Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Searching for the place of no returns

One of my first post-college jobs was at a healthcare products company, which was as awesome as it sounds. In the back corner of the warehouse was the Returns Dept., which may have been the most depressing place I have ever witnessed first-hand. It wasn’t even manned on a day-to-day basis—even though I personally processed 873 returns daily—because everyone was afraid of it. Returns just went there and that was that—no other action was taken. It was a black hole of despair from which not even a desire for profit could emerge.

I have frequently thought about returns, because I am weird. It fascinates me that we live in a society where returning stuff ALL THE TIME is normal and acceptable. “Oh I bought this with my own free will but I am an idiot and don’t want it anymore, so I think I’ll return it for a full refund,” is something I just do not grasp. Why do consumers have all the power? Have you ever seen consumers? Have you been to Walmart? They have no idea what they’re doing. That is why I am sympathetic to the plight of the store when I myself take full advantage of this aspect of our society.

Me: I’d like to return this.

Store: Okay, may I ask why?

Me: No.

Store: I hate you.

Me: I understand.

On the other end of the spectrum, when I have not made a mistake but the product is faulty, or a gift, or was processed incorrectly, I become irrationally upset. Really, I cannot stress how irrationally upset I become when I have to return something. I demand nothing but the utmost convenience in the process, and the lengths I will go to get just that are nothing if not inconvenient.

For example, I recently ordered a pair of shoes online. Yes, that is risky, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to try them on over the Internet. Well, you are not in a million years going to believe this, but they didn’t fit. I spent the better part of a weekend day trying to return shoes online. It was beautiful and sunny outside, yet I was on the couch having like three different “chat sessions” with human-robot hybrids just so I could get a promo code so I didn’t have to pay shipping on the new order. I refuse to do that under any circumstances. I want my tombstone to read, “Never paid shipping twice.”

Meanwhile, I had ordered something for work that was kind of important and fairly expensive. It arrived at the office and the second I saw it I was like, “Nope. Going back. Not the right one.” I could have punched a hole in the wall a la Andy Bernard at that moment. As if I had nothing else to do, I spent three working hours trying to resolve the issue. And by “trying to resolve the issue” I mean trying to get a prepaid UPS return label and a full refund down the penny, which is what I did. I am my own hero sometimes.

Nevertheless, in both cases I had to trudge to the UPS Store to drop off the item, using my own gas in the process. (I mean my car’s gas, although using my own gas would have been better for many reasons.) I was so annoyed in both cases I just tossed the open box on the counter and said, “Label’s on there, didn’t have any packing tape,” and walked out. The Return Renegade is what they call me, sometimes … not really.

I am confident both products will end up in their respective Returns Depts. never to be seen again, joining other products returned thanks to the fickleness of consumerism or the idiocy of customer service. And to that I say, God Bless America.

Note: This column appears in the 1/10 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/11 issue of the Peoria Times.

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