Willing buyer‚ unwilling seller by Wendy Knowler
Spanish clothing and accessories retailer Zara must be doing a lot of things right — it’s one of the world’s biggest fashion brands.
But its totally inflexible store policies earn the company a constant stream of complaints from irate‚ frustrated customers in South Africa.
Most have do with stores refusing to take back unwanted purchases beyond 30 days of purchase‚ or within that time frame but without a receipt.
Legally‚ they’re within their rights to do so‚ but the haughty “rules is rules” way in which the international policy is applied does the brand’s image no favours.
Last week a Durban family experienced a different kind of frustration — wanting to buy a dress which had been on display at ZARA Gateway‚ but staff refusing to sell it to them.
Simon Blevins visited the store with his wife and two young daughters one evening last week to buy the girls outfits for a wedding in Cape Town at the weekend.
“We’d been to a few other stores by the time we ended up in ZARA and both girls found outfits they really liked‚ which fitted perfectly‚” he said.
“But when we got to the till‚ the cashier pointed out a small mark on my elder daughter’s dress and informed us that it could not be sold because of it.
“As it was the perfect dress in the correct size‚ and no others were available‚ my wife said we’d take it anyway‚ and offered to record in writing that there would be no comeback on the mark.”
A win‚ win situation‚ surely.
But it was not to be.
“The cashier was adamant that store policy was store policy. So we called the store manager and she echoed the same sentiment.
“We argued‚ but to no avail‚ and we left with our daughter in tears‚ no dress for the wedding and no more time to shop.
“It amazes me that‚ in the current difficult retail environment‚ the store manageress has no discretionary powers at all‚” Blevins said.
“While I understand the need for policy in any business‚ store managers are there to make decisions and this was an easy one — make a sale; happy customer; make a note on the store copy of the sales slip and get the customer to sign as this item cannot be returned; make a note in your manager’s diary for future reference if it ever comes up again.”
Blevins tried to source a number for ZARA’s head office‚ but the staff in two stores said they were “not allowed” to give it to customers.
Journalists don’t get to make that call either: contact with the company in South Africa can be made only via its “customer care” email address‚ and responses are never given in the name of anyone.
This was the response I got:
“Please note that as a global brand we pride ourselves in selling 100% pristine product – if it is not‚ we will not sell the product as we promise to sell fashionable quality product.
“Other retailers in South Africa may ‘endorse’ receipts and offer discounts on the problem product in order to refuse returns or exchanges in the future.
“We do not do this as we want our customers to buy products that we and they are satisfied with in terms of quality.
“We endeavour to ensure that store staff check the floor for any soiled products and have several checkpoints to ensure we sell pristine product- firstly our product is checked on the sales floor and at the fitting rooms by staff.
“Secondly‚ when the sale is being processed there is an opportunity to note any defects at the cash desk. As in this case‚ if the mark is visible to a customer making the purchase‚ then we discourage the sale and offer an alternative or similar product.
“We hope this clarifies our position in regards to your query as this is standard practice at all our 2000 stores in 88 countries‚ including South Africa.”
Note that “we will not sell” became “we discourage the sale..”
The Blevins family was certainly not given a choice.
ZARA says this on its website: “The customer is at the heart of our unique business model…”
Putting your customers at the heart of your business should include meeting their legitimate needs; doing all you can to make them feel valued‚ and heard.
What a shame it is when policies get in the way of that.