Lo­cal brick-and-mor­tar stores should em­brace re­fund pol­icy

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Wang Han Page Edi­tor: chen­shasha@glob­al­times.com.cn

As China’s an­nual Dou­ble 11 shop­ping fes­ti­val ap­proaches, many brick-and-mor­tar stores in Shang­hai’s Jing’an dis­trict are com­pet­ing against on­line ven­dors by of­fer­ing cus­tomers un­con­di­tional re­funds within seven days.

It was re­ported that around 80 for­eign and Chi­nese brands agreed to par­tic­i­pate in the re­fund project or­ga­nized by the com­merce com­mis­sion of Jing’an dis­trict. Con­sumers will be al­lowed to re­turn or ex­change any un­wanted prod­ucts at those brands’ phys­i­cal stores in Jing’an dis­trict.

Af­ter vis­it­ing some shop­ping malls and stores in Jing’an, I found that most par­tic­i­pat­ing mer­chants had put eye-catch­ing slo­gans at their cashier desks to re­mind con­sumers of the new pol­icy.

While some ne­ti­zens cheered for the new pol­icy, oth­ers ques­tioned if is it nec­es­sary to pro­vide off­line con­sumers with un­con­di­tional ex­changes and re­turns, as in­di­vid­u­als who shop in phys­i­cal stores can see, touch and try on any prod­uct be­fore their pur­chase.

My an­swer is def­i­nitely yes. Though con­sumers shop­ping at phys­i­cal stores can test and try prod­ucts di­rectly, there are still pos­si­bil­i­ties for re­grets.

Liv­ing in a fancy city like Shang­hai, it is com­mon for shop­pers to pur­chase things on im­pulse rather than out of real need. Take my­self for ex­am­ple. As a mild shopa­holic work­ing in down­town Shang­hai, where we are sur­rounded by all of the world’s trendi­est brands, I am con­stantly be­ing lured into stores.

As a re­sult, I tend to pur­chase clothes, shoes and cos­met­ics that I don’t nec­es­sar­ily need. For in­stance, I once bought four new lip­sticks at a mall in Jing’an, which the next day I re­al­ized were a waste of money. But with­out any re­turn pol­icy, I could not get my money back.

In this re­gard, if phys­i­cal stores will adopt lib­eral re­fund poli­cies, it tends to give im­pul­sive shop­pers like me a rea­son­able pe­riod to re­con­sider whether our pur­chases were wise; if not, we can re­turn the stuff and save our money.

Also, prod­ucts peo­ple pur­chase in re­tail stores can also be the wrong size or of poor qual­ity, which we won’t re­al­ize un­til we ac­tu­ally wear them. An un­con­di­tional re­fund pol­icy there­fore is a guar­an­tee to con­sumers to help them avoid buy­ing poor-qual­ity stuff or clothes in the wrong sizes.

Apart from re­duc­ing con­sumer con­cern about buy­ing un­wanted prod­ucts, seven-day un­con­di­tional re­turns and ex­changes also bring tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to mer­chants, as it can raise a brand’s in­ter­na­tional im­age. Un­con­di­tional re­fund poli­cies are quite com­mon in many Western coun­tries. When I stud­ied in the UK in 2014, for the first time in my life I was able to re­turn my pur­chased prod­ucts with­out ques­tion.

In most cloth­ing chains in the UK, such as Top­shop, Next and Marks&Spencer, con­sumers en­joy a 30-day free re­turn and ex­change ser­vice. Ev­ery time I re­turned my un­wanted pur­chases at a British store, the staff were very nice to me and would promptly give me my money back with­out has­sle. They didn’t ask me ques­tions and they didn’t act like I was trou­bling them. As a con­sumer, I felt trusted and re­spected.

But in China, the sit­u­a­tion is com­pletely op­po­site. If a cus­tomer wants to re­turn any­thing, lo­cal shop as­sis­tants tend to act ar­ro­gant and im­pa­tient; they are also very likely to refuse your re­quest.

I be­lieve that if Chi­nese brands want to go global and at­tract for­eign cus­tomers, it is im­por­tant for them to adopt un­con­di­tional re­fund poli­cies in their off­line stores. It will make cus­tomers feel that they can trust the store and its prod­ucts, and like­wise make them feel that the store trusts and ap­pre­ci­ates them.

It is true that such re­fund poli­cies can cause in­con­ve­nience to, and even shrink the prof­its of, mer­chants, as some free­loaders might take ad­van­tage of this pol­icy by wear­ing clothes for a few times with­out tak­ing the tags off, then re­turn­ing it be­fore the dead­line.

But as Chi­nese con­sumers be­come bet­ter ed­u­cated and more civ­i­lized, I think such con­cerns will no longer be a big prob­lem here. What lo­cal mer­chants should do in Shang­hai’s highly-com­pet­i­tive mar­ket is fo­cus on win­ning back cus­tomers into their brick-and-mor­tar stores.

The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

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