Should Sales Associates Be Penalized for Customer-Friendly Return Policies?

Should Sales Associates Be Penalized for Customer-Friendly Return Policies?

Nordstrom, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and now Amazon have policies in place making it easy for customers to return merchandise. A New York Times June 13th article focused on those liberal return policies and how sales associates are being penalized because customers are sometimes abusing the system.  So the questions are:

  1. Should customers be able to return merchandise months after the purchase?
  2. Is it fair to penalize the associate who helped the customer?

The article states, “unlike returns at online retailers, those at many department stores have a side effect: they can unexpectedly lower a worker’s paycheck weeks or months after a sale is made”.

“Many years ago Macy’s had a 10-day return policy,” said Ken Bordieri, president of   groups of retail workers in the country. Then Macy’s eliminated the time constraint on returns, which had been six months, in 2010. “When you have a return policy that says ‘We’ll take anything back anytime,’ well, then returns go up,” Mr. Bordieri said.

The article does not focus on or provide consul about the length of time customers should be allowed to return merchandise nor the condition of the merchandise when it is returned to the store.  What about the Macy’s customer who brought back a perfume bottle with only a drop left?  The question about the effect of returns on both the company and the associates should be addressed. Should the sales associate be charged back?  What is a reasonable return policy?

My business centers around customer service and care; I am a long time customer advocate and see the transaction from the customers’ point of view.  On the other hand, I am a business owner.  I don’t agree that a return policy should be so liberal as to encourage returns from customers who have used the product and want to “upgrade” their purchase at the expense of the company and the associate.  Certainly, a 90-day return policy is more than fair to the customer.  Within that time period, a customer should know if the product is defective, doesn’t fit, isn’t the right color or, with the perfume example, doesn’t smell good.

Policies should also be in place to empower the associate.  In some cases, exceptions about returns must be made; perhaps the customer was on a long vacation or a family member was ill or the appliance stopped working after 100 days.  Training for associates should include softening the message to the customer. “I will check with my manager and get back to you” is much better than, “It’s after 90 days so there is nothing that can be done.”

The associate should also know that his or her pay check will not be affected after that 90-day period.  No matter how liberal the return policy, a sales associate commission will not be charged back after 3 months.

The article goes on to imply that some sales associate “quietly” tell customers who are hesitant to purchase something that they can always change their minds and return anything for a credit or replacement. That practice should be closely monitored and managed.  I’m sure every company has detailed reports about the percentage of returns by associate.

Well-seasoned sales associates are as valuable to a company as its customers. Being fair to employees is an integral part of the customer experience equation.

What do you think?

How long should customers be allowed to return merchandise?

Should sales associates be penalized for liberal return policies?

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