Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Should retailers be responsible for all comments made by their employees?

Yesterday I purchased a pair of Vans KISS Sk8-Hi Skate shoes for my son. I’m not sure about you but buying footwear for either of my sons is such a chore. So, when we were shopping with my nephews for winter boots and L’il Spo just had to have these shoes, I obliged on one condition. I needed to know they could be returned. Yes, they could... for a full refund within seven days as long as he didn’t wear them outside and we kept the bill. Why? Because I know he tends to get suckered in by the appearance and often complains about the fit when he gets home.

Last night I checked them out on the Getoutsideshoes.com. Surprise, they were on sale for $15 less than what I paid in the store. I called them right away and very politely told the woman who answered the phone. She was most apologetic and said sometimes the “north” store doesn’t have its systems up-to-date but that I could come in and get a price adjustment. The refund policy would still stand. Today I went back to the store, presented my bill and got a refund for the difference between the regular and sale prices. Painless.

Sounds great, right? We’ll not really. Getoutside is right on when it comes to customer service policies. The staff could have been more helpful though. They weren’t very attentive when we needed help – there was plenty of staff – the store is set up in a self-serve manner but we were shopping for kids’ footwear and stores selling to kids need to be more accommodating.

But that’s not the issue that concerned me most. When I called back last night, the woman I spoke to was lovely and accommodating. She wanted me to know it was an honest mistake. The problem was how she said it – she said, “I wasn’t trying to gyp you or anything.” Yikes! I never assumed she was.

There’s no excuse for racist remarks even when said out of ignorance. Regardless, that type of comment never sits well. I think it reflects as poorly on the store as it does the employee. What about you?

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  1. She probably didn't intend to make a racial comment, but it was def unprofessional (and as you mentioned, completely ignorant).

    I think in most situations, the retailer should be responsible for the actions of the employees (esp comments made at work and about products/services) - how could it work any other way?


  2. In this instance, some may quibble on the origins of that particular word (http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-gyp1.htm ), or suggest that it comes down to how the user herself defines the word. The fact is many understand it as a racial slur, and one of their customers was offended by its use.

    I'm with Melinda. It was unprofessional. Retailers provide and are responsible for the customer service experience -- via their products/inventory, their staff, etc. -- period. And, yes, your experience does reflect on the store and its brand.

  3. Anonymous1:00 pm

    relax, she probably doesnt even think of it as a 'racial slur'. I am sure it's a generational difference.

  4. ShopTOLive, Doreen and Anonymous,

    Thanks for your comments and perspective.

    Anonymous, it's the fact that she's 20-something and knows that word at all that is disconcerting.

    Have you considered sharing your identity as a 2010 resolution? Your comments will have more credibility.;)



  5. I think it is sad and scary that this woman did not know the term was a racial slur. I agree with Shop T.O. Live that comments made by an employee at work regarding a product make the retailer responsible.

    This type of incident is why (I think) we should speak up, and take the situation seriously. If we "relax" and ignore like Anonymous suggests we will end up with a generation of 20 year olds that are unaware of derogatory racial slurs.

  6. Sharon McNeil12:43 am

    I was unaware it was a racial slur, but I am grateful you have brought this up. Now that I know, it has been banned from my vocabulary. I'll check with some 20somethings to see if they know.
    In my case it could be generational. Fortunately I haven't used it in years.
    How would an employer go about making their staff aware of words that are offensive?

  7. Fashion Femme4:40 pm

    I was also unaware that it was a racial slur. I agree that it is completely unprofessional to use any kind of racial slur or for that matter slang when dealing with customers. I myself find it incredibly irritating when I am shopping and the sales associate calls me "honey" or "sweety"...I don't know you, so I'm neither your "honey" or your "sweety". To assume that this is a professional and endearing way to address a customer is ridiculous. It's derogatory and condescending.

    To answer Sharon's question, employers can reinforce their anti-harrassment policy which usually outlines the Ontario Human Rights Code and could possibly provide examples of what racial slurs could be. I would also hope that they provide their sales people with some kind of customer service training...but considering Bargainista's and my experiences, I don't think so.


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