January 3, 2008

Bad Buisness May Make Next Years Holiday Retail Suffer

Ok the holidays for many mean consumerism on a massive scale. This isn’t a bad thing it circulates wealth and helps promote economic growth and development plus we sometimes get cool gifts. Sometimes we don’t so we have to deal with the returns desk. Last week we did our returns after Christmas and found most companies were quite helpful. With many of the companies I felt almost guilty how easy it was to return the merchandise. We hit Macy’s, Dillard’s, and Neiman’s. All were pleasant service with a smile people who issued store credit for the merchandise making it easy for us to possibly locate something in the store we actually wanted or in some cases needed.

The bad news was all stores were not this easy to deal with. I received an Apple iTunes Gift card, I don’t really buy anything from there but I plan on buying a new machine in the next month. The monetary value wasn’t much 25 dollars but I wanted to get store credit instead so I could use it towards the purchase price of my new machine. I entered the store thinking this should be a slam dunk no brainer of a deal. When I inquired about the return the initial rep I asked told me he would have to check. He turned to a guy behind the counter and asked him if they could exchange the card for in store credit. He literally gave me a dirty look and said we don’t do that. I left the store disgusted by the double whammy. When I got home I discovered this was common practice and that once you own a gift card to the iTunes store you’re pretty much locked into buying music with it. This is very disappointing as with most any other reputable company you can purchase items from any of their subsidiaries with the same gift card. For instance I received a gift card for Outback Steak house as a prize from work. I’m not big on Outback Steak House but on further inspection they will allow me to redeem it at all sorts of other restaurants including one on my favorite list Carrabba’s. Why Apple isn’t like this I have no idea at least one other person knows the pain of this too.

The next issue we faced was the return desk at Target which according to a few websites, including the consumer affairs website, is becoming more difficult to deal with concerning their return policies. We received several outfits from Target for our 10 month old child. He is wearing 12+ month clothing but we received a few items that were 9 months. We attempted to return these items just to get store credit to return when he actually needed clothing we were then confronted with the asinine return policy that limits returns to 2 items per year. Then we reasonably thought ok can we exchange them for larger sizes and were told that act counted against us as a return. I know companies are faced with problems of product slippage and looking to set policies to prevent abuse of their systems but they are ultimately punishing their patrons with this policy and have placed us in the position of recruiting friends and family to return the products ensuring they are unable to return future products themselves for the rest of the year. This also means we will be less likely to make gift purchases at Target for fear of placing people whom we know and like in similar situations. I can only imagine others might have to face similar decisions.

But those attempted returns where just the tip of the iceberg for how some retail treats its customers. Over the holidays my grandfather mentioned a company I had long since written off Geek Squad. Most everyone in the IT industry has an inherent 6th sense about companies like this who prey on the ignorant up selling them on every little piece of software and service they have available and we avoid them at all costs. My reasoning in contacting them was that I have a simple problem I understand the solution can these guys provide it at a price I’m willing to pay. What I need is someone to run cable from my wiring closet to my computer wall and another from the garage to the wiring closet. Pretty simple I have a 6 foot auger, tone tester, wire, wall plates, cable crimper, rj45 ends, and fish tape. What I don’t have is someone I like but not so much that I wouldn’t mind subjecting them to this wire rat exercise, low pitch roof bad insulation and roofing nails that were about an inch and a half to long. So I called up the Geek Squad got in touch with their computer department and instead of asking my question I was assaulted with questions attempting to extract personal information form me, my name, phone number, address. All I had was a simple can you do this or not question. Instead of answering these questions I asked the lady if she couldn’t at least tell me if they could accommodate my request before I gave her this information. I told her what I wanted done a network drop for two machines to a central location. Her response no problem we can do that, I though great now I will give her my info get a quote and decide if this is the route I want to take. I gave her my info and she put me on hold for the quote. When she returned her first question to me was, “So will this be in store or onsite.” I thought to myself are you kidding me, yea let me drag my house to the store so you can run some wire though it, I don’t live in a freaking tent lady! But, my response was onsite, she then asked how many computers will they be setting up I responded with just the two but they don’t need anything setup on them really if I can just get the drops I will take it from there. Her response was if you want cable run in your house you’re going to have to call your cable company. This sent me spinning because this point I realized this lady was absolutely clueless and she had just lied to me to get my name number and address, and for what so they can sell it to some third party and mass market crap at me I don’t want in the first place. I tried to compose myself and adjust my question to improve her comprehension of the situation. I made it clear I wasn’t looking for tv or internet I wanted to setup my home network and I needed network drops to connect to the computers. She confirmed her lie by telling me they only do wireless setups.

For these companies I wonder what forces have caused them to make such bad decisions with their customer care. The next holiday season now not only do I have to worry about who I’m buying for, what their tastes are, am I getting the right kind of gift, is this in their size, is this what color scheme they have in their house, etc… Now I have the pleasure of studying return policies to see how they might adversely effect the people I’m buying for to make sure I’m not potentially setting them up for disappointment when what I get them isn’t the right color, doesn’t fit, or isn’t the style they feel most comfortable with. Then we get to add to this the companies who seem to be more concerned with getting your personal data than they are offering you any goods or services. So if we know you don’t be surprised if you start to simply receive cash or gift cards from a major credit card company don’t think it’s because we didn’t put any thought into it or it was a last minute purchasing decision. The reality is retail sucks and we would rather you be in a position with the leverage to walk away if you run into a Geek Squad vs being beholden to the asinine policies of an Apple or Target. Maybe by next year’s sales figures will reflect just how much, then I can look forward to 2010’s Christmas Season where we will be treated like customers instead of potential thieves or sheep for the slaughter.

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