“I can’t give you a refund. I can only exchange it.”
Welcome to 1986, except that it’s 2013. Remember when things were difficult to return for a refund? You had to have the receipt, there were forms to fill out, and you had to deal with someone who was too bureaucratically rigid to do government work. And it had to truly be defective. You wouldn’t dream of attempting to return something simply because you (or your spouse) decided you didn’t want it.
All that changed when more and more stores realized there was a real long-term advantage to having you come to the store to return things. After all: 1) you were in the store and likely to buy more; 2) it created good will that made you want to return; and 3) the few that might abuse the return policy are more than countered by everyone else.
That’s one of the real secrets to Zappos. Make it easy to return or exchange items. Reduce the perceived risk of purchasing to almost nil. Never make the customer feel bad or stupid about their purchase. Actually, that’s not a secret at all. It’s right on display for all the world to see. And to ignore. And to wonder why Zappos is doing great while other businesses flounder.
In a rare family trip to the mall this weekend, my daughter purchased a curling iron from one of the booths in the middle of the mall. The salesman had curled a bit of her hair as a demonstration and she’d liked the results enough to make a purchase. But, it didn’t work as promised and over the next hour, the curl came out. We went back to return it and were told, “No refunds”. In fairness, there was a sign declaring “no refunds” and it was also stamped on the back of the receipt. Buyer beware.
Except, so what. Let’s look at the much bigger picture:
- Malls are struggling – that’s not opinion, that’s business article fodder.
- My pre-teen daughter is just a few short years from having a job, disposable income, and needing a safe place to meet friends.
- She now sees the mall as a place where businesses don’t stand behind their products. And that’s my nice way of putting it. I suspect she sees the mall as a place where businesses can rip you off.
- She already likes Amazon.com and is in the habit of buying books with her Kindle. It’s a small jump from books to other items.
- She is not alone.
That last one is the most important point. Dwell on it for a while. This isn’t about her, it’s about a pattern. It’s about establishing and building credibility and reputation or allowing it to be whittled away. It’s about missing the steady drip, drip, drip that becomes a river of movement away from an already troubled business model. Thinking about it, I’m actually pretty surprised that the anchor stores and the mall management allow smaller shops to do anything that might hurt their overall credibility and reputation.
Sure, the bigger stores can fairly and logically argue that they have nothing to do with the little booths. Except, so what? It’s guilt by association. Purchases are made with emotion, not logic.
Will anyone miss the malls when they are gone?
[Note: this may seem like a lot about one stupid curling iron. Except it’s not. It’s about bigger patterns happening in the world right now. It’s about Human Resources, sales, and customer service. It’s about retail, not-for-profit, and restaurants. It’s about business and humans. The world is changing quickly and reputation matters. Being right isn’t nearly as important as your credibility and the feelings your customer has toward you.]