Connect with us

Despite The Store Owners’ Attempts at Appeasement, a Customer Continues His Unreasonable Demands

The owners don’t know whether to hold their ground or not.

mm

Published

on

OWNING A SMALL, startup jewelry store was hard work … much harder than it had looked when Jessie Lambert watched her old boss handle the store that she worked in all through college. Between inventory, marketing, sta ng and cash fl ow, Jessie and her husband Jack had really had their hands full for the past eight years. The customers in their wealthy Arizona town were usually nice enough, but they were incredibly demanding!

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual jewelry businesses and people.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected]

After a great end to 2021, Jessie was able to put the fi nishing touches on her new “Diamond Dream” line. She had traveled to Los Angeles and worked with several designers to come up with a small signature collection of fashion-forward diamond jewelry for the store. In fact, one of the rings she chose — a uniquely crafted platinum eternity band set with 4 carats of various-shaped diamonds — was impressive enough that Jessie had the designer make it in her size so she could wear it as a sample.

In late June, Adam Cohen, an infrequent but regular customer, came into J&J Lambert and asked specifi cally for Jessie. He said that his wife Laurie had been in several days earlier and had tried on an eternity band that Jessie had been wearing. He said it fi t Laurie perfectly, and with their anniversary just a few days away, he wanted to buy it for her. Jessie showed him the ring and suggested that it might be best to simply order a new ring from the designer, since the sample had been worn for several months. Adam looked at the ring carefully, even asking to see it under the store’s microscope. He said that he really didn’t want to take the chance that it would not arrive in time for his anniversary. He insisted that he wanted to buy Jessie’s sample, since it was the one that Laurie had seen, provided that Jack could do a good job of polishing the band.

Advertisement

Against her better judgment, Jessie agreed and sold the ring for $12,300, including tax (reduced from the regular retail of $14,000). Jack refi nished the ring, and after ensuring that the ring met his standard, Adam paid with his debit card and was handed a receipt clearly marked with the J&J Lambert Return policy: “J&J Lambert does not o er cash or charge refunds. We o er exchange or store credit only, within 30 days of purchase. Special orders and customized items are not returnable.” As with every sale, the return policy was pointed out to Adam as he took the receipt along with his ring and appraisal. Three days later, Laurie came in raving about the ring and thanking Jessie and Jack for making it happen.

On a busy Friday morning in mid-July, Adam brought the ring back to the store. He claimed it was defective and demanded a full and immediate refund. The ring had obviously been abused. The mounting was nicked and badly scratched, and two of the smaller diamonds were cracked. Based on Adam’s vague answers to her questions about Laurie’s habits while wearing the ring, Jessie sensed that this was more about money than it was about the ring. She explained that the purchase was not refundable. She apologized for the di culty Laurie had apparently had with the ring, and as a courtesy, o ered to send the ring back to the designer for repair. Once he realized he wasn’t able to trade the ring back for cash, Adam agreed, and the ring was sent out that day. The following Monday, he came back into the store and said that he’d changed his mind. He insisted that he did not want the ring repaired — that all he wanted was his refund. Jessie once again explained the policy and told him that she had already stretched for him by o ering to have the damaged ring repaired. Adam got loud and belligerent to the point where, in an attempt to di use a very ugly situation, Jack came out to the fl oor and o ered to refund the price of the ring, less the cost of the repair and shipping, once the ring came back from the designer. After further conversation, Adam reluctantly agreed.

On July 25th, a week after the ring had been sent off for repair, Jessie received an email from Adam, asking when he would see his $12,300 refund. Jessie replied by re-stating their previous agreement and letting him know that per the manufacturer, the cost of the repair and shipping would be $1,470. She told him that she expected the ring back within the week and would issue a check to reimburse his debit purchase in the amount of $10,830 and mail it to his home. On Aug. 1, the Lamberts received the repaired ring from the designer, and Jessie immediately prepared a check for Adam and sent it out for next-day delivery. The check was received and was cashed two days later.

On Aug. 6, Jessie and Jack received another email from Adam, this time claiming that he and Laurie had suffered “personal harm and emotional damage” because of the way J&J Lambert had handled their return and demanding the full refund of the remaining $1,470. He threatened legal action for recovery of the money and all associated fees, as well as a large-scale review and social media campaign to expose the “unacceptable business practices” of J&J Lambert.

Jessie and Jack both realized that while refunding the money would be the easy solution, there was more at stake than just $1,470. They had come to believe that the damage to the ring was likely done in a deliberate attempt to initiate a cash refund, and they refused to be victimized by a bully with an apparent cash flow problem.

The Big Questions

  • Should the Lamberts refund Adam’s money and be done with the whole ugly situation?
  • Should they hold to their principles, knowing that they are well grounded and within the bounds of the law?
  • Is a “no refunds” policy enforceable or even sensible in today’s marketplace?
  • How could this situation have been avoided?
Jack L.
Lake Forest, CA

Back in the day, we would have stood our ground. We look at it differently today because of social media. The financial loss to J & J is minimal; they have the ring back and can sell it again at a fair profit. The damage that can be done by untrue, unfair reviews, though, is scary and very hard if not impossible to recover from. Get past this one and choose another hill to die on.

David B.
Calgary, AB

Mistake number one was to offer a bully any refund. A lot of you will say cut your losses and run, but there is also a point where your self-esteem and honest approach need support. This seems like an attempt to reconcile personal money problems the client has. Why should a store have to pay for the client’s personal issues?

Second issue is the threats on social media. Send them a note that they can put the facts as they see them to social media, but if there is anything defamatory, the store will take action. If the social media even comes, answer it with facts and honesty. Everyone has a bad review somewhere. How you respond is what matters.

The payout of $1,400 isn’t much, but the personal harm and suffering suggest that the client may want even more. Stop the cash bleeding now and deal with the social media if it comes.

Anne H.
Mechanicsburg, PA

When someone threatens legal action, you must immediately refuse to discuss anything further and refer them to direct all communication to your lawyer. You have an email from Adam admitting his plans for a smear campaign if he doesn’t get his way. It’s a terrible situation, but Jessie and Jack are holding all the cards here. If Adam didn’t hand over the ring AND agree to send it for repairs, the Lamberts would have had nothing to send back to the designer. That action was proof of his agreement to proceed as they discussed. Also, is there really any such thing as compensation for “emotional damage”?

Joel M.
Chapel Hill, NC

As retailers, we all need to learn to separate business from personal. It sounds like this is a personal problem of the customer. They need money because they bought something they cannot afford. I would not have given them the refund in the first place. I would have offered to repair the ring at no charge once.

Dianne H.
Eldon, MO

Having had a similar situation (less $$), we refunded the entire amount on a custom piece. The lady still wrote us a scathing Google review that we cannot get off our listing. My husband says, “You cannot argue with stupid.” I doubt this particular customer would proceed with legal situations. He is simply mean. The store owner did all he could at first to have a happy customer. Finding this impossible, they should await the lawsuit (never happen) and let it play out in favor of the jeweler!

Advertisement
Peter T.
Show Low, AZ

Jessie’s first mistake was to violate their policy and give a return. The customer damaged the ring. Even if they had a cash-return policy, a damaged ring is not returnable. Jessie might have pointed out that if Adam bought a new car then ran it into a tree, he would never have gone back to the dealership for a refund. Since the Lamberts already screwed themselves by offering the return, nothing good will come from not paying the trivial balance. But they should do so with the understanding that neither Adam nor his wife will be allowed back into the store for any reason. Running a small business can be an uphill struggle; the last thing a business needs is customers like Adam.

Paula H.
Concord, NH

I think all of us could take a lesson on caution and being more descriptive with our sales slips.
Adam, for whatever reason, only bought this ring as a temporary piece of jewelry for his wife to show off. Adam should have signed off on a ring he had inspected twice, as this was a previously worn ring. Like an appraisal, this ring should have been photographed as part of the inspection. Adam’s sales receipt needed to be much more involved. Copy to Adam and a copy signed by Adam for the store to retain. We have the same return policy and stand by our 30-day return for store credit only. If the piece has been worn or damaged, a fee is charged for restoring the piece. I think the fact that they refunded all but the repair was wonderful, also giving Adam a discount on a perfectly beautiful ring. Let it rest, you owe him nothing.

Carolyn H.
Jackson, WY

I too have extremely high-end demanding customers. In fact, in the last two years, customers have become obsessed with being belligerent and demanding; they come in with this attitude of “it’s their way or no way.” I have the same exact return/refund policy as Jessie and Jack. NO, they should stand on their policy! The only thing I do is make the customer sign my invoice above the policy as we explain it to them. Any petty lawyer that would take such a case is a crook; the Lamberts have more than bent over backwards to please this customer. Perhaps they should threaten the customer back with harassment and mental anguish charges. I do believe their theory that the ring was purposely damaged — especially with broken diamonds! The age-old theory that “the customer is always right” does not fit into today’s society of customers!

Amy C.
Grove, OK

First off, NEVER give cash refunds on a card. I am pretty sure it goes against rules of credit card companies and old-fashioned ethics. The store would not get back any of the processing fees either. If you think they might just be trying to evade normal policies and you want to keep them as a customer, certainly, refund the customer minus the repairs — but put it back on the card. It would be hard to want a customer who seems to be scamming, though. If you stick with forcing the customer to keep the sale, you might end up losing from a chargeback. I hear some stores manage to win that fight, but it has never been my store. Document EVERYTHING just so you have a chance of winning that fight.

Mark Y.
Oxford, MI

Expensive as it is, I would let it ride, then when the slander campaign begins, find a highly aggressive trial lawyer and sue them for fraud and defamation. The general public has no barriers today, so you have to slap them back into reality.

Marcus M.
Midland, TX

These customers are real a-holes! The easiest thing would be to give them the full refund amount, but then you’ll feel defeated. And you’ll feel like your integrity took a hit. I hate people that threaten retailers like this who just tried to do the right thing. I had some customers come in and ask us to size a newly purchased wedding band online and to reset her diamond in a newly purchased mounting online, and when I said no, they gave me a two-star review because I wouldn’t provide a service for them on something they bought elsewhere. Some people are just dirtbags. Anyway, you can take the easy route or stand your ground and let it play out. You’ll feel better about your integrity if you stand your ground, but the outcome is unknown. This is why retail isn’t for the faint of heart. And a no-refund policy is definitely a necessity these days because some people will try anything to screw you over.

Susan B.
Metairie, LA

I think the store did all they could do to satisfy the customer, and I personally would not refund anything. I would only give store credit; he was told that from the very beginning.

Bruce A.
Sherwood Park, AB

Jessie and Jack have already shown the true meaning of great customer service. Let the bully make his threats because they are standing on very high moral ground. When he hits back through social media or BBB, they will have the opportunity to state their case and easily win over anyone reading their response to his onerous claims. They can turn his threats into a very positive public relations win. I would buy from them if I read both sides, as would anyone else!

Kathy P.
Laguna Hills, CA

Hello NO! This guy regrets spending the money or didn’t have it to begin with. I’d fight him tooth and nail, and if he tarnished our business online, I’d sue him for defamation. He threatened legal action? Bring it on!

Stuart T.
Reisterstown, MD

At some point, nothing you do is good enough for a customer. You then have to decide whether to give in or fight back. I would speak to a lawyer about if the customer’s threat to slander the jeweler is actionable by the jeweler against the customer (i.e., blackmail). If they could take legal action against the customer to recover the already refunded monies, since the customer breached the agreement with the store owner. If the store owner doesn’t stand up for themselves at this point, it will seem that they are in the wrong.

Ragnar B.
Vancouver, BC

This is so preventable with a money back guarantee. If the customer damaged the ring to assure a refund, that would never happen. If the customer is a chronic returner, we mention at time of purchase a 15% restocking fee.

Mark S.
Plantation, FL

In my opinion, they should have never refunded the purchase price of the ring. The client was never going to shop in their store again, so why refund any money. They tried to be nice, and we all know where that got them. Now it’s best to refund the balance and have them gone from their lives.

Mary Jo G.
Oconomowoc, WI

Clearly, while still fresh in your brain, write down all the notes so you have clarity if this takes months to get to court. Then leave it alone. A lawyer will cost far more than the compensation they are looking for, so highly doubtful they will go any further. They were open and clear with the client, so besides not selling a used ring in the first place, there is little the customer has to stand on.

Advertisement
Brad L.
Duncan, BC

I believe that sometimes good intentions can be a retailer’s best friend and worst enemy! Hindsight is easy to make suggestions, and I am sure that in the future, this drastic mistake will never happen again, but from the beginning, Jessie made mistake after mistake, all against her better judgement. The reason to have a store policy is that it defines what you will and won’t do in the unfortunate situation that a return is desired. Bottom line, the client inspected the purchase before he paid and then returned a self-inflicted damaged product. I would never agree to a refund, perhaps give them a break on the repairs (but after the deceit, perhaps not) and definitely counter anything that they might try and post or review negatively, make our store’s position and the manner in which this client tried to intimidate perfectly clear.

James W.
Chicago, IL

The client receiving the ring signs the receipt listing the fact it was a used ring and understands the return policy at point of delivery. End of story, owner sticks to their guns. Any large or small social issues is a lawsuit on the client. Not the owner.

Andrew R.
Miami Gardens, FL

Wow, these store owners sure went above and beyond to accommodate this customer. “Give someone an inch and they’ll take a yard” is proof that the best efforts are laid bare when the policy is there for this exact reason. Firstly, damages needed to be recorded by photos. Then surveillance video of the attitude/confrontation of the customer needs to be preserved. Lastly, witnesses (nearby customers) need written statements of events or at the least be named for the validity of the video in a lawful process. All acts with customers needed to be in writing to avoid misunderstanding. Finally, the result is do you have a future with this customer or not. Regardless, policy is key to maintaining a successful shop. Also, the repair price is insane, by the way.

What’s the Brain Squad?

If you’re the owner or top manager of a U.S. jewelry store, you’re invited to join the INSTORE Brain Squad. By taking one five-minute quiz a month, you can get a free t-shirt, be featured prominently in this magazine, and make your voice heard on key issues affecting the jewelry industry. Good deal, right? Sign up here.

Kate Peterson is president and CEO of Performance Concepts, a management consultancy for jewelers. Email her at [email protected].

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

Celebrate Your Retirement with Wilkerson

For nearly three decades, Suzanne and Tom Arnold ran a successful business at Facets Fine Jewelry in Arlington, Va. But the time came when the Arnolds wanted to do some of the things you put off while you’ve got a business to run. “We decided it was time to retire,” says Suzanne, who claims the couple knew how to open a store, how to run a store but “didn’t know how to close a store.” So, they hired Wilkerson to do it for them. When she called, Suzanne says Wilkerson offered every option for the sale she could have hoped for. Better still, “the sale exceeded our financial goals like crazy,” she says. And customers came, not only to take advantage of the going-out-of-business buys and mark-downs, but to wish a bon voyage to the beloved proprietors of a neighborhood institution. “People were celebrating our retirement, and that was so special,” says says.

Promoted Headlines

Most Popular