Many Happy Returns

I buy fishing tackle from a lot of different retailers, including a few that are not fishing tackle retailers.

I’ve learned — mostly through my wife — that a lot of different stores carry items that I can turn into tackle items. Until she got into paper crafting a few years ago, I had never been inside a Michaels or $%@## store. You see, I’m not “crafty.” My idea of creativity is adding a little chartreuse to a green pumpkin worm with JJ’s Magic.

You won’t see me laying out a scrapbook page, building my own jewelry or putting together a model anything. I always assumed that stores like Michaels and $%@## were for people who had not discovered fishing … or even the outdoors.

But then my wife started shopping in those stores, and I had to make a decision. I could wait in the car or I could go inside, look around and try to stave off boredom. I chose the stores because I’m fascinated by retail. What I found has changed the way I fish and the way I store tackle.

First — also with the help of my wife — I discovered that silicone earring backs make the best trailer hook keepers in the history of fishing. Trust me when I tell you, it’s not close.

Second, I learned that crafters have all sorts of storage options — most of them made by the same companies that make tackle boxes.

But I digress.

This is not a story about offbeat places to find fishing gear. It’s a story about bad customer service.

You see, one of the storage containers I’ve purchased at $%@## stores comes without enough plastic dividers. I need more, but they’re practically impossible to find. So, when I searched for them on the $%@## website and saw they were in stock, I ordered 10 packs — a fairly sizable investment. They totaled almost $60, including $8 for shipping.

When they arrived, they were not the item referenced on the website. The model numbers didn’t match, the dimensions were not a fit, nothing was right, and I was disappointed.

So I decided to return them, but $%@## didn’t make that easy. A return label was not included and getting a customer service agent on the phone proved impossible even after 15 minutes on hold.

I naturally assumed that I could get my refund in one of their brick-and-mortar stores, so the next time my wife and I went out — an infrequent event in these COVID-19 days — I stopped at our local $%@## and got in line. After a short wait, I was face-to-face — or rather mask to mask — with one of their associates, just a plexiglass shield between us, like some sort of crafty salad bar.

I explained the situation. What I ordered was not what I received. I had even printed out all the relevant documents to support my airtight case. Naturally, she started to ring up my refund.

But it was short by $8 — the amount of the shipping charges.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I protested. And she mumbled something about the $%@## policy not to refund shipping charges in an actual store. In fact, she had to say it several times because she mumbled through her mask. Maybe she was embarrassed by the ridiculous policy. I’d like to think she was mortified by it, but … you know, it was hard to tell with the mask.

I asked to see a manager … or at least someone who didn’t mumble. Soon a remarkably unhelpful woman came over to reiterate $%@##’s short-sighted policy.

I picked up my stuff and left the store. When I got home, I called $%@##’s customer service number.

Surely, the store staff misunderstood the policy, I thought. Surely, in this age when only excellent customer will do, $%@## is smart enough to realize they’d better get with the times.

But before I could voice my displeasure, I waited on hold for more than 30 minutes. When I finally reached a customer service agent, he explained that the store was right about the policy. He told me that if I returned the items through the mail, he could refund my full payment, but it would take a couple of weeks.


Eventually, we came to an agreement. He would electronically refund my shipping charges within four days and the store would refund my purchase price when I went back to the brick-and-mortar shop with the items.

So, a few days later, I went back to the store. That’s when they tried to refund my purchase price with a store credit. I actually laughed, and I made a big production out of laughing loudly so there would be no doubt about my attitude, because … you know, the mask. I think the manager gave me a confused look, but … again, the mask.

That’s when I asked, “What good is a $%@##’s store credit since I’m never going to shop here again?”

She had no answer for that, but she did refund my credit card.

Just this morning I was checking out some survey results regarding retail returns. It was enlightening, and, given my recent experience, none of what I read surprised me.

It seems that 84% of respondents said a positive return experience encourages them to shop with a retailer again. Do you really need any more reason to ensure that your return policy is easy and fair?

Customers don’t expect perfection. Most understand that mistakes will be made occasionally — including their own purchasing mistakes — but we all want a transparent, common sense, simple and easy way to fix things when something goes wrong. By making things right, a retailer can turn a customer into an advocate.