Don’t Treat Your Customers Like Thieves!

Last week, I went to a local hardware store for a pound of screws. When it turned out that I didn’t need them, I returned the next day to take them back. The woman behind the counter eyed me suspiciously.

She fiddled with the box, curious that it was a kind that could be opened without breaking a seal. I could tell right away what she was thinking: “This guy probably used one or two, and then wants to return the rest.” She didn’t say that aloud, but the silence was deafening.

As a consumer, one of the things I hate most is being made to feel guilty when I’ve done nothing wrong. Still, I tried to make light of the situation, remarking something like, “Funny they don’t seal the box, eh? But, that’s how they’re sold.” The statement didn’t phase her tenacity.

“I’m just trying to make sure,” she began, but then let the thought taper off, as she knew she was revealing more than what she wanted to.

“Look, I just bought them yesterday,” I said, “and I didn’t use a single one.” I was starting to get miffed. After all, we’re talking about a $5 box of screws here — not exactly a great heist if I were a con artist.

But, this wasn’t over yet. She then noticed that the box said “One Pound” on it — and, by God, she had an idea. She walked over to her scale and actually weighed the box!

Fortunately, I’m a calm individual, but I can see how a thing like this could escalate into an uncomfortable situation for everyone, had the wrong consumer walked in. Nothing further happened, though… I suppose the box indeed weighed one pound, and that satisfied her.

The Great Lesson Here

Try not to make your customers feel like criminals.

Sure, it’s true that a few of them probably are up to some shenanigans but, on the whole, most people aren’t out to scam you. I want to stress again that this is absolutely true in the online world where services sold are often virtual.

For example, we used to sell eBooks on another site. The deliverable is a PDF file — and there is surely no way to ask someone to “send me the PDF file back and destroy the original.”

We knew going into that business that a small percentage of people would order the book, claim to be unsatisfied, and ask for their money back. Our strategy: No questions asked! We promptly offered a full 100% refund each time it happened (which was only once or twice).

I even went out of my way to write to each one and say something brief like, “Sorry it didn’t work out for you, but we’re glad you gave it a whirl, and hope to help you again in the future — and, your refund will be processed immediately!”

Home Depot is a great example of a company that seems, in my opinion, to really get it right. I returned a table saw recently, after about 8 weeks of heavy use — worn blades, box long thrown out. (The saw had a design flaw that bothered me.) Guess what? I received zero trouble! They gave me a full refund, with a smile.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you forgo security measures and loss prevention best practices — and, I know that not all retailers can afford to be as liberal as Home Depot with their return policies. But, I AM suggesting that you approach these things in a way so as to avoid a mindset that most people are out to swindle you.

Yes, some are. But, don’t get hung up on those because they’re few. Just let them feel superior in having tricked you. It’s considerably less stress and effort.

Finally, bringing this back to Internet marketing, I’d like to stress that this is the era of online reviews — and they’re important for your business! In fact, studies show that they’re already the most powerful factor in consumer decision making.

In other words, a company can run all of the ads it wants but, if a friend (in real life, or even just a “Facebook friend”) recommends the business, that recommendation actually trumps all other types of branding and advertising. And it works both ways: If a bunch of people on a site like Yelp warn others about, say, bad service at a restaurant, guess what happens?

You got it — that restaurant will lose out bigtime! But, if people rave online about your store, you’ll reap the rewards. I’ll save online review management for a separate internet marketing post, but it’s absolutely vital these days for local online marketing.


👨‍🚀 Jim Dee heads up Array Web Development, LLC in Portland, OR. He’s the editor of “Web Designer | Web Developer” magazine and a contributor to many online publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. Photo atop piece is adapted from “raccoon” by AЯMEN (Flickr, Creative Commons).

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