A Tale of Two Returns

A Tale of Two Returns

Last week, I wrote about my experience at the Apple store in Even the Apple Store Isn’t the Apple Store Every Day. In that post, I mentioned that I was referred by an Apple employee to a “cell phone” store in the mall.

What I did not relate was the customer experience I had at that store.

A Difficult Return, The Next Day

To set the stage for those who have not read the original post, I had gone to the cell phone store (CPS) in a huge rush after failing to replace my OtterBox iPhone case at the Apple store.

I received what seemed like good service at CPS that evening. The reps even upsold me on an OtterBox competitor that was supposed to be better. After the sales reps rattled off some features, I gave the case a cursory glance and bought the case.

A Tale of Two Returns

My new OtterBox iPhone case.

Unfortunately, I was in a huge hurry, and I did not take the time to ask many questions. My mistake.

Within 5 minutes of using the case, I already knew I hated it. It was waterproof — one of the selling features — but the mechanisms needed to keep its watertight integrity made headset use inconvenient and muffled the phone’s speaker.

I took the case off after a short time, knowing I would want to return it and wanting to keep it in new condition. Then I decided to read the receipt and saw for the first time CPS’ return policy.

Now, I want to be clear. CPS can have any return policy it wants, as long as it fairly discloses it. It is my duty as a customer to ask prior to purchase. CPS’ policy is as follows:

Thanks for shopping with us!!! All sells are final. We hope to see you again soon. Due to our internal inventory control we do not offer any type of refunds, we will gladly exchange an unused merchandise within 7 days, product must have all original packing in new condition.

(That is the exact language, including grammatical errors.)

The 7 day window is extremely tight and says a lot about the company’s approach to its customers.

7 days means churn and burn.

Since I was leaving town the next morning, I was going to have difficulty making this return window. Fortunately, I was able to give my credit card and the case to someone who said she would take care of it while I was gone.

The return process was not easy. The store would only give store credit and only on a named account after being supplied a driver’s license. It was 10 minutes of frustrating back and forth, with me on the phone from out of town, before we finally got the store to do the credit without a driver’s license.

It was not a pleasant experience.

Perhaps selling cell phone accessories in the mall, the owners of this business have made a calculation that a difficult, jump-through-hoops return policy is in the best long term interest of their business.

I know, for me personally, that once I use my refund, I will not patronize this establishment again. CPS’ return policy shows how they feel about their customers.

An Easy Return, One Year Later

Contrast the experience above with the one we had at Macy’s a week later. My wife found a couple of old articles of clothing that we had meant to return previously but that had somehow been stuck in the wrong drawer.

My wife took them to Macy’s to try to return them. She had no receipt, and the items had been purchased almost a year earlier.

At the return counter, my wife explained that not only did she not have the receipts but also that she did not know what card I used to purchase the items.

The sales rep scanned the labels on the clothing, and said, “Would you like a store credit or would you like it placed back on the original card?”

My wife was amazed. No receipt. No credit card. A year later. That simple.

Easy Returns Mean Many Happy Returns

Your return policy and process is an integral part of your customer experience and should be treated as such.

How does your return policy contribute to the bottom line? Does your return policy sacrifice long term profitability for short term gain?

Tailor a return policy that makes sense for your business model. However, make sure it brings your customers back — and not just to return things.


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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