Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Customers Are Guests

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

Sometimes being innovative means deviating from corporate policy.

I readily admit that I am ultimately responsible for the situation I found myself in. I know this. Acknowledging this fact though doesn’t change the absolutely perturbed feelings I felt towards one particular retailer when the following sequence of events came to pass.

The greatest thing that ever happened in my life as a retail shopper came a few years ago when Target stopped requiring its customers (or as they refer to them – “guests”) to have possession of original receipts in order to return items purchased at their stores. For as often as I purchased stuff at Target, I always hated keeping track of all those pesky pieces of paper in the off chance (or rather better than off chance) that some piece of clothing wasn’t going fit one of my kids, or that I’d inadvertently bought the wrong size bed sheet, or picked out the wrong color bath towel. But no longer did I have to keep all those crumpled up receipts. I merely needed the credit card I’d used to make the purchase.

Not sure receiptless shopping constitutes something innovative. But I thought it brilliant. With this simple move, Target made my life easier. Thank you.

For a long time now, except when I happen to purchase what might be considered a fairly large monetarily priced single item, I don’t bother saving my Target receipts (for larger items I keep the receipt for a little while as sort of back-up proof of purchase.) Nowadays I just rip up the receipts and toss them. This practice recently cost me $25.

My wife and I (along with our kids) were at one of the three Targets near my home just before Easter purchasing a variety of different things – groceries, clothes, Easter goodies, toys, video games, music, etc. We had two carts, each virtually full. We probably bought about $250 worth of stuff that day. A few of these items were meant to be surprise Easter basket goodies for our kids who were all sort of hovering around the checkout area as we attempted to finish our shopping. My wife had discretely indicated to the cashier that certain items were meant for the kids, and as she passed them to the cashier they were rung up and quickly placed in a bag so our kids wouldn’t see them. The cashier did a good job. My kids didn’t notice what we had gotten. I didn’t either. Or at least I didn’t notice one particular item – a 5-pack of $5 circular silver dollar-sized gift card coins. They were kind of cute looking. They were going in our kids’ Easter baskets.

I hadn’t purchased any large items that day. So I tossed my receipt. Oops.

Shortly after Easter I was back at a Target store, with my kids attempting to use one of the $5 gift card coins. I think one of my kids was trying to buy a Slushee at the food counter. The card didn’t work. I pulled a different $5 gift card coin from my pocket. That one didn’t work either. Turns out, the 5-pack of gift card coins never got activated. And I didn’t have a receipt.

Perhaps you can already see where this story is going, so I’ll skip to the end.

Ultimately, after talking with several associates, I found myself at the service counter talking with the MOD (manager on duty) – a twenty-something, maybe early thirty-something fresh-faced kid named J.P. I described the situation to him. By the expression on his face, I knew essentially what his response was going to be. A syllable, maybe two got out of his mouth before I interrupted and said in a somewhat stern voice “I fully appreciate the corporate policy regarding gift card returns and receipts. I know that without a receipt any sixteen year old kid could walk in here, take a few gift cards off the self, never actually pay for them, then walk back in some time later and claim that the cards never got activated. I understand this. But I am not that sixteen year old kid.” As far as I was concerned, Target messed up by not activating these gift cards/coins in the first place. My kids wanted their $25.

The facts are simple. I was holding five $5 gift card coins. None had been activated. I couldn’t use them until they were activated (or replaced with a new gift card). I didn’t have a receipt. J.P. couldn’t with any definitive, tangible proof, actually confirm for himself whether I purchased the gift cards.

J.P. had essentially two options at that moment. In my opinion - not simply because I had a $25 stake in the situation - J.P. should have recognized the reality of the situation and done something to correct it. From a customer service standpoint he had the choice to either treat me like a guest and take me at my word, or treat me like a deceptive thief (with three young unwitting accomplices) looking for a quick $25. It would have been innovative if J.P. had simply replaced the unactivated coins with a new gift card, if only because it would have been a bit unexpected. To be honest, I was fully expecting to walk away completely frustrated and perturbed. I was fully expecting to be out $25.

What do you think J.P. did?

I only remember hearing the first couple words of J.P.’s response. “Unfortunately, corporate policy blah blah blah blah blah…” I knew I was out $25. Fully perturbed, but not surprised I walked away in anger.

On average I typically visit a Target store at least twice a week. And sometimes three or four. It’s not like I don’t have options to go elsewhere for groceries, clothing, household items, and virtually everything else our family uses on a regular basis. I’ve always liked going to Target for some reason though.

I can honestly say I’m not angry about what happened with the gift coins. Like I said, ultimately it was my responsibility. But perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps subconsciously, since this incident from a couple months ago, I think I’ve walked into a Target store a total of maybe three times.

I didn’t feel much like a guest that particular day. Perhaps I don’t feel as welcome as I once did.

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