We issue gift certificates, like almost every other store in the country. Yesterday there was a customer exchange that made me think very hard about my policies and how flexible (or not) I should be.
A customer came in while I was at lunch and explained to my very patient staffer that in 2005 she was given a notecard from her students saying there was a gift certificate waiting for her at the Flying Pig. She never came in to claim the certificate. This was back before we switched to the ABA-sponsored gift card programs; the certificate was paper and we held it in the desk drawer for her for a full year and a half until we moved the store. Back then these certificates expired in a year, which was clearly written on the certificate. We always allowed them to be redeemed up to three years later. This three-year time span is now the law.
Now, seven years later, the teacher comes in with the original card, but no actual paper certificate, which we show as having been written and possibly picked up.
My initial inclination was to tell the customer that the gift certificate had long expired and could not be used. But I posted this situation on the New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory listserv and was frankly stunned by the number of folks who said they’d accept the gift certificate, even though there was no actual certificate and it was seven years old.
I was so torn about this. In a perfect world, I’d happily accept on faith that we had held a gift certificate for a teacher seven years ago and just let her use it. Perhaps it’s the sudden dip back into winter this week, but I’m tired of being taken for granted. It has cost me money to have my accountant keep carrying this unused gift certificate on my books. I know we received money for this, I’m not disputing that, but there are rules for things.
Things expire and are no longer good. If I can accept that when I clean out my car and find an expired gift certificate for a restaurant, why can’t my customers? Why should I bend the rules, the very clear rules, for one customer? But then I hear the voice of customer service, that says, just let her use it and move on.
I was reminded anew of that statistic that retailers hear: when a person has a good experience they tell three people, when they’ve had a bad experience, they tell twelve. This weighed heavily on me as I tried to make a decision that felt fair to both of us. Elizabeth and I decided in the end to issued the customer a gift certificate for half the original amount. This seems really fair to me. If that mythical restaurant honored any part of my expired gift certificate I’d be thrilled.
The customer didn’t thank me, nor did she acknowledge that we were doing her a favor and honestly, going above and beyond. She wanted to have us hold the gift card for her behind the register. I popped it in the mail instead.