The Retailer’s Perspective: But... what if the customer IS wrong?


Seriously.  What if the person standing across the counter from you is clearly making a huge mistake? 

Yea, yea, I know the saying, ‘The customer is always right.’ I just don’t believe it half the time.  After decades of doing this kind of work, I’d like to think that I probably know more about this jewelry topic than the person across the counter.  That’s why they came to me in the first place!  Right?

I had a store manager from Colorado tell me one of his horror stories from a few years back.  A man came in who believed in the holistic properties of certain gemstones.  This man needed a ring made with a large opal in the center surrounded by emeralds to “complete his aura.”  But, guess what the man did for a living?  He was a stone mason and wanted to wear the ring to work every day.  Well guess who had an absolute, year long, nightmare on their hands?  The jewelry store that sold him the ring did, because he was in every other day with broken gemstones… and mad about it! 

So, who was at fault here?  The customer knew what he wanted.  The store manager knew it was a bad idea, but he worked at one of those large retail chain stores where “the customer is always right.”  Nobody won in that situation.

Then, there was the overweight woman who was getting married in a couple of months and wanted to order an all-around eternity band in the size she planned to be on her wedding day, not the size she was now.  This woman was marrying well, and money was no object according to the jeweler who told me the story.  She ordered a platinum band in a size 6 ½ when she really needed an 8.  The store had the ring custom made with diamonds all around it and it was beautiful… and un-sizable.  She came in to pick it up, and even though it didn’t fit at the time, she was thrilled and gladly paid the high price the jeweler charged.  Well guess what happened about a week before her wedding?  Yep, it still didn’t fit and she was pissed… at the jewelry store that sold her the ring! 

So, who was really at fault here?  The customer knew what she wanted and the store knew it was a bad decision.  Nobody won that day.

As a gemologist, I have more than my share of people that come to me for an appraisal on a piece of jewelry that they are looking to sell.  But, because I don’t buy off the street, I charge for that service.  So, a woman comes in wanting me to do an appraisal because she broke up with her fiancé and wanted to sell the engagement ring.  When I found out why she needed the appraisal, I tried to explain to her that I only did insurance appraisals and that my appraisal probably wouldn’t help her in this situation. 

She said she just wanted to know what it was worth, so I told her take it to a couple of pawn shops and she’d know real quick what it was worth.  I probably spent 15 minutes trying to talk her out of the $125 appraisal, but she wasn’t hearing anything I had to say. 

Having been in this situation many times before, I made her pay me in advance and I did the appraisal.  A couple of days later I get a nasty phone call from her about the discrepancy between the number on my appraisal and the amount of money she’d been offered (which I told her would happen).  Needless to say, she didn’t have any recollection of the time I spent trying to keep her from making a mistake because she was wrong about what she really needed.  As the professional in this situation, I was correct and the customer wasn’t.  So, who won that day?  Nobody.

Another jeweler, Lisa, told me about a woman that came in her store to have a custom engagement ring made. She just had to have it in platinum. It just had to be set waaayy up high.  And it just had to be a carat and a half, trillion cut diamond. I mean seriously, talk about the three strikes rule! 

Lisa did everything in her power to try and change this customer’s mind.  She even had more than one vendor turn the job down because it was such bad idea.  And, it was about a $10,000 bad idea.  Hell, I was one of the jewelers that turned down the job because there was no way I was getting married to that massive mistake about to happen. 

Well, the lady was not going to change her mind, so Lisa found someone to make it and the job went forward.  In the first two years she owned it, it went back to the manufacturer at least 6 times because the diamond had either fallen out or was so loose it was about to.  And, guess who the customer blames for her problems?  If you guessed Lisa, you’d be correct.  So, was “the customer always right” in this situation?  I don’t think so!

Last Christmas, I had a 20 something year old woman show up with an old mounting that at one time held a rectangular stone that was about 20x15mm.  When I first saw it, it was just an empty, worn out mounting.  The lady wanted a new aquamarine for it since it was her grandmother’s ring and she just had to have it repaired to like-new condition.  I told her it would be about 20 grand for an aquamarine that size.  She suddenly decides that an imitation would be just fine.  I ordered one, set it, and called her to tell her it was ready.  She was across town so she sent her sister in to pick it up and pays the $250 charge on Christmas Eve.  A couple of hours later, I get a call from her on my cell phone telling me that it wasn’t the color of the stone that was originally in the ring.  I told her that since I never saw the stone that came out of it, I wouldn’t have any idea what color it was.  It’s Christmas Eve, I’m at home and there was just nothing I could do about it that night, end of story.  And, just as an FYI, the ring looked fine.

She shows up in my store a few days later, mad as hell telling me I don’t know what I’m talking about.  I pointed to my gemological certification I received in 1983. 

She starts showing me pictures of aquamarines on her phone.  I pointed to my gemological certification I received in 1983. 

She tells me I don’t know anything about aquamarines.  I pointed to my gemological certification I received in 1983.  I’m in a can’t win situation here so I told her I’d try a different supplier.

About two weeks later, she shows up to pick up her ring, which I hadn’t touched again, but I had five different imitation aquamarines, from 5 different suppliers, to show her.  And guess what?  Every one of them was exactly the same color as the one I set in the ring in the first place.  Then she tells me the entire jewelry business just doesn’t know what an aquamarine is supposed to look like.  So, if “the customer is always right” in this situation, it means that every single person out there reading this article right now doesn’t know what you’re talking about.  Heaven forbid, she, the customer, could be wrong.  Geez!

A friend mentioned to me that the medical profession doesn’t have a “the patient is always right” policy, so why do we have to have “the customer is always right” policy in this industry?  That makes sense to me.

As a rule, every day that I open my store to the public, I try to do what’s right.  I try to help people.  And sometimes that means trying to keep them from making bad mistakes.  It’s not that I’m purposely trying to be argumentative, it’s just that I’m trying my damnedest to talk somebody out of a bad decision because I don’t want to be married to their bad decision for the rest of my life.  In the end, I’m really trying to help them, even if they can’t see it at the time.

Oh look, I just got a text from my buddy in Colorado.  The stone mason with opal and emerald ring just got out of this truck and is coming in the store.  And he looks pissed…. again!

Chuck is the owner of Anthony Jewelers in Nashville, TN. Chuck also owns CMK Co., a wholesale trade shop that specializes in custom jewelry and repair services to the jewelry industry nationwide. If you would like to contact Chuck or need a speaker or instructor for your next conference/event he can be reached at 615-354-6361, or send e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..