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Real Deal

A Regular Customer of Snowy Paws Is Also One Who Returns Her Purchases Regularly. What’s a Store Owner to Do?

Read the case of the frequent returner.

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SWEEPING THE DUSTING of powdery snow away from the storefront and putting down pet-safe salt, Taylor was looking forward to the Winterfest Weekend in the beautiful mountain resort town where Snowy Paws is located.

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at . nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com

During the bustling ski season, the store is quite busy from November through April, and this weekend was one of the busiest in February. The boutique caters to both high-end clientele who come into town to ski, with touristy, kitschy items and regular pet supplies for local year-round residents. To cater to all clientele can be a challenge.

As Taylor sprinkled the salt, one of her top costumers was walking her year-old Golden Doodle across the street and waved, “Hi Taylor! We’ll be in later today!”

“Looking forward to seeing you both!” Taylor replied, waving back. “I have some new treats for Oliver to try!”

Sharon smiled, waved and continued her walk. Taylor went into the shop to open up and said to Kurt her store assistant, “Sharon just said she will be in later,” smirking to him. “I wonder what she is going to try to return today. Actually, can you look up and see what she did purchase the last time she was in?”

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“Sure,” Kurt said walking over to the computer that was also the register. “She just bought dog food, so I don’t think she will be bringing that back,” he chuckled. “Although, nothing would surprise me with her.”

As the day went on, Taylor forgot about Sharon and Oliver, until the jingle of the front door rang as the door opened. Turning to see it was Sharon and Oliver rushing in from the snow, Taylor noticed Sharon had a Snowy Paws store bag in hand.

Smiling at them and grabbing some treats, Taylor walked over and said, “How are you both doing today? Ready for this weekend?”

“Well, almost. We have friends and family coming in tonight — and wanted to make sure I got here before the festivities begin!” Sharon said, smiling. “So you know how much I loved this dog harness when I got it for Ollie, but it seems to be fraying a bit.”

Taylor examined the harness, seeing that Oliver had clearly chewed on it. “Hmm, do you remember when you bought this?”

“Well I am not sure exactly, but probably within the last month.”

“OK, let’s check to see if we can pull up when you purchased it,” Taylor said, looking at the computer. “It looks like you purchased this about 8 months ago …. I am not sure if the manufacturer will take it back after all these months and replace it —”

“Well you know I am in here weekly,” Sharon said. “I am sure you can do something for me. Perhaps another, better harness would work for Oliver?”

Taylor spotted Kurt over Sharon’s shoulder making a face.

Sharon was a local well-to-do resident who was a frequent shopper, but she was also someone who was always bringing product back to return long past Snowy Paw’s return policy.

Taylor would normally take a product back that wasn’t so obviously chewed up by the dog, but this was really damaged. “Well, it does look like Oliver may have gotten a hold of this harness and damaged it,” she said.

Sharon looked at her blankly and then down to Oliver and said, “You didn’t do that did you? The harness must not be high quality. What do you think, Ollie?”

The Big Questions

  • How should Taylor handle a frequent customer who seemingly takes advantage of what she spends versus adhere to the store’s return policy?
  • What kind of return policy can Taylor put into place and be better about enforcing at her store?
  • Is it even viable to have a return policy in this day and age competing with online e-commerce sites?

Expanded Real Deal Responses

Elvis J.
San Rafael, CA

This customer is what my friend calls a “taker.” Takers do not realize what they are doing because they can’t see beyond there own actions. As a store owner, it is difficult to tell them what they are doing is wrong, because the taker will not understand. Each time they try to return something you have to evaluate whether you want this customer to continue buying from you. If they are returning 80 percent of what they are purchasing, it would be smart to “shut off the spigot,” so to speak. Having strong policies about returns is an option, but generally most manufacturers have a no-questions-asked return policy, so a store owner should pass that along. At my store, we take all returns. All dog and cat food is guaranteed, and we extend that to all merch. And a good way to prevent abuse of a liberal, no-questions return policy is to encourage with a very strong voice that an exchange for more merchandise is really more beneficial for all parties involved.

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Mary Beth K.
Kennebunkport, ME

It sounds like Taylor and her staff are already accustomed to stroking this customer’s ego, so Taylor should start out by thanking Sharon for being such a loyal customer and let her know how much she values her business, enjoys her visits with her and Oliver, etc. Then Taylor needs to remind Sharon all puppies, no matter how cute and well behaved, will chew given the opportunity. If the harness is 8 months old, chances are Oliver needs a “big boy” harness anyway and Taylor should suggest a more size-appropriate option, and maybe some new chew toys. Perhaps Taylor could offer up a new toy for Oliver to “test” and ask Sharon to give her feedback, reinforcing Sharon’s importance and value (i.e., her ego).

Greg F.
Scottsdale, AZ

I would politely remind Sharon of the return policy but offer her a good discount on a replacement harness. She will probably accept that offer as she knows what really happened. You need to take care of your good customers, while trying not to break the bank. Service with a smile. Remember that a satisfied customer will only tell three or four others about the experience, while a dissatisfied customer will tell two to four times as many people about their poor experience. Play the odds and send them away happy.

Jim L.
PembroKe, MA

Tell Sharon that it’s obvious that the dog has chewed the halter and that is no fault of the manufacturer. You can offer her a 10 percent discount, or a number of your choosing, to console her on her new purchase.

Carla C.
Upland, CA

The store should exchange the harness. Her business is worth more than the wholesale price of a harness.

CJ
Tom’s River, NJ

Swallow the loss. But be sure to say that the return value should be in exchange and not cash, plus that you are doing a favor by allowing it. Last, smile and give her a charm or some other inexpensive but really nice product for free. I promise the returns will stop. For more information, read Influence by Robert Cialdini for social/group dynamic tricks to contain bad behaviors in humans. I used Influence to grow my business, which was purchased in bankruptcy four years ago, from about 25 clients per month to over 150.

Ramie G.
Evanston, IL

We try to prevent returns in the first place. We give out food and treat samples, we have toy demos, and we fit dogs for harnesses and coats, boots, costumes like Nordstrom’s shoe department. Good service can prevent some returns. If your customer returns everything she buys, how valuable is she? The time you spend with her is time you are not spending with someone else. But does she bring in business, friends, family, neighbors, etc.? Where will she shop, if not with you? Be nice and polite, but you can say no with a smile and hopefully not lose her forever.

Frank F.
Farmingdale NJ

Take it back … no questions asked! 100 percent guaranteed! And thank her for letting you know. Yes, return policies are necessary, mostly to give our customers a guideline as well as to provide our sales team with an additional tool to demonstrate to our customers that we are willing to break the rules for them, either “this one time” or “since they are such a good customer.”

Audree B.
Fort Lauderdale, FL

You could have been talking about my customer. Our return policy is clearly printed at the register and on the receipts. However, we do make exceptions depending on the situation. In this case, if the harness is being returned due to a manufacturer’s defect, we’d take it back. Or if they manufacturer had a policy that they’d replace a chewed harness. If it’s being returned just do to normal wear and tear, we’d have to enforce the policy. We explain that our vendor restricts our ability to submit returns after 90 days (or what ever time frame we state on our return policy). We have done this, but we do explain that we’re itty bitty and try really hard to keep our prices fair.

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Stacy D.
Providence, RI

Have a 30-day return policy for everyone. If she can’t enforce it, say it is a state policy. The store isn’t making money if a customer returns everything they buy.

Danielle F.
Datyon, OH

As the owner of a retail business, every once in a while you’ve just had enough. We can do the math and understand the lifetime value of a customer. But when the customer’s value goes negative, it’s time to fire them. First, don’t fire the customer in the heat of the moment. It’s not the way you should do business. If you find yourself in that place, take a deep breath, and finish the transaction in front of you. Acknowledge that you’re angry. In the calm moments decide if the lifetime value is worth what you’re going through. Next, make a decision if the negative feedback is worth the hassle of having that person as a customer. Once you’ve made the decision to let them go, happily send them to your competitor. The next time the customer comes in, have a calm conversation. Explain that your ultimate goal is to make them happy and hand them off to a competitor. There is no reason to make an unfriendly return policy based on one bad customer.

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Nancy E. Hassel is founder and president of American Pet Professionals (APP), an award-winning networking and educational organization dedicated to helping pet entrepreneurs, businesses and animal rescues to grow, work together and unite the pet industry. Contact her at nancy@americanpetprofessionals.com.

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