5 Tips For Avoiding Confrontation When You Need To Return An Item

She walked in angrily and responded with a short tempered “no” when I asked her if she needed help finding anything. Moving from rack to rack like a butterfly landing on a flower, she stayed only a moment and then moved on to the next rack. Something was definitely bothering her, so I decided to try to break the ice with some chit chat and asked her how her holiday celebrations had gone. She opened up right away and told me about having both kids and their families home for Christmas. We talked about my having just come back from visiting my mother in law and how we had made the difficult decision to travel despite Covid because her health has been poor this year. My opening up about my life helped, and pretty soon we were chatting about 2020 and how difficult it had been. Eventually the conversation trailed off, and after a comfortable silence, she said,

“I’m just really trying to cool off right now.”

I responded, “Oh, are you having a bad day?”

“Yes.” She said and then continued. “My son bought me a top that is too big, and I just found out the store won’t even give me an exchange because I don’t have the receipt.”

“Wow…,” I said, honestly surprised. “Not even a store credit?” I asked.

“Not without the receipt,” she emphasized.

“Hmmm, that is surprising, “I said, trying to be sympathetic. “Most people don’t give receipts with their gifts unless it is a gift receipt.”

“Exactly,” she responded. “I will never shop at that store again, and I am going to tell everyone I know.”

This whole conversation got me thinking about what we in the industry not so affectionately call “Returns Week From Hell.” The week after Christmas is a stressful one for retailers, as customers bring back presents that were wrong or they didn’t like. Sometimes they even take out their frustrations over wrong gifts on us. There have been times when I have ended the day in the hole, which feels pretty discouraging. To be honest, I understand where this business owner was coming from. Most of us have multiple sales and promotions before the holidays. Without the receipt, it is impossible to know if the customer bought the present on sale or at full price. Without this information, it makes it really hard to know how much to give as a return, exchange or store credit.

Still, in my opinion, it is better to loose the $10 from a sale price than to loose a customer. I’m pretty sure that small business will never see this customer again, and she spent almost $200 in my store yesterday. What is worse is that her only form of retaliation is to tell everyone she knows about this experience. This may mean a rant on social media or just conversations with five to ten friends. This is short term thinking on the part of the small business owner. Long term thinking always preserves the relationship with the customer. To me, it just isn’t worth it.

With all of this in mind, I thought it may be helpful for me to write a blog with some suggestions that might help you avoid getting angry at a business over a return gone wrong.

  1. Call ahead and find out what the return policy is. A simple phone call can give you valuable information to help avoid a confrontation. If the business requires a receipt, you can consider if you want to tell your family member that you need to return the item, and see if he or she saved the receipt. Most businesses will also accept a credit card statement as well. In my store, if you know the date and amount of the sale, we can look up the receipt.
  2. Be nice. You know the saying that you get more with honey than with vinegar? It is especially true during return week. Understand that retailers are already stressed, especially this year. Ask to speak to the owner and explain your situation. Show that you also understand their position as well. Ask if there is any compromise for the situation. Only the most hardened business owners will say to “no” to this type of approach. Try to avoid threatening behavior. I know there has been times I have dug my heels in with a hard no simply because the customer was abusive and it pissed me off. Just saying….
  3. Be aware of credit card laws. Credit card companies require us to refund to the same credit card that was used to make the purchase. If we don’t follow this rule, they can deny the return. If you are bringing back a present that was purchased with a credit card, make sure you also have the credit card number that was used to make the purchase. If you don’t have it, be prepared to receive an exchange or store credit instead of a return.
  4. Don’t shoot the messenger. Often times customers get angry with sales people when a return doesn’t go as expected. Recognize that employees usually don’t have the authority to over-ride a store policy. If you are dis-satisfied, try to avoid taking it out on someone who can’t change the rules. Ask to speak to a manager or owner instead.
  5. Ask for a store credit. If you cannot find an item you wish to exchange on the day of your return, ask for a store credit or gift card so you can come back on another day. I know that I want my customers to be happy with what they have purchased and not feel pressured to get something just for the sake of doing an exchange. I am always happy to accommodate them with either a gift card or store credit.

Returns don’t have to be a negative experience for you or the small business. As with everything in life, a spirit of kindness and cooperation is a huge help in resolving disputes. We all need each other. You don’t want to have to shop online for everything you need, and small businesses cannot survive without customers. Actually, a dispute is an excellent opportunity to forge a great bond. Some of my most loyal customers were made when I went out of my way to make sure they were happy with a situation. Happy returns!