In the 1970’s a customer came into a Nordstrom store rolling a set of tires and demanding a full refund, insisting he had purchased them in that very store with a guarantee he could bring them back to any store, at any time, if not satisfied. No receipt or proof of purchase was offered.
Nordstrom had never sold tires. But it had acquired three stores when they bought Northern Commercial Alaska in 1975, that did. That store offered everything from towels to automotive supplies, including tires. When Nordstrom took over it narrowed the merchandise to apparel and shoes. Instead of turning the client away, after driving fifty miles for the return, the store associate wanted to do the right thing. So, he called a few tire stores to get an idea of pricing and then gave the customer that amount. Both felt they had been honored and the store’s reputation and policy for supporting their clientele no matter what, was followed.
It sounds like an urban legend, but according to history, the story is true. That simple act of kindness and customer service went on to pay incalculable dividends for the store. Nordstrom to this day will return anything, at any time, if not satisfied. Even without a receipt.
It’s like the old movie, Miracle on 34th Street. In that 1947 classic Christmas story (still well worth watching today) the store Santa Clause has the audacity to send a customer to a competitor when a prized children’s gift wasn’t available at his store. Initially aghast, they realize how well the public responds. A store that actually cares more about children than sales! As a result, it draws buyers in, and profits soar. Seem crazy? This was back when store clerks were taught, “The customer is always right.” And to sell, “with a smile on your face.” What happened to that philosophy? The idea was to respect, honor and listen to those willing to use your services or pay good money for your products. Makes sense. That’s how you get them to come back.
But lately it feels as though large conglomerates couldn’t care less. They have so many clients, what’s the loss of a few unhappy ones in the long run? Especially when many don’t even offer a phone number in order to speak to a human being when the fruitless, exhausting and frustrating online chats and emails don’t work! Are they really so big? Is ignoring the masses really the answer?
Yet the flip side must be acknowledged as well. We are no longer the same society. Too many are demanding, ignoring the severe strain facilities are encountering with staff and supply shortages, as they try to survive. Others are angry and disrespectful because they aren’t getting exactly what they want, when they want it, instead of exercising patience and understanding. Stores are closing because the cost to do business is too high. For example, theft in 2021 was estimated at almost 100 billion dollars!
I get it. We just went through a world altering event. But honoring each other, recognizing we are all in this together, is the only way we will emerge triumphant on the other side. Of course, times have changed. The pandemic and online access have altered expectations and buying tendencies.
But frankly, no matter the size of the business, we all need to heed the warning signs. If we want stores that actually have a person to talk to on the other end, products we can actually try on, touch, see how they look before we buy then we need to shop locally and support those that are desperately trying to maintain a brick-and-mortar facility. Don’t forget all the changes many businesses are attempting to keep staff to a minimum e.g. self-check-out areas and even credit card stands at restaurant tables.
If we want online convenience, we need to accept what that entails. Less personal service, impossible wait times to speak to a person (if that option even exists) and hoping what’s represented is actually sent. No matter where we shop the world has changed forever. But basic interactions between us can’t. We still need to be civil, kind, thoughtful, patient and considerate. On both sides of the isle.
The Nordstrom story sounds great, but no store can survive that way. There have to be clear-cut limits that everyone can honor. I remember when Costco used to allow returns, with a receipt on any item, for up to a year. Or Macy’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, six months. When I asked why the return windows had been shortened, I was told too many people had abused the policy- e.g. clearly worn clothes returned after the season ended, damaged goods, digital devices becoming extinct in months, half eaten food containers.
The customer is not always right. But going out of the way to adjust, honor and respect their wishes can only reap benefits. And remembering we are all overwhelmed, burnt out, and exhausted could go a long way to giving each other a break. Being nasty, rude, bitter, angry, abusive … is not acceptable and should never be tolerated. Plus, it rarely achieves the ultimate goal- getting what you want. Taking a breath and flashing a smile can go a long way to diffusing any situation and making both sides happy.