“I’d like a refund, please.”

Gone are the days of mom and pop shops that knew their customers by name and personal preferences.  The days when stores would graciously take back a product without question and would actually apologize for its defect (gasp!) are merely an afterthought.  With few exceptions, Americans have become accustomed to the mega-store, a store where the consumer feels like the same barcode on the item he or she purchases.  Large chains, be it Target or Wal-Mart for household goods, Best Buy or Radio Shack for electronics, or Old Navy or Gap for clothes, have lengthy and bureaucratic return policies.  Fortunately for the discriminating consumer who still expects his or her purchase to hold up to the rigors of normal use beyond the typical return window, there are several easy ways to return products that don’t meet expectations

The first and most important step in getting a refund or an exchange is walking into the store with the defective product fully expecting the store to take responsibility for the product.  Many consumers err when they acknowledge that they’ve exceeded the time allowed by the return policy or ask timidly for an exchange.  Once a store employee or manager senses that the consumer has doubt, it’s done.  A cordial smile, an apology, and another cordial smile are all that await the meek consumer.  Consumers simply need to walk in with confidence and exude the expectation that the store will take back the defective good regardless of it’s condition, timeframe since purchase, or anything else. 

In addition to being assertive, the consumer needs to always be nice and polite.  Always.  This doesn’t mean bending in the expectation that the store will take the product back.  An employee who feels ridiculed, insulted, or demeaned will dig his or her heels in and deflect to the inflexibility of store policy.  An employee who feels respected, on the other hand, will be much more willing to do what he or she can to accommodate the consumer.  It’s entirely likely, however, for the consumer to be rejected at first.  That’s fine.  It’s critical that he or she maintain a cool head, stay polite, and even acknowledge that his or her beef is not with the employee at all, but rather with the larger corporation and its unfair policies.  Often, employees harbor similar resentment to the corporation; building a spirit of camaraderie or mutual- subversiveness can help. 

When the first trip to the store fails, many consumers throw in the towel and think to themselves, “Fine, I tried, it’s just not worth it anymore for this $40 pair of shoes.”  The determined consumer will simply look on Google and find the corporate contact information for the store.  It doesn’t take more than five minutes to clearly delineate in a formal letter to the corporate office what the issue is, what the consumer did to address the issue, why the consumer is not satisfied with the result, and, most importantly, what he or she wants done to resolve the issue satisfactorily.  The same mentality of “it’s not worth it” that stops consumers from taking the step of contacting corporate is, actually, also corporate’s mentality!  Someone somewhere in the bowels of Foot Locker’s corporate office knows that a $40 pair of shoes is not worth alienating a customer, and that the company is better served providing a refund or an exchange even if it’s contradictory to the company policy. 

While independently owned shops where consumers can purchase goods at reasonable prices are becoming few and far between, taking just a little bit of time for self-assertion can quickly yield great results for the consumer.  And, while the consumer won’t personally know anyone in the store, he or she can still expect the same service when it comes to returning items.