|Mon Sept 16 2013 17:35:21|
Excuses Familiar? Retailer REI Nixes Liberal Returns Policy
By: Julia Wilkinson
An REI customer returned a frayed blue men's rain jacket from a previous decade. The reason? "Suddenly not waterproof." According to an article in today's Wall Street Journal, the outdoor clothing company that got the nickname "Return Everything Inc." because of such a liberal return policy, which allowed customers to return items for any reason, even years after the purchase, recently cut it back to a window of a year.
One woman had returned a pair of women's hiking sandals because, according to the reason tag on the item, they were "not sexy enough." But with REI still allowing customers to return items within a year of purchase, they still have a more liberal policy than many other stores and sellers.
And while online marketplaces such as eBay may have tightened their return policy over time; it is nowhere near that of REI's, and even other similar rugged clothing and gear sellers, like L. L. Bean and Orvis. However, sellers on eBay and other such marketplaces may recognize the basic concept of abuse REI is trying to avoid with the switch: "the new policy aims to keep customers from using purchases...and then exchanging it like a dress you bought on Friday just to wear Saturday night and then return," according to the piece.
While I certainly have never had anyone try to return something that looked like it had been in a war zone since I sold it, I could relate to the "not sexy enough" excuse. Some customers just change their mind, and they can come up with any number of reasons, like the REI man's shirt that had "buttons that were too clangy on hard surfaces."
Another: "an unraveling scarf that is marked "too fuzzy.""
And then there's the purchase back-out, or the partial-refund pressure, something I've seen more of in the last year. A customer recently bought a barware item from me, and then said he'd found it cheaper elsewhere so wanted to cancel the transaction. Annoying, but doable. At least he didn't ask umpteen questions and measurements and then want to back out of the transaction because it turned out the daughter or niece or whomever it was a gift for didn't like that style. The question is begged: might you have asked them that question earlier?
The partial-refund pressure: customer receives an item and claims it has tiny flaws that are really more like part of the item's design, such as a fringy hem on a skirt or jacket. But the threat of negative feedback - the "red doughnut" - hangs over the seller's head like a sword of Damocles unless you give in and give them a partial refund, for example. And those kinds of "flaws" can be hard to disprove. But most of my customers are "good eggs," fingers crossed.
Apparently it got so bad at REI that some people were buying their branded stuff at yard sales and "broken gear scrounged from a dumpster" and taking them back to REI for cash refunds.
As some REI customers put it, "a few bad apples ruined it for the bucket of good ones." But even with this history, LL. Bean, Patagonia and Orvis don't plan to change their return policies. It's a miracle they don't go out of business. Fortunately for them, it seems, they are able to trust that their "customers know where the line is," Orvis Director of Corporate Marketing Bill Eyre is quoted as saying in the article.
Have you heard similar flimsy excuses from your customers? Are most of your customers "good apples," or do dubious returns take a significant chunk out of your business? Have you opted into eBay's managed returns because of problems, and if so, has that helped? Post a comment here!