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Consumer Unfriendly January 28, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.
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Three observations about consumer and retail culture in the Philippines, anecdotally:

No Return, No Exchange?

My girlfriend bought me a shirt for my birthday that turned out to be too small. (Aside: I think she was trying to flatter me…which certainly worked!) Naturally, we went over to the store to have it exchanged, only to find that there was no more stock in my size. Nor did any of their other branches. This being the case, we discussed the matter and decided that the sensible thing to do would be for her to ask for her money back so she could get me something else instead.

Unfortunately, we were told that, no, it was against store policy to give refunds. Instead, they gave out credit memos (as good as cash, we were informed) that we could use at the store or any of their associated brands.

On the surface, it seems like a reasonable arrangement but doesn’t hold up against any modicum of scrutiny. If you buy merchandise from a store and the purchased item turns out to be unsuitable, shouldn’t you have the right to get your money back? More, if you find that nothing else in the store is to your liking, why should it be acceptable to the consumer to receive, instead of her money back, credit to buy merchandise from sister stores? It stands to reason that because they are related with the original store they would theoretically carry similar merchandise. It’s almost as if the prevailing logic is that once you turn your money over to a store it’s theirs to hold hostage come hell or high water. Indeed, this takes the admonition of “Caveat Emptor” to an extreme that is out of step with modern consumer practices.

Granted, such a policy does offer merchants some protection against unscrupulous individuals that may abuse more lenient policies if given the chance. Still, how much more would retailers, especially outlets of well established brands, have to gain in terms of reputation and goodwill should they adopt more consumer-friendly policies in this regard?

Strictly No Browsing

It boggles the mind how Philippine booksellers frown upon anyone browsing through the books on their shelves.

I’ve probably been spoiled by the Barnes and Noble superstores that are near ubiquitous in the US, but it’s simply ironic that even purportedly “high-end” booksellers in the Philippines, the most glaring offender being Powerbooks, go so far as to post signs around their shelves reminding customers that browsing is strictly prohibited.

Of course, I think everyone gets it. In a country starved of libraries and where books are relatively expensive, encouraging browsing would all but certainly guarantee worn merchandise and cramped stores. But if this is the case, why do such stores stock their shelves full of books at all? If they were truly concerned about keeping their merchandise intact, they could presumably just fill their shelves with mockups of the books instead of the books themselves, similar to the way DVD or video game stores in some countries stock their shelves with empty cases to prevent theft, with the actual merchandise kept in storage and retrieved only upon sale. The principle is the same, and in the end should allow bookstores to carry more titles and manage their inventory better.

I haven’t decided whether going down this road would represent a step forward or backward for Philippine bookstores, but it would certainly be more consistent with any policy that discourages customers from reading through a book before deciding to buy it.

Thief! Thief!

Package counters exist for a reason, and it isn’t to make it more convenient for shoppers to browse through a store’s shelves unencumbered by bags from purchases elsewhere. Rather, they exist because it’s ultimately cheaper (and probably more effective) to keep anyone from entering the store with bags that may be used for pilfering merchandise, as opposed to investing in means that insure against such pilferage.

That’s all well and good, but am I the only one offended by the fact whenever I walk into an establishment that asks me to deposit my bags, I am being presumed to be a thief?

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