In this age of the consumer, easy returns are a basic expectation, with all kinds of implications for customer loyalty and the bottom line.
But, while consumers generally expect returns to be convenient and generally not questioned, whether they’ve bought online or in the store, a few really take that to the limit.
Well-worn, not worn well
One of the most daring set of returns are the ones attempted after the window has closed. And while the merchandise may be worn, the reasons for the return are often unabashedly honest. There’s the woman who tried to return stained jeans because her roommate "borrowed them without asking," or the one who returned frayed and dirty shoes after she’d only “worn them around the house.”
Then there are habitual “deshoppers” or “wardrobers,” who essentially borrow items from retailers by buying them, keeping the tags on, and returning them after the reason for the purchase, like a party, is over. The practice is contributing to retailers’ $8.8 billion-a-year return fraud issue.
Some retailers are cracking down on previously liberal return policies, so as not to be taken advantage of by customers like these. But L.L. Bean continues to embrace a satisfaction guarantee policy that allows the return of 10-year-old sweaters, used backpacks, and worn boots. While it’s an expensive sales approach, the company values its positive effect on public relations.
Things can get disgusting
Crotch-stained jeans are bad, but how about the man who returned a grill, with the steak still on it? And, it took a while for this drugstore retailer to figure out that one of its regular customers was habitually returning painstakingly reboxed — but used (used!) — enemas.
I believe in Magic!
For some customers, returns policies invite a grey area. You must return something within 30 days? It’s only been 32! Need a receipt? Maybe not. Certainly, a lot of customer loyalty can be cheaply attained by meeting reasonable requests that technically skirt a retailer's official policies.
But sometimes a customer is simply expecting a magic trick, as when one women insisted that her photos should be in color, despite taking them with black and white film.
Things can get scary
Shoppers can get frustrated and even angry, sometimes legitimately so, if a retailer’s product or service fails to meet their expectations. But sometimes it’s the customer who's attempting a clearly fraudulent return who becomes the most unreasonably hostile.
Retailers should ensure that their associates are well trained to handle customers, even unreasonable ones, so that they know what steps to take if things escalate. Sometimes that means deferring to a manager or calling the police.
But it almost always requires a healthy sense of humor.