We’ve been fans of Jimmy’s Shoes on Essex Road in Islington ever since the twins had their first shoes, some 4 years ago. Initially we stumbled across it as the only place open at the end of a rainy Saturday, but a combination of good fitting, personal service and token-but-appreciated 5%-off-for-twins kept us coming back. We also, of course, enjoyed the joke of saying that our kids’ footwear was ‘Jimmy’s Shoes’, sounding like Jimmy Choo’s. Clearly, neither the first nor the last to make that joke
Anyway, track forward to a fortnight ago when we all trekked over (oddly enough, it was raining as usual on a ‘new shoe day’) and bought 6 pairs of shoes: 2 each for the twins and Aneirin – ‘real’ shoes and some beach sandals. Goodbye £150.
So much, so normal.
A week later, though, the buckle on Aneirin’s Timberland “Rock Skipper Tan/Orange Sports Sandal” fell off. Poof – gone. Hardly “merchantable quality” but – since this is our forth year of buying them – we were certain this was an aberration and expected a swift swap for another pair.
Imagine my surprise then to hear that Vicky, upon visiting Jimmy’s today, was refused either an exchange or a refund. Why? “No proof of purchase”. Fair enough – we didn’t have the receipt. That would have been fine had it not been the owner that refused the refund – despite acknowledging that he not only recognised Vicky after several years’ custom, but also that he remembered the transaction from a fortnight ago.
This is where I get annoyed. This isn’t the jobsworth intransigence of a hired hand who has neither reason to believe we are customers, nor an investment in maintaining business goodwill. Sadly, this is the owner – actively declining to help a known customer, from a remembered sale, with abnormally faulty goods.
As a retailer this position surprises me. Had “Jimmy” got another pair in stock he could have offered and immediate swap. I work with major brands on a daily basis and I’m confident that Timberland would have accepted the shoes back from Jimmy for a full refund. Indeed, I’m pretty confident that if I sent these shoes back to Timberland – without either the box or the receipt – they would send me another pair. Leave a comment if you think that’s wrong.
Even if a proof of purchase were necessary then I can’t believe that there aren’t such proofs lying around the till. Had “Jimmy” wished he could easily have made an exchange or refund. My view is that it’s therefore an active decision to annoy us as customers.
Leaving aside the fact that “Jimmy” has closed off 3 pairs of shoes a year for 3 children for the next decade (oh, £4500 in today’s money) it’s a pity to see a small retailer – for whom service is the last bastion of defence against squeezed retail margins – throw away this advantage.
I’ve been actively engaged with a client for the past few weeks looking at the amount of discretion we give to our Contact Centre in crediting customers who wish to return goods bought online. We’ll be able to “prove” the sale, of course, since our system can identify the customer and their purchase in seconds (unlike “Jimmy” having to search through boxes of paper) but the rub comes with customers ringing to claim damaged deliveries, non-deliveries or returns which fail to materialise. In all cases considered we couldn’t think of a good reason not to believe the customer. Only repeated abuse would persuade us otherwise and in those very rare cases we would have proof of the history of behaviour. Where we have the opposite (ie a record of loyal, profitable custom) and the backing of great brands (who would wish the retailer to do everything to protect their reputation for quality merchandise) there’s no sustainable business case that doesn’t involve trusting the customer and working to please them.
There aren’t enough customers in the world, nor a sufficiently large marketing budget, to build a sustainable business where you alienate good customers. To see a small, niche, family business owner making such a mistake when eyeball to eyeball with a customer is nothing short of tragic. When, in columns for Internet Retailing, I call for larger retailers to learn from small businesses, or for etailers to emulate the personal touch of niche and expert shopkeepers, it wasn’t this aspect I had in mind.
When we get the childrens’ next shoes from John Lewis, Clark’s or Mothercare I will think of Jimmy’s and wonder just how small shops will manage to compete against larger retailers with good stock, cheaper prices and the knack of not treating customers as if they’re idiots for shopping there. What a pity.