Friday, December 24, 2021

Returning Shoes


Christmas is a season for giving, receiving and then returning gifts.  But, before you try to return a gift this season, make sure it’s actually been shipped.  Even if you have it in your possession, it doesn’t count if “the system” says it hasn’t been shipped and received.

Sounds crazy, but my wife just experienced such a conundrum.  I’ll not provide the name of the retailer, but here’s a hint:  they are a major retailer and they used to be known as having the most lenient return policy in the industry.  That changed a few years ago after years of abuse by customers and increasing pressure on profit margins.  But the culture has always been centered around customer service.


My wife and I are now at a stage in life where we pretty much tell the other one what we want for Christmas.  There are rarely any surprises.  But in an effort to upgrade my wardrobe to something less Homer Simpson-ish, my wife bought some stylish slacks and shoes for me.  However, she began to second guess her selections.  Since there are no surprises at Christmas anymore, she confessed to purchasing the unrequested gifts and asked me to take a look BEFORE she wrapped them and put them under the tree.  She just didn’t want me to be disappointed and she figured it would be easier to exchange them sooner rather than later.  As if turned out one pair of shoes just didn’t fit right.  They were labeled the right size, but were way too tight.  No problem.  She needed to go into the city the next day and would exchange them for something else. Fair enough.


When she arrived at the retailer with the outstanding reputation for customer service, the salesperson politely took the shoes back and proceeded to process the return.  After spending some time and trying to figure out what was going on, the poor sales guy looked up at my wife and apologized, saying that he could not take the shoes back because their system said they had not shipped yet.  Or more accurately, they had not received the shoes yet.  His system didn’t say where they were, but the information he had showed they had not been received by his company.  He speculated that they were probably sitting out in a container off the California coast waiting to be unloaded.


This was reminiscent of some Monty Python skit.  My wife reminded him that he had the shoes in hand along with the receipt of purchase.  Unable to deny the reality of that, the poor sales guy called his manager for help.  This is the week before Christmas, the store is short-handed and like everyone else there the manager is tired, over-worked and underpaid.  She pecks on a few keys and says matter-of-factly that there is nothing they can do.  “The System” will not allow them let process the return until the shoes have been shipped and received.


My wife is a nice person and having worked in retail, waited tables and assorted other jobs in her youth she has an appreciation for what this manager and salesperson were going through during the Christmas rush.  But if it had been me, I would have probably started talking in loud voice, loud enough so that any customer within 200 feet could hear me.  Saying something along the lines of: “So even though I have given you the receipt and the item I purchased just the other day, you will not give me a refund, exchange it or even give me a store credit of some sort. I just want to understand this and make sure I have this right before I call the local news station.” I am confident that they would have come up a solution of some sort…..or maybe just called security. 


But my wife, bless her heart, she just ask them to notify her when the system said they had the product. The next day, she got the notification.  So now it’s OK to take it back.  I may go with her just in case they say there’s been some mistake and they still cannot process the return.  I just want to be there when she starts peeling the paint off the walls.  When her nice goes away, it’s major fireworks.


Technology is wonderful thing.  For the most part it has made our lives easier and serves us. But, too often, we end up serving technology, becoming slaves to digital masters that control access, entry and answers. There is the old question about if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?  The answer is, of course, yes. But in today’s world, even if someone is there to hear it, unless they recorded it, the noise question would still be up for debate.

“The real problem is not whether machines think, but whether men do.” – B.F. Skinner

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