Many Unhappy Returns

Cynthia Compton - April 18, 2018

There was a brisk discussion among some retail colleagues online yesterday about merchandise returns at our stores. One shopkeeper inquired about other businesses’ refund and exchange policies, and after a back and forth of standard policies copied from everyone’s receipt printer, the conversation evolved, as it often does, into a “craziest customer returns” contest of anecdotes. As a distraction from a dreary midwestern spring in which sales are weak, freezing rain is a daily occurrence,  and a sense of humor essential, I’m going to do a quick roundup of the best of these for your entertainment. (Please note that only the customer quotes were uttered out loud. The italicized responses are strictly from my flippant imagination, and were not actually verbalized.)

“My mother bought this here…. but we already have one. She didn’t give us a receipt.”  Perhaps, dear customer, that was because she bought it elsewhere. See, here’s the Kohl’s price sticker on the bottom, still attached. Oh, look, she got a great buy – it was on clearance!  I wonder if she got Kohl’s cash, too?  
“This book was a gift. My son doesn’t really like books – he’s too young.”  Indeed. Your son is much too busy with crayons to look at the pictures… except maybe the pictures he drew on the pages? I’m so sorry, it’s such a flat market right now for original art in Crayola.
“She played with this for like… two minutes. And then it fell apart.” You’re right. Those tire tracks (from a tricycle? a scooter? a small hybrid vehicle?) would have taken about two minutes to apply to the back of the Etch-a-Sketch, unless you backed up and ran over it again. 
“This book is too long. He needs to do a report that’s due tomorrow.”   Gosh, what a shame – the teacher must have arbitrarily changed the assignment deadline, as I see that the book was purchased a month ago. The nerve of some educators! This is why kids are so stressed, right?
“We got this in a basket at the school auction, and the tag says your store donated these items. We’d like to exchange them for something else.” Huh? Excuse me, I just need to step in the stock room for a quick second.
“I want to return this book. The ending was terrible.” So, you read it? In its entirety? And the pages turned, and the spine stayed intact, and all the print was legible? So it did its job, as a book? You just DIDN’T LIKE IT. Well, isn’t that a soul-crushing life experience? But you’d like me, as a business owner, who has already paid for the book, shelved it, written a shelftalker, described it to you, rung it up, bagged it, and sent it home with you to read (along with the free bookmark, the event schedule, and an invitation to our author event) to take it back and give you back your money. Well, bless your heart.
“We bought this at Christmas, but we had too many gifts for that kid, so it just stayed in the closet. Could you re-wrap it for his birthday? And do we get a partial refund, because it’s on sale now?” Small coughing fit. Retailer wonders if it’s too early in the day for wine.
“My husband bought these baby books a couple months ago. We were going to do a Pottery Barn sailboat theme for the nursery, you know, the primary colors, so they would have looked good on the shelf. But that’s kind of out now, and we’re going with a grey room with yellow accents. Maybe whales. What board books do you have that I can use? You can take these back. They weren’t chewed on or anything.”  Let’s just take a look in our “grey” section, shall we?
“We got this book at school when the author visited. She signed it. My daughter has outgrown it, so I thought you might like to sell it to another kid, since it’s autographed and all. I’m happy with store credit.” Surprisingly, we don’t have a huge market for books inscribed to “Hailee.”
“This wooden alphabet puzzle has upper case and lower case letters. My daughter-in-law says that my grandson only reads capital letters right now, so we need to return this.” And your family realized this product flaw AFTER they removed the shrinkwrap? 
I bought the second volume in this series, but my son has not read the first one. He’s read the third.” “Of course, would you like to exchange it for the first? Or perhaps keep the second volume, and add the first?” “No, I want the fourth, but could you just copy the first few pages of the first book so he doesn’t miss the very beginning?”
“I asked your staff member for some recommendations, and she gave me this list. I bought them online, but then I decided to only keep this one. So since these were HER recommendations, I thought you might do the return. Shipping is such a hassle.” So is this conversation. Maybe you could drop off your laundry, too. We’ve got LOADS of free time.
I’m bringing back this toy.”
I’m so sorry, plush is not returnable at our store for health reasons.” 
“I didn’t know that.” 
“It’s printed on your receipt, here, and we typically remind every customer as we ring them up when they purchase a stuffed animal. I’m sure you understand – you wouldn’t want to buy a plush toy for your baby that had been in someone else’s home…. what if there were allergens like pets? Can I make it up to you with a gift card? Perhaps you could gift the stuffed toy, and buy something else.”
 “But I’m a really good customer.” All our customers are really good.  Here, let me scan your receipt. Yep, you supported us with…. one visit in the last three years.
Of course, our actual response to each of these customers is “how can we make this better for you?” and “thank you for shopping local.” We’d love to hear your return tales, too.

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About Cynthia Compton

Cynthia is the owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Indiana, a 2600 sq. ft. childrens store founded in 2003. She serves on the board of the American Booksellers Association, is a past president of the Great Lakes Bookseller Association, and is a former member of the American Specialty Toy Retail Association board of directors. 4 Kids was honored with the Pannell Award in 2013 and has received numerous "best of" awards in the Indianapolis area. The opinions expressed in her posts are her own, and sometimes those of her english bulldogs.

7 thoughts on “Many Unhappy Returns

  1. Kenny Brechner

    Great stuff Cynthia. Yes our best customers never announce that fact aloud I’m afraid.
    A return moment which I can’t unexperience was the return of a Canterwood Crest middle grade horse series book.
    “I bought this for my granddaughter here and I’m bringing it back because it takes the Lord’s name in vain.”

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      I’m thinking that the grandmother never actually OWNED a horse. There’s a lot in that process that causes one to swear, in my experience.

  2. Kathy Magruder

    I worked in a college bookstore for a while. Had a customer get very upset when we wouldn’t take a paperback textbook with a broken spine and creased cover back. “But I only read it, I didn’t use it!”

  3. Laura H.

    Our store had a raffle for teachers during Teacher’s Appreciation Night. The prize was a large basket full wonderful, carefully chosen books and book accessories. It was on display by the raffle tickets. The next day the winner came in with the basket (still wrapped in cellophane) and wanted to get store credit for the entire basket. Half the store’s staff and maybe a customer or two, stood there with our mouth’s hanging open for a couple minutes. She did not get the credit. We suggested she donate the basket to her school.

    1. Cynthia Compton Post author

      Oh, Laura! I would still be standing there, all agog. (and thank you for the chance to use that word, btw) – Cynthia

  4. Grimm Reader

    We once had a customer try to return several books of cut out paper dolls (Still intact…), that were purchased over two years previously. When we told her we only accept returns within 30 days there much kerfuffle about “they’re your products.”
    That we don’t stock anymore … because it’s been two over years.


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