Kohl's vs. Boston Store: The Return Process and Customer Loyatly

Sunday, two juxtaposed shopping experiences at Bayshore Mall brought to light the effect of a return process on the customer experience. The result was perhaps a little surprising.

Sunday, two juxtaposed shopping experiences at Bayshore Mall brought to light the effect of a return process on the customer experience. The result was perhaps a little surprising.

Rewind to Black Friday. My wife and I were looking for a pair of semi-dressy, medium heeled, black leather boots for her to wear with a new dress. She wasn’t wearing the dress while shopping, so we were doing our best to imagine what the boots would look like with the dress. We found a a nice pair on sale for around $100 at Boston Store and debated our purchase. Ultimately, we decided we liked them enough to warrant taking them home to see how they worked with the dress. If they didn’t work, we’d just bring them back. The buying experience was rather chaotic due to being Black Friday, but with our expectations lowered, we were generally satisfied with the experience. As a side note, we also liked a pair of boots just down the hall at Ma Jolie, but knowing their “exchange only” no return policy, we didn’t even bother taking them home.

The boots didn’t work with the dress. The dreaded return was imminent.

With a potential need for the boots on the horizon, we decided to embark on the return process Sunday—a mere two days after purchase (surely a personal best).  Although I knew I had it somewhere, I wasn’t able to easily locate the receipt. Honestly, I didn’t try too hard to find it. I figured a nice, mid-scale department store like Boston Store would surely have the ability to retrieve my purchase info with my credit card. Being in return mode, we also grabbed three other items that had been gathering dust to go back to Kohl’s.

I arrived at the Boston Store shoe counter with assumptions and boots, but no receipt in hand. I was informed that without a receipt I could only exchange the boots or receive a store credit for the lowest sale price—a common practice in days gone by, but in the current retail environment, an unexpected response.  I asked if there was some way for them to look up my transaction with my credit card.  “No, I’m sorry, sir. We need a receipt,” came the reply. After pausing for a moment to think, I decided to hang on to the boots and see how Anna was coming in her quest for a replacement. After a cursory tour of their very large selection, a suitable replacement was not apparent. By this point I had determined that since we wouldn’t need to exchange them, and that I really didn’t want a store credit, that I would go home and make a concerted effort to find the receipt. After all, I hadn’t really looked that hard. Excepting the items that came with us, we left empty-handed.

On to stop two, returns next door at Kohl’s.

Three items were to be returned. One had a receipt; a hat purchased on clearance with a gift card a couple weeks prior. Two were sans receipt; a boy’s shirt purchased with a gift card about two months prior, and a pair of girls winter boots purchased with a debit card about two weeks prior. The receipted return was a slam dunk. Cash in hand. Most stores could get that one right. For the non-receipted boots, the associate asked for the credit card that was used to purchase them, and few keystrokes later she was handing us cash back (it was a debit transaction).

The only part of that return experience that I could not have predicted was the boy’s shirt. I don’t often use gift cards there. With no credit card to track back to, and no receipt, I thought I would surely get a very little in return as a store credit.  The associate asked when I purchased it and how much I paid; “I don’t know exactly. Probably a couple months back, and it was around twenty bucks.” The price tag read $34. She scanned the tag and replied, “Does $25.39 sound about right?” It rung a bell. “Sure, that works.” After viewing my driver’s license, she handed me a thin plastic card labeled Merchandise Credit with the credit amount written in sharpie on the back. With about $75 in credit and cash in hand, we proceeded to shop.

Guess what? We found boots for Anna. We also found a really cute pair of boots for my daughter (not a replacement for the returned ones) and some Christmas ornaments totaling just over $100. Remembering that I had a coupon at home, I left Anna at the store, went home, and picked up my 15% off coupon. While there I took a quick peek in my coat pocket and found the Boston Store receipt for the boots. I returned to Kohl’s and left having spent about $90. I returned to Boston Store, returned the boots, and left having realized the impact of process on the customer experience

So, who has a bad process and who has our money?

As a regular Kohl’s customer, I have become accustomed to returning items without a receipt. I just bring my item to the customer service desk, show them the credit card that I used to purchase the item, and they pull up the transaction information based on the credit card that was used. It’s really a pretty simple concept to be able to track transactions back to credit cards; why don’t more retailers do this?

Granted, Kohl’s takes this idea one step further with a very generous, no hassle return policy. I’ll admit, I return things there more often there than I do anywhere else. Why? Because I buy more. It’s my first stop every time I need something they might carry. More often than not, I find what I need and keep it; however, I know that when I buy something that doesn’t fit my needs when I get home, I won’t have any trouble bringing it back….when I get around to it … 32 days later. You see, we are terrible about returns, as I’m guessing you are. Most people are. This weakness is exactly what other merchants exploit to their advantage. But at what cost?

So, Boston Store, I can certainly understand needing proof of purchase. I even understand limitations on returns. I understand that modernizing Bon-Ton’s expansive corporate POS system to allow transaction data to be recalled by credit cards could be a large and expensive endeavor. I understand that you have your process and policies for a reason. I can understand all these things, . . . and shop at Kohl’s.

This is a repost of an original article from Brian Mayer's Customer Experience blog thecxguy.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Absolutelyfabulous December 01, 2011 at 04:52 AM
You're of the minority and a very miniscule one at that because they wouldn't institute the policies they have in place if it were not to mitigate the losses incurred by people trying to scam the system one way or another in addition to errors/oversights etc and let us not forget employees who steal or work in tangent w/ their friends to scam the system. If they had the same items across the board I could see why one would be chosen over the other. You can get appliances/kitchen wares at better prices at Kohl's if you play the game and time out your purchases w/ the sales, Bonus Bucks and hitting the additional 30% off lotto coupon in the mail or scratch off in store . Though, I believe that Boston Store has more variety as well as larger selection of clothing items or I should say more pieces that are of higher quality. Either way, they both fill a niche but Kohl's seems to top profits every Q and Bon Ton is always trying something new to come out ahead.
Brian Mayer, @thecxguy December 01, 2011 at 07:57 PM
I don't know exactly what you're driving at, but your last sentence makes my point. Kohl's is winning. I'm simply saying that I believe their return experience is part of that.
Absolutelyfabulous December 01, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Return policy has never been a factor for me unless they actually limit you the amount of time you actually have regardless of having a receipt or not. Boston Store only required a receipt. I don't think that's too much to ask. Kohls tends to offer a broader range of lower/less quality of items which I'm sure helps them draw a cross a broader demographic as well as running sales practically every day of the year on top of bombardment advertising. The design of their store is not by accident. It's in the configuration of a figure 8/racetrack. Helps facilitate the movement of shoppers throughout the store to be able to access all departments fast and get in/out. In addition, how many Kohls are there vs Boston Stores and in how many states. Kohls has saturated the market. They're like the Walgreens of clothing retailers. So, there are many factors that contribute to a stores success, but return policy, unless prohibitively restrictive, has never played a part in determining where I shop and I find it hard to believe that would be a determining factor for many others because all they need to do is keep that little piece of paper at hand.
livingthelife December 18, 2011 at 12:29 PM
I totally get your point. I shop Kohl's for the ease of the process and assurance of later transactions. Do I venture into Boston Store and others? Yes. But, my first stop is always at Kohl's.
Absolutelyfabulous December 18, 2011 at 02:15 PM
I'm sure the return process adds to the experience, but Kohl's customer service all around is phenomenal. That is what keeps me coming back, among other things. The people who work the check out lines are constantly changing but for years the ladies who work the customer service @ Bayshore have been regular faces, at least some of them, and they do a great job all around. They keep things moving, they have never been rude and they do what they can w/in their powers to help me out if I need it to either process a return or make a purchase. The people who work at Kohl's are on top of things, the place is clean/orderly and if something is out of place and I come back a short time later I am pretty sure it will have been organized again. I have had a number of items transferred to the store and I still can't believe it when they literally come running to me, keys jingling, w/ my item or back to get some more info. so they can go back again and look for it. Another thing they do is honor their word. If something gets lost in translation or something was mismarked or not marked at all when an item is transferred in, they always honor what I tell them what should have been done. NO HASSLES/No talkback/No attitude. That is huge. Seriously, have you ever seen a shinier floor? That racetrack thing they have going to take you around the perimeter/center of the store sparkles. I like Boston Store, but I can't remember the last time I was in there, Kohls regularily.


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