Service of Dammed If You Do & If You Don’t

July 12th, 2012

Categories: Accommodation, Audacity, Courtesy, Customer Service, Retail, Suspicion


A friend, I will call her Lisa, works in a small but prominent boutique with beautiful things. She’s been in high-end retail most of her life, has owned stores and traveled abroad on buying missions for years.

boutiqueLast week a woman returned an item saying it had broken. Lisa offered immediately to exchange it for another one and was pleased to see she had one in exactly the same colors, when she noticed that the item was badly stained.  She immediately figured that the woman had broken the piece so as to wangle a new one. Lisa also knew that she couldn’t get a replacement from the manufacturer under these circumstances.

Meanwhile, the store continued to fill up with other customers.

Lisa pointed out the stain and offered to have the piece fixed explaining why she could no longer give her a new one, at which the customer began to argue loudly that the thing broke the first time she used it and that she wanted a new one because she was a good customer. [Lisa had never before seen her though clearly someone had been to the store to buy the article.]

angry-womanKnowing she was being taken, Lisa chose not to inflict a scene on the others. She also wanted to free herself to answer their questions, ring up and wrap their selections. So she gave the woman a new item to get rid of her. 

When I saw Lisa several hours afterwards, she was still annoyed that she’d done that, angry that she’d caused a loss to her employer. She felt this woman deliberately came at a busy time, knowing loud arguments aren’t conducive to business, figuring a crowd to unsettle would work in her favor.

In my opinion, the woman stole the second item from the store. Had she brought in the soiled piece and asked if the manufacturer could clean it or requested the name of a stain remover she might try on the textile, that would have been another thing.

Lisa’s boss backed her decision though several colleagues said she shouldn’t have let the woman get away with it and claimed that they wouldn’t have been so easy on this weasel.

What would you have done? Can you share other examples of no matter what, you’re wrong?


12 Responses to “Service of Dammed If You Do & If You Don’t”

  1. EAM Said:

    I’m really more of a whistleblower and by being pleasantly persistant about asking questions about how this might’ve happened and offering some alternative solutions (that don’t involve money back).

    My good friend had worked for Pottery Barn Kids and they were instructed to take back merchandise that may have been stolen. Customers would steal the merchandise and return later for a credit, saying they didn’t have the receipt so they could get higher priced items. They did keep a look out for these predators but were told to accommodate these “customers”.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Pottery Barn Kids is big enough to share their losses among all its other customers although it gripes me that cheats get away with it so easily.

    In Lisa’s case, I thought she was quick on her feet to offer to fix the broken item–the kind of remedy you suggested–but when that didn’t work, and the customer began to make a loud fuss that would turn off the customers in the store, in addition to take up their precious time, she gave in.

    Further, Lisa’s store doesn’t have all the staff that a Pottery Barn Kids does so if she’s dealing with the grouchy customer, she’s not handling new money that others are prepared to spend.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Big mistake. Openly permitting a theft encourages future such incidents. The woman should have been politely escorted from the premises and told not to return.

    Years of experience and previous store ownership notwithstanding, “Lisa” may have first checked with the owner before taking action. Had this not been possible, Mme Thief should have been made to wait for a ruling from higher up.

    Theft is not discouraged by permitting it to take place, and I would want to shop where “Lisa” is in charge, since the cost, intially absorbed by the store, would eventually be taken care of by the customer… No thanks. I’ll take my business where paying customers are protected from such machinations.

  4. BG Said:

    Wait till I tell you about my experiences when I worked in a discount drug store in the 60’s.
    People are disgusting beyond belief!

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I can’t wait to hear!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Customers in every store pay for theft–that’s part of the cost of doing business. Sad, isn’t it? This woman did it in plain sight is the only difference.

    Lisa might have lost far more than the cost of one item had she allowed the bratty customer to ratchet up her complaint. The store would have emptied out and with it the wallets and credit cards of the other customers whom Lisa was protecting. Life is too stressful to have to witness scenes that raise blood pressure and there are plenty of other, calmer, quieter places to buy from in NYC.

    Lisa said she would remember this person. My bet is that she won’t try to buy something else in the store as I’m pretty sure no matter what the cost, Lisa would write in giant letters across her receipt–and keep a copy–NO RETURNS FOR ANY REASON.

    What I didn’t make clear–and this was a mistake–was that the store is tiny. There isn’t room to whisk a rogue customer out of the way. In a larger store, as Pottery Barn Kids that EAM described, where a sleazoid can be brought to a quiet corner, nothing is done to discourage thiefs. These successful retailers must know that the short term loss of avoiding a mess is worth it or they wouldn’t have such a policy.

  7. Hester Craddock Said:

    Great thinkers over the centuries evolved a concept, the rule of law, to encourage the survival of mankind as an advanced form of life on this planet. The only problem with the rule of law is that in order for it to work properly, the participants in society must have faith in its efficacy and positively and actively engage in making sure that it does work.

    Our problem is that too many of us, for reasons of cultural background, education, faulty parenting or whatever, feel that the most effective way to survive is to take advantage of those who do observe the rule of law.

    Had your salesclerk, Lisa, confronted the thief, for that is what she was, who foisted off on her the damaged goods, she would have suffered economic loss, and run the risk, had the police become involved, of considerable additional loss of money and especially time. Furthermore, no judge in New York would have applied more than a slap on the wrist to the criminal, if indeed he or she had actually been persuaded that a crime had taken place.

    I have lived and travelled extensively in totalitarian countries of one sort or another that do not abide by the rule of law in conducting their affairs. In some of these, the thief, had she attempted her scam there, might well have discovered herself missing her right hand without benefit of either a trial or a judge.

    Draconian as this may sound, it’s an effective way of keeping in line people who believe that they are entitled to steal and cheat at will.

    Sadly, the way things are going, it may be the way we shall have to conduct ourselves around here in the not too distant future.

  8. DManzaluni Said:

    I used to own a large department store and worrying about this sort of thing used to drive me nuts!

    There was a series of programs on TV some about serial scammers who habitually buy things like clothes to wear or use for one occasion and then return them on some trumped up reason to get the cash back.

    They said that stores share lists of scammers like this and will collectively refuse to do business with them once they are identified. Somehow I didn’t believe it.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Lisa was working on her gut. My bet is that her gut was right. But gut–as we are learning from the discussion of stop and frisk in NYC where it’s not enough for the police to frisk you based on a gut feeling–doesn’t work in court. After spending countless hours on this one case, nothing would have happened to the woman and Lisa would have been through the mill. Her employer would not have appreciated the negative publicity, if it happened as a result, and she may well have lost her job over lack of hours available to work and for creating a reputation of the store as a vindictive, nasty place to avoid.

    This brings me back to the title of the post–you are dammed either way.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I asked Lisa if she could keep the woman’s name on the cash register as the store is open far more hours than Lisa works there and I think there is another branch. She said they would never do that. This is a high end store and little bits of paper taped to a cash register wouldn’t fly.

    No wonder you felt as though you were going nuts thinking about this. You go to the trouble to bring wonderful or useful things for the public to buy–invest in inventory at risk–and some thank you by taking advantage.

    Long before bar codes I worked at a company where a colleague would boast that he exchanged a lower price sticker for the one on the honey he wanted to buy that was too expensive. I told him he was stealing. He said the grocery store was charging too much for honey. I noted that the price was based on what they had to pay and that he should select another product to put on his toast but not do what he was doing. He felt perfectly comfortable–didn’t see anything wrong with his strategy.

  11. BG Said:

    You asked…..

    One woman brought me a set of christmas lights and wanted a refund. I said, “do you have a receipt for the purchase?” She replied, “I don’t save those things,” with an attitude. I examined the lights and realized they had the name of another store on the price sticker. I said I will not give her a refund. She became enraged. I said “you can scream all you want because here is proof you didn’t buy them here.” She pulled the box out of my hands and stormed off. If I only had a pistol.

    Another time it was before Easter. The candy isle was lined with those large chocolate bunnies with the thin cellophane covering the candy inside the boxes. I spotted a little girl alone in the isle poking her finger through each package. This ruined each box exposing it to the air. No one would ever buy them. I told her to stop immediately. The mother came around the corner and gave me a dirty look. I said “are you going to pay for all of these products your daughter destroyed?” She grabbed the girl by the hand and flashed me another dirty look. I said “I’m going to have you arrested for the damage.” She said “go ahead” and stormed off. If I had a pistol.

    A man at the pharmacy counter was handed his prescription. He saw me carrying a ladder. He asked me if he could buy the ladder. I said “sir, this is the store ladder we use for stacking shelves, it’s not for sale.” He took the prescription he was holding and threw it on the floor with all of his might, than he stormed out of the store. The pharmacist stood there with his jaw dropped.

    This is only a small sample of the experiences I had with the public. We called them “the animals!”

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    For you to remember these instances so clearly after 40 years, and still feel rage at the advantages they felt entitled to take certainly made a huge impression! And you didn’t own the store–you were just trying to do your job correctly.

    I have always admired people who work in retail and after what you, Lisa and some of the commenters shared I respect each person even more. Wonder how many are on tranquilizers?

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