Day 8: The basic rules of returns

Welcome to 12 Days of Retail. My last day (for real this time) at Old Navy is quickly approaching and this series serves as a sort of wrap-up to my time there. I've rounded up the worst customer offenses into 12 general categories. Some are truly terrible and some are relatively minor, but together they cover almost everything that is terrible about working retail, in my ten years of experience.

Customers have the right to return things to the store—within reason and within policy. Outside of that, it's up to the company's discretion. At Old Navy, you have to return things within 45 days of the purchase and have some sort of proof that you purchased the item. That proof can be in the form of a receipt or looking it up on your card. Past the 45 days or without proof of purchase, you can receive a store credit in the mail for the current selling price.

There are a lot of steps to returns, which means there are a lot of different opportunities for customers to get mad at you. Here are some of the main issues people have with returns.

1) People who think they should be able to return things from Gap

When you order from Old Navy's website, you can order across brands. So you could get one item from Old Navy, three items from Gap and one from Banana Republic, and they may all come in the same bag. This does not mean you can return them all to an Old Navy store.

Now this one I actually kind of understand. They did all come in the same bag, and if we were just going to ship them all back or something, it would make sense to be able to return them all to one store. But we don't ship items back. That would be way too expensive for the company. We just sell the items in the store. So we can't take Gap and Banana Republic items in a return because we can't sell those items.

Again, I'm not judging people for not knowing this right off the bat. What I am judging them for is when they get huffy and annoyed about it. I had this conversation a few weeks ago:

Customer: I can return this whole purchase here even though some of it's from Gap, right?
Me: Oh I'm sorry, we actually can only take the Old Navy items.
Customer, with attitude: Are you serious?
Me, being short because she is already getting an attitude: Yes.
Customer: Come on, even though I got them in the same package?
Me: Yes.

2) People who don't know how to tell what is from Old Navy

This one is usually only a problem with people who have received gifts and assume they were bought at Old Navy for whatever reason. I have had many, many people bring back things from Target that they got as gifts (some of which were mixed in with Old Navy items, which makes a little sense) and someone even tried to return a pair of Levi's.

3) People who bring in things that are no longer in our system

"I found this old pair of flip flops in my closet and I wondered if you can take them back" is a real sentence that was said to me a few days ago. I could tell just by looking at them that they were too old to return because they had the suuuuuper old square tags we had when I started. They genuinely were about ten years old.

Surprisingly often, people will bring things in that they claim they were recently given as a gift but that don't come up in our system because they're about two to three years old. I don't know if they're lying because they're embarrassed about how long the items have been in their closet or if a friend or family member really did give them clothing items that they bought years ago, but I'm so sorry ma'am, it's not in our system anymore so I can't return it.

The best part about this is there are joker tags inside each item that include the month and year the item was manufactured. This is incredibly helpful when I reject things. "Sorry, this dress is actually from the summer of 2013 so it hasn't been in our system for quite awhile" is a very effective denial.

4) People who expect full price when they're way outside of the return window

Stuff gets really cheap toward the end of its life cycle at Old Navy. We regularly mark items down to $1.47 or less. So if you're returning something six months after you bought it, do you really think you should get full price? You took it out of rotation so someone else was not able to buy it, and now you're bringing it back and we're only going to be able to sell it for a couple of dollars. Why would it be fair to give you full price? You had it for the first six months of its life, and those six months are the item's most valuable six months. The fact that you didn't use it doesn't change anything.

Now, let's backtrack a little bit. Should you get full price if it's three months after you bought the item and the item is on clearance for half its original price? Some people might fall more toward a yes than a no at this point, and that's a perfectly fair opinion to have, but there has to be a cutoff. Every store has a return cutoff and ours happens to be 45 days. Buying things from a store is an implicit agreement to the return policy, so if you are a person who is okay with being rude about a return being rejected, you should probably make a habit of reading the return policies in advance.

5) People who expect full price as a credit because they're 100% sure they paid full price

I don't know the exact statistics or anything, but I would be willing to bet that about 75% of items at Old Navy are sold at some kind of discount. And that's fine because that's their business model. Old Navy is a value clothing brand. Old Navy's customers, in general, place a lot of importance on getting a good deal.

So tell me why basically every time people return things without a receipt, I tell them the current price of the item and they say, "Ohhhh, no, I'm pretty sure I paid full price." Um, okay, cool that you think that, but it's probably not true. And even if it is true, it doesn't matter because you have no proof. Keep your receipts or pay with a card, people. Goodness gracious.

Today's pro-tip: This doesn't apply if something is defective. The vast majority of stores accept truly defective stuff outside of their policy. But if you washed something the wrong way and it shrunk, that's on you.

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