Often funny, sometimes bizarre, these anecdotes about returned goods offer insight—and instruction—into what can be a retailer’s nightmare
BY GERRY MORRIS
For many years I worked as a manufacturer’s rep, and the one aspect of my job I dreaded was dealing with returned goods, including warranties and—even worse—comfort returns. It was during this time that mattress returns increased because of several factors:
Mattresses became thicker, softer and more expensive. Pillow-tops and plush mattresses began outselling traditional tight-quilted, firm models by a great margin. Body impression issues and comfort problems skyrocketed from customers accustomed to harder beds. Needless to say, this created customer service nightmares.
Competition increased dramatically. The emergence of new types of competition such as specialty sleep stores, wholesale clubs and big-box stores forced retailers to become more customer friendly. “The customer is always right” approach to returns, with liberal comfort guarantees and warranty compliance, opened the door to severe abuse.
Turnover rates rose. With so many new retail sales associates needed to fill the growing demand, the expansion of retail hours and the pressures of commission sales and quotas, turnover rates soared and plagued the industry. Inexperienced RSAs relied on comfort guarantees and warranties as crutches to make sales.
Shoppers became more vocal. Empowered consumers with higher expectations (commensurate with higher prices) began to take a stand and not accept being told they couldn’t return their mattresses because of body impressions or dissatisfaction with comfort.
The net result was that a huge percentage of those returned products had no real manufacturing defects. What a shame.
Stranger than fiction
A few instances from that difficult time stand out in my mind. Some hilarious, some not so much, but I think you’ll find them all interesting—if not amusing.
- I helped my daughter get a mattress set though one of my connections in the industry. She immediately noticed an unpleasant odor that quickly became an unbearable stench. It turned out a rat had been sewn up inside the foundation. Even though rat infestation is not specifically spelled out in the warranty, the company willingly replaced it.
- My largest dealer got pretty heavy-handed with its manufacturers, knowing that the volume it could generate gave it tremendous leverage to make a manufacturer take back all returns regardless of their legitimacy. I had to look at every piece to see if the reasons for return were accurate so our factory would know if we really were having defect issues. I’ll never forget finding a note from a customer inside the plastic of one of our top-of-the-line sets written up as sagging. She said the bed was great; nothing was wrong with it except that it was too tall for her dog to jump up on it. She had it for one night.
- One of the most bizarre requests for return came from a woman who called our factory to have someone come replace—of all things—the light bulb in her mattress set. Curiosity compelled our customer service staff to send a rep out to see what in the world was up with that. As it turns out, the store she bought it from had rigged up a light inside the box spring to show the construction in a display. She had bought it as a demo unit for a discount, took it home and plugged it in, making for a nightlight that lit up the floor. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.
- Finally, here’s one I’m not particularly proud of, but I had gotten sick of dealing with customers about returns. After I had replaced a customer’s mattress for whatever reason, he called me and was angry that we had not also replaced the foundation, even though he admitted it was not defective. This “gentleman” got very ugly with me, hollering that his wife didn’t like that the fabrics did not match—even though the difference was negligible. I suggested that she either turn her head the other way while she put on the sheets or perhaps that he could change them. He didn’t think it was as funny as I did.
While this column is a departure from the norm, there is a lesson to be learned in this more amusing version. I believe mattresses are arguably among the best consumer products to buy or sell. Mattress warranties are as good if not better than most other consumer products.
Still, we all too often have to replace products that have no real defect. The cost of replacing nondefective products is staggering. It is in everyone’s best interest for RSAs to better prepare customers so they will know what to expect from their new sets, as well as what is covered by warranty and what is not. RSAs should make sure customers understand they must allow ample time to adjust to the product and for the product to “break in” and adjust to their body.
A few minutes of explanation will go a long way to reduce unnecessary returns.
Sleep well and help others do the same.
A FEW MORE FUNNY—and TRUE—ANECDOTES
O On one of my “home inspections,” I noticed the customer had a pistol on his dresser. He was not very friendly either. I just couldn’t muster up the guts to tell him I didn’t see anything wrong with his bed set, so I told him that my job was only to inspect it and then someone else would get back with him. Lying isn’t always immoral when weighed against self-preservation. That was my last home inspection.
O A friend of mine bought a mattress directly from me. I did it as a favor and had it shipped to a local warehouse. He picked it up in his truck and on the way home, it flew out the back and an 18-wheeler ran over it. He called and asked me what to do. That was my last accommodation sale.
O This one is a little different, but it’s still a customer service issue worth noting. As reps often do, I was working at a retailer’s store when an outraged man stormed in. He threatened to beat up the manager. He didn’t want to return a product; he wanted a refund right then and there because he never received the bed he bought. Turns out it was inadvertently delivered to his neighbor’s house. The neighbor had kept it and was sleeping on it. I checked to see if there was a police report filed for assault.
TALK TO US
Have you had a memorable experience with returns? We want to hear about it. Email your story to Mary Best, editor in chief, at email@example.com.
Gerry Morris is an author, consultant and training coach with more than 20 years of experience in the mattress industry. Morris’ Inner Spring training company has a strategic partnership with The Furniture Training Co. to offer a premium online training course, “Sell More Mattresses with Gerry Morris.” To view the course, visit www.furnituretrainingcompany.com.