorting through some gift receipts. My wife happened to glance at the return policy printed on the back of a gift receipt from the Disney Store. Apparently, if you have a gift receipt, and not the original sales receipt (which would presumably be held by the gift giver since it contains the price, credit card number, etc . . .), the Disney Store will only give you merchandise credit equal to the lowest sales price of the item. Personally, I thought the whole purpose of a gift receipt was to make sure a person could still get a full refund if the item went on sale in the meantime. So, if the stuff your kids got for Christmas from the Disney Store went on clearance on the 26th, and you can’t make an even exchange for a different color or size, you are only going to get a fraction of the purchase price back.
Then, there are the gift receipts themselves, which seem to be designed to insure that you’ll never find the ones you actually need. They seem to come in two varieties – ones like you get from Target which contain absolutely no information about what items the receipt is for, and ones from stores that print out a separate gift receipt for each individual item purchased, so you end up searching through a million tiny slips of paper for the one with the correct sku.
So, for those of you running small retail businesses, here are some tips for building customer loyalty over those big box competitors.
- Clearly state and document your return policy, especially if you make custom or one-of-a-kind items.
- Don’t make your policy so rigid that your employees are left with their hands tied behind their backs when there is a problem with an item.
- If an item is clearly from your store, and you still carry it, don’t make exchanges a hassle. A pleasant experience could bring someone back as a shopper in the future.
- If you provide gift receipts, make sure the contain item information and skus so that gift recipients can actually use them!
- Consider having a special holiday return policy so gift givers know that their gift recipients won’t be put through a ringer if something is the wrong size or if they receive more than one.