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No Questions Asked?

Posted: September 9, 2010, 2:58 p.m., EDT

Driving into work a while ago, a radio commercial for Kohl’s, the one on its "no questions asked” return policy, caught my ear. This national department store, like many others, will take back merchandise (worn or otherwise) without a receipt with no time limit for the return.
Unfortunately, for Mom & Pop stores, the consumer has grown accustomed to these liberal return policies. Just last week, I had a customer come in with a leash/harness set she purchased a few weeks ago. She explained that her dog had chewed through the harness and was wondering what I could do for her. I politely explained that the manufacturer does not guarantee/replace items that have been chewed through. While I can take responsibility for defects in quality and/or workmanship, I am not responsible for how the products are used (or misused) once they leave my store. She was not satisfied with that explanation and left the store very angry promising never to return.
It is regrettable to lose a customer over a return/exchange issue. However, you need to remain a viable business. As I reflected upon this interaction, I tried to think of a similar situation where the retailer is clearly not responsible for accepting merchandise for exchange/return. What if I go out and purchase a designer dress, wear it out to dinner and spill wine on it? Am I entitled to a new dress from the retailer I bought it from even though it was my fault the dress was stained? Obviously, the answer is no.

However, the consumer’s sense of responsibility is shifting, based, in part, on the policies of large, corporate retailers. How can small businesses such as ours address this issue? Good customer service does not have to equate to being taken advantage of. Have your return/exchange policy prominently posted. Provide your customer with high-quality merchandise at competitive prices. Be knowledgeable about the products on your shelf and most importantly, stick to your guns! As Bill Cosby once said, "I don’t know the key to success, but I know the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

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