It started with a quick trip to the UPS store to mail a package. Most importantly, the package I was mailing was actually wanted and appreciated on the receiving end. I was shipping a ring I’d repaired to a store in the Midwest. That store in the Midwest was anxiously awaiting its arrival. That’s me, making dreams come true since 1984.
It ended with me holding the front door open for another customer coming in. I saw her coming across the parking lot, holding a baby in one arm, and struggling with a large box in the other. She was only about 20 feet away from the counter, so I decided to just hold open the door and not try to help her with the box. She seemed pretty balanced and I didn’t want her to drop what she was carrying in either arm.
She said thank you. I said you’re welcome. As she passed by me, I could see the contents of the big box. There were about a dozen smaller boxes, of different shapes and sizes. All were from Amazon, all were returns.
Before the door even closed behind her, she was already heading back outside. I held the door for her again. She said, thank you, again. I said, you’re welcome, again. She literally walked 10 feet in the store, set down the box full of boxes, and walked out before the front door had even closed. No receipt, no standing in line, no confirmation that she even mailed back the returns. My guess is she’s probably done this so many times that she’s on a first name basis with the UPS store employees. So, why does this bother me so much?
I’ve owned a trade shop since 1984. I’ve owned a retail store since 1993. In that time, I’ve worked with, serviced and dealt with tens of thousands of customers, both wholesale and retail. In that time I think I’ve only had about a dozen returns at my store. With my trade shop, I probably average a few come-backs a year. Usually just minor stuff, like I can’t read your writing and a 9 and a 4 look an awful lot alike (Ben).
At the retail level, all of us strive to have zero returns, but they happen sometimes. We have to smile and say things like; “Oh, I’m sorry it didn’t work out. Can I show you something that might be a better fit?” All the while thinking: “Damn, I’ve already spent the $$$ you paid me. Now this will have to come out of my pocket.” But Amazon is different.
Amazon plans for returns. Amazon builds it into their business model. Amazon doesn’t care about returns because Amazon generates billions of dollars in revenue. Not many of us mom and pop shops can say that. But Amazon is creating a ‘return it culture’ in our society that’s very dangerous to us independent retailers. With Amazon, there’s no charge for shipping either way, it’s free.
I ship a lot of packages at my company. And, a lot of packages are shipped to me. And it’s never been free. USPS, UPS and FedEx charge me for every.single.package.I.ship! I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that the three major carriers charge Amazon for every package that Amazon ships too. And that’s what bothers me. The lady at the UPS store doesn’t have a clue how much money she’s spending since it’s not coming out of her bank account. She just orders and orders, and returns and returns like it doesn’t matter. And to Amazon, it doesn’t matter. It’s when she shows up at our stores that it becomes a problem.
If I have a customer like her show up at my store, I do everything I can to try and send her to the internet or the mall. Sometimes you can just smell a ‘return in the making’ while you’re trying to make a sale. But, because I’m trying to make a sale, not a short term rental, I try to avoid the entire transaction.
A few years ago, I looked into Amazon Handmade. It’s a part of the Amazon behemoth that allows craftsmen to sell their handiwork on the Amazon website. It didn’t take me long to figure out it wasn’t for me. Just reading the application and the rules convinced me that there were no protections for the sellers. All of the protections are for the buyers. I never even finished the application. Here’s why.
Amazon’s return it culture doesn’t work for one-of-a-kind, specially created, hand fabricated pieces. If someone orders something unique to them, and then changes their mind once they receive it, they don’t even have to return it. Amazon just refunds their money and deducts it from your bank account. It’s not their money so why should they care? They won’t even ask you if there’s something you can do to rectify the situation.
I’ve been saying for a long time these mega-shopping companies can only offer two things, and two things only; a large selection, and a refund if you’re not happy. Trust me, if I spend my time, resources and materials to produce a one-of-a-kind product for someone, they’re gonna have to pay for it. We all have horror stories about the couple that orders the rose gold, micro pave, black diamond, citrine and iolite engagement ring, only to have the couple break up before they’ve finished paying for it.
About two years ago, Nashville was in the bidding for the Amazon world headquarters competition. We made it all the way to the last round, and it went to Queens, New York - or was supposed to at least. I was soundly against the deal. I didn’t want them here. They may be the big dogs today, but so was Sears 50 years ago with that same business model.
While writing this column, this headline popped up; FedEx Corp. said it was ending its contract to deliver Amazon.com Inc. packages through its ground network, essentially severing ties with one of the world’s biggest shippers. Looks like FedEx is starting to see it like I see it.
What’s going to become of this current culture is anybody’s guess. But nowadays, when I’m making a sale, I’m also making extra certain to explain my return policy. Just in case they’re thinking I’m like Amazon, they’re gonna find out I’m not. If they’re looking for that, they need to just buy if off of Amazon.
What can I say; brick and mortar ain’t for everyone.