Opinion: Sorry!!! No cash refunds

POSTED: 07/7/11 2:44 PM

In these times of economic hardship every dollar spent on bad products hurts more than ever before. We started thinking about this when we glanced over a cash receipt from a local supermarket. It contains all kind of information we usually do not tend to pay too much attention to. The store is serving us with a smile, or so the receipt claims, it neatly lists the dollar-guilder exchange rate, an encouragement to sign up for a member card, the name of the cashier, the time, the date and some figures that mean nothing to us but probably a lot to the store’s accountants.

At the bottom of the receipt we found this text: “Thank you for shopping with us. Sorry!!! No cash refunds.”

This made us somehow think of a 21-year-old Dutchman who took over his father’s grocery store in 1887 (no – this is not a typo; this story starts 124 years ago.

The youngster brought advanced business principles to the party: reliability, quality and service. His slogan: “Not good? Your money back.”

What the youngster started all that time ago is now the largest grocery chain in the Netherlands with around 700 stores. And the slogan that formed the bases of young Albert Heijn’s incredible success still stands today.

Albert Heijn supermarkets make an ambitious claim: all products that are on sale at the stores are of a guaranteed quality. If a product shows a “quality defect,” in other words, if the product is not one hundred percent what the client expects Albert Heijn offers two options: exchange the product or present your cash receipt and get your money back.

And mind you: no questions asked. So if a client buys, say, a pot of strawberry jam, and she or he does not like the taste of it, Albert Heijn will exchange it, or give the client his money back. There is never a discussion. The client is truly king in this grocery empire.

Albert Heijn has put in place a few exceptions but those are all reasonable: DVD’s, compact discs, and medication with a broken seal, state lottery tickets and prepaid phone cards do not fall under the Not Good Money Back rule.

While Albert Heijn has made this policy an integral part of its business success, the courts also do not look kindly upon people who are selling faulty products. A recent and rather humorous example comes from a court in Leeuwarden that recently ruled that the buyer of a young Frisian horse has to get his €7,000 ($10,000) back, because the animal was infected with the EVA-virus. Such an infection is irrelevant in the Netherlands but it is a problem if you want to take your horse across the border. The seller knew that the buyer wanted to export the horse to Chile and that he would not manage to get the animal out of the country because of the infection.

But in St. Maarten things apparently don’t work that way. “Sorry!!! No cash refunds.” It almost reads like an insult to clients who have just been told that the store is ready to serve them with a smile. The real message is that they should not come back whining about rotten fruit or vegetables, or malfunctioning appliances.

Many retailers refer their clients for any problem with the products they sold them to the manufacturer. That makes their own life easy, and leaves many customers frustrated. To change this bad business attitude more consumers ought to drag businesses that attempt to shrug off their complaints into court and call them on their responsibilities. Consumers do not do business with manufacturers, they do business with retailers. And if there is a problem with a product for which consumers have paid good money, it is up to the retailer to solve that problem.

In many cases, certainly when products are under guarantee, this should not be an issue, because the retailer will get his money back from the malfunctioning product’s supplier. Unfortunately, the fact that giving customers their money back when they are dissatisfied is sound business practice with more rewards than disadvantages for companies is something that has not quite sunk in.



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