Sunday, February 15, 2009

Club Monaco and return policy mishaps

You know times are tough when retailers start reevaluating and changing their return policies.

When it comes to return policies, flexibility defines good service. At the same time, I understand the need for retailers to set limits. I understand it's difficult for stores to turn a profit when customers are allowed to return items indefinitely. There needs to be a balance.

That being said, I usually don’t have a lot of time to shop and prefer trying most clothes on at home. Stores with the most flexible policies tend to get my business.

I bought a pair of pants and a top at Club Monaco after Boxing Day. I was in a rush and didn’t try them on in the store. When I got home, I realized I didn’t really need the pants but I didn’t have a chance to return them right away. I thought the 30-day return policy was ample.

Two weeks ago, I looked at the bill and realized I had gone passed the 30 days. I thought I’d have to suck it up and keep the pants. I called a location nearest me. The women who answered the phone told me I could still return the pants but they’d have to give me a store credit. I didn’t see that as a problem; I was delighted.

Well, I didn’t make it to the store right away. Today I went to the Yorkdale location to return the pants. The cashier gave me a funny look and said she’d only be able to give me a credit for the current sale price. What!!!

I told her about my call with the other location. After some resistance, she called over her manager. He stood by what the cashier had said and offered to give me a store credit for the current sale price. According to him, that was the store policy and the other store was making an exception. If I wanted to get a refund for the full amount paid, I’d have to go back there.

I told the manager, as a customer, this was confusing and unacceptable. To the best of my knowledge, I didn’t speak to the manager at the other store and I hadn’t offered special treatment. I suggested as a chain, they needed to have more consistency between their locations. He said if I didn’t like it, I should call head office. I told him I wanted my credit and suggested he share my feedback with head office.

By this time, a line of customers anxious to pay and get out was building up and they overheard our discussion. Reluctantly, I got a credit for the full amount.

As an aside, you should know that as of Jan. 1, all sale items at Club Monaco are final sale. I don’t know about you but I’m not thrilled about the change in policy and I’ll think twice before buying any sale merchandise there from now on.

What about you? How much does a store’s return policy influence your purchasing decisions? Do you think a retail chain should honour the same policies at all locations?
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  1. Anonymous12:18 am

    they should, but they don't.
    I have come across issues with Bluenotes, Aldo, and even Softmoc.
    I had to go through a lot of customer service, and even calling in to get what I knew was what I deserved.

    I had no idea about their change, that sale items are now final sale.
    it is EXTREMELY unfortunate that they have decided to go that route, but thanks for the heads up. Guess I won't be shopping there much.
    I tend to buy first, contemplate and return if nescessary, because sizes run out too quickly for me. I will now have to um and ah in the store until I make my decision :T

    Sorry you had a difficult time, but good thing you were able to get your full refund!

  2. Anonymous8:46 am

    If an item is for me, I am willing to buy it on final sale, but I will try it on in the store. When buying for my kids, I will only shop where the store offers REFUNDS. No store credit, no final sale. Been burned too many times. After 30 days, I do think it's reasonable for the store to offer the sale price to the customer, if it says 30 days on the receipt.

  3. Thanks Rasilla. I can relate.

    Donna, I agree with you. I will try on any clothing items that are final sale. In other words, if I don't have much time, I'll avoid the sale rack.

    Club Monaco's former 30-day refund policy was reasonable. I also was impressed with their willingness to offer an exchange or store credit for the amount I paid at the first location. I'm disappointed they've decided to change the policy this year so that all sales merchandise if a final sale.

    One of the tactics I've noticed in other chains with a "final sale" policy on sale merchandise, is they'll reduce items by 5%-10% to clear them out and raise some cash. Great for them but at 5%-10% off, it's not as great a deal for the customer. Sometimes, I'd rather pay full price for the flexibility.

  4. Anonymous4:46 pm

    Hey Eden!
    It DRIVES ME CRAZY when chain stores apply their policies inconsistently.

    I feel quite strongly that each location operate the same way. Failing that, at the very least honour the other location's offer without forcing the customer to beg. So disappointing...

  5. Hey Anonymous, I wish you'd share your name - I'm never sure if I'm responding to one or more of you. ;-)
    I couldn't agree with you more regarding store policies. I've been having a similar conversation about companies operating with different policies and programs on both sides of the Can-U.S. border. At the end of the day, customers don't care about the geographical differences. We want fair treatment, good value and service for the best price. With social media the boundaries are blurring more and more each day.

  6. Anonymous10:52 pm

    Hi Eden,

    I, like you, love a BARGAIN but again like you love the convenience of just buying it and trying it at home when we can. I actually bought stuff today and had no idea that the policy had changed but I do know that the location on Yonge between Lawrence and Eglinton have WONDERFUL customer service and can be very flexible when customer service and customer happiness is an issue. I will keep you posted with my story if I try to return these items I bought. In this tough economy, stores need to be flexible and customer oriented to survive the next tough tough year.

    From one Bargain lady to another...

    Jody Steinhauer
    founder of The Bargains Group
    a.k.a bargain jody

  7. Jody, thanks for your comment. I think you're the bargain queen. ;-) I'm all about value.

    If you purchase sale items at Club Monaco, you may want to check your receipt. Customers have a responsibility too. I wouldn't expect them to take sale merchandise back anymore. If you do try, please let us know what happens.

    Unfortunately, not all retailers share our point of view when it comes to flexibility and service.

    The Gap (and other stores under their umbrella) tightened the reigns a while back and offer a 90-day limit. IMHO, it's very reasonable. I'm not sure how they survived with an unlimited policy before.

    Boutiques and independent retailers have typically been more restrictive. Some don't accept returns on regular-priced merchandise. Fortunately for them, they typically offer unique selections and more personalized service.

    In these times, I think we'll see different approaches on both extremes as businesses figure out how to remain profitable in tough times.

  8. Anonymous3:13 pm

    Hi, Eden

    I ran into the 'final sale' on sales merchandise issue just this past week at the Club Monaco at the Eaton's Centre.

    This new policy will definitely curb the money I spend a the chain.

    I, like you, have little time to shop, and prefer to take try my purchases on at home for fit and wearability with my other wardrobe items.

    I avoid shops such as Aritzia, Mendocino and other indies because I don't like their return policies.

    I understand that retailers have to make a buck, but how about they begin by producing goods that people actually want to buy instead of featuring items in colours, like yellow, that have a limited appeal to consumers.

    Thanks for the post - I am sure Club will feel the sting of its new policy, as many consumers take their dollars to outlets that are more customer service oriented.


  9. Anonymous9:53 am

    I purchased a couple of sale items at CM two weeks ago and the cashier notified me of this policy. I, too, do not like trying things on in the store, so I actually had to try them on b4 purchasing. I with you on thinking twice b4 giving them my bidnez! *shaking head*

  10. Lisa and Anonymous 2, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think we're all on the same page. I sure hope retailers are paying attention.

    As we're approaching spring, I'm curious to see how the economy will further impact retailers and whether or not we'll see more change in return policies.

    Unfortunately, the one change I have seen is limited selection and a decrease in quality.

  11. Anonymous8:24 pm

    Inconsistent policies across different locations is a sign of bad management. It's really unfortunate that even today some stores haven't developed a well-run centralized management system, and are empowering the different locations to make their own policies.
    But to bring some positive light into this discussion, I have to say that I am very impressed with the network some stores have established between their branches. I always have difficulty finding a small size that fits me well, especially when it comes to jackets. As I was shopping one day, I fell in love with a spring jacket at Danier that was on sale. Unfortunately, the branch I was at didn't have my size. With just a few quick calls, the cashier managed to find my size at another location. I was so thrilled that I went to pick up my jacket right away. That was the day I became very appreciative of the inter-branch networks stores like Danier had developed. I don't know what I'd do without them!

  12. Alina,
    Thanks for stopping by. Good customer service has always been important. Now more than ever retailers will need to be on their toes - between the economy and the speed at which information travels online and by word of mouth - customers are savvier than ever.

    One sticky point in all this is as much as consistent policies within a chain are important, it's equally important to recognize that some locations have to cater to their demographics in order to compete with independent retailers.

  13. Anonymous10:41 pm

    I'm an employee at Club Monaco, just wanted to let you know all items are not final sale. You can still return full priced items within the 30 day return policy.
    Head office is aware of the issues our customers have with returns, but they are the ones who make the polices and they count on their staff to enforce them.
    Don't give the staff a hard time for doing their job.
    The fact that someone on the phone told you it was ok to still return the pants is very poor. You should have got her name so you could report her to management.
    Sorry you had a bad experience. I've been in the same situation, it sucks!

  14. Anonymous Club Monaco employee,
    Thanks for your comment. I wish I'd hear from more people employed by companies I blog about.

    Yes, I know regular-priced merchandise can be returned and refunded in-full within 30 days of purchase at Club Monaco.

    At the time I bought the pants, the same policy was in effect for sale merchandise. That changed on Jan. 1, 2009. Now sale merchandise is final sale.

    When I called the store in my neighbourhood, I had NO IDEA the person on the phone was giving me incorrect information, so why would I think to ask for her name? I trusted what she told me was a company-wide policy. That is why I was confused and upset with the staff at the Yorkdale store.

    Customers can't possibly be expected to know the ins and outs of a retail chain. Nor should they be expected to know policies may vary between locations within some chains, unless they are told that's the case.

    I also understand what it's like to be in your shoes. Sometimes it's difficult enforcing company policies especially when you think it may lead to losing a sale or a complaint.

    I agree as a customer, if salesperson tells you something you suspect may be incorrect or you don't agree with, it's a good idea to get her name for future reference.


  15. Anonymous12:07 pm

    I think the moment you mentioned that someone on the phone told you you could return for full store credit, the manager should have honoured that.

    Policies are in place for a reason, but the number one policy in most retail chains is 'the customer is always right'

    Unfortunately many customers have lied to get their way and this is why many stores have a hard time putting the customer first, but as someone who's worked in customer service, it's usually not hard to tell who's an honest customer and who's trying to take advantage.

    I think the hard part is being able to teach employees and even managers that it is sometimes appropriate to 'break' policy to keep a customer happy.

  16. Hey Kelly,
    I couldn't agree with you more. This is nothing new. In tough economic times like these, when retailers are struggling, I wonder why companies aren't focusing on improving customer service as one of their strategies to increase sales.

    Most customers are more inclined to shop where they can find the best service at shops within their price range.


  17. Anonymous9:42 pm

    While I understand your predicament, it is unfortunate. I have 12 years of experience in retail and I beleive that the all consumers should be aware. It is the responsibility of the consumer to ensure they are educated in the return/exchange/refund policy of a company.

    Those policies are in place and designed to protect both the customer and the merchant. You simply cannot hold on to merchandise and arbitrarily attempt to return it at your leisure. If you need to return it, do so as soon as possible. The merchant does not want stale product. It is not profitable. You have plenty of opportunity to take the product back. 30 days!!!
    I am not the biggest advocate of liberal policies of this nature due to the tremendous abuse that I have witnessed over the years. I have seen and heard it all. I think punishing the retailer for your own mistake is not a logical decision. You simply need to take the time to educate yourself about the store policies. It takes mere seconds to ask a service associate to provide you with that information. That is what they are paid to do!! You owe it to yourself to do so. Doesn't that make more sense? Instead of complaining, pouting and boycotting retailers I strongly urge you to try your clothes on as well. If you dont; have the time, perhaps you should not be impulse buying in the first place. This whole fiasco could have been avoided.

  18. Anonymous, I appreciate your participation in the discussion. I have retail experience too.

    You're right. Customers do have a responsibility to educate themselves about store policies.

    That's exactly what I had done. I asked all the right questions when I made my purchase. I assumed if I decided to return the pants, I'd do so within 30 days as per the chain's policy on regular- and sale-priced merchandise at the time.

    Life got in the way. When I realized it was past the deadline for returning the pants for a full refund, I called the store nearest me and asked about the policy for items returned after 30 days. I was prepared to suck it up.

    The woman I spoke didn't give me any indication that she was making an exception. I wasn't taking advantage of the situation.

    Many customers who shop at your store, which in turn pays your salary, have busy lives. If you had a choice between closing a sale because your employer had a flexible return policy or losing a sale because it doesn't, what would you choose?

  19. Anonymous2:36 am

    I know this is a little past-dated, but I thought you should be aware. I've been an employee with Club Monaco for over a year, and currently in management at one of the Canadian locations, and I'll try and address some of your concerns if I can.

    The policy change as of Jan 1 was a trial policy that corporate wanted to try to see if it would save money in the long run. As employees, generally we didn't agree with the policy ourselves, seeing it much the same way as you clients did. It was policy, we had to uphold it, but we didn't much like it ourselves.

    Lots of customers from all over Canada and the US called or e-mailed head office with their concerns, and within a couple months of issuing the `Sale item Final Sale` policy, they have since changed it back.

    As of March, ALL purchases at Club Monaco are completely refundable/exchangeable with a copy of the receipt and original tags presented.

    People may not think it, but expressing your concerns to a company regarding things like a newly changed policy does have an effect. We do all we can for our clients and strive for a great customer service reputation.


    - S.L.

  20. Thanks S.L. for stopping by and providing an update about Club Monaco's sales policies.

    I for one am very pleased to learn the company has decided to reverse it's decision. I'm also happy to learn Club Monaco is monitoring online conversations and listening to customers. Is it more effective to email our concerns to the company or do conversations like these also have influence over the decision-making process? In fact, if you or another representative of Club Monaco would be interested in discussing this further, I'd like to do an interview for Bargainista.

    I welcome your comments anytime.



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