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Better Bedding & Mattress Sales: Exchanges

Furniture World Magazine
Volume 149 NO.5 September/October


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Most stores, for good reason, regard exchanges as an annoying problem. What is the best way, for both store and customer, to handle an exchange transaction?

A customer calls your store with a complaint. Something is wrong with a new mattress, sofa, dinette, or plastic plant. What does your store do to satisfy the annoyed customer? About 90 percent of the time, the easiest resolution of the problem is to take back the product and give them a new one, with the hope that the new product will satisfy the customer. This is called an “exchange.”

Who Enjoys Exchanges?

While I have not met everyone in this business, I have yet to meet a store owner who loves to do exchanges. Every owner wants a happy satisfied customer, but prefers that the customer be happy with the first item they took home.

I have also heard that customers don’t like to exchange products. They like to use them immediately, and can really become incensed when they get a new item home that falls short of their expectations.

And, yet it happens to everybody, sooner or later; no one is exempt from the occasional need to exchange a defective or disappointing product.

The question is, what is the best way for both store and customer, to process an exchange transaction?

Are They a Problem?

Most stores, for good reason, regard exchanges as an annoying problem. There are some who believe that the retail business gets harder every year, especially those retailers who are confined in a brick and mortar location and must face angry, often unreasonable, sometimes temporarily insane, dissatisfied customers. Big chain stores address this problem by having Customer Service Desks, often at the front of the store with specially trained staff (and, occasionally, an armed guard) who are there just to “take things back.” Smaller stores, however, rarely have the resources to employ extra people to handle returns. This means the store manager, owner, or sometimes a Retail Sales Associate is stuck with the task of helping an unhappy, customer. The big chains have another serious advantage over smaller retailers. They can push exchanged products back onto their manufacturers with impunity, while smaller stores sometimes have to “eat” the exchanged products if they don’t meet the manufacturer’s stiff requirements for an exchange.

If a couple shares the bed in question, BOTH parties should agree to the new bed. If only one person decides, you are very apt to have another request for a comfort exchange.

Angry customers always want immediate attention. They don’t care if there's only one staff member in the store and that they are currently waiting on another customer who is considering the purchase of a $3,900 mattress. So, what do you do?

Before we talk about exchange “philosophies”, let’s consider the various types of exchanges and the reasons why a customer might be dissatisfied.

Comfort Exchanges

Many mattress and furniture stores, and virtually all online sellers offer some version of what has been called the “comfort exchange". The promise of a comfort exchange is this: if the customer is uncomfortable, for any reason, on the purchased mattress, he or she may, within a specified period of time, return the mattress and re-select another one that hopefully feels more comfortable. For years, the provisions of the comfort exchange were remarkably similar between brick and mortar stores. Then along came the online sellers of beds in a box. The standard three week trial period suddenly ballooned to one hundred days (or more) from the online vendors. And, this promise wasn’t just a comfort exchange; you could return it for a full refund if you didn’t want it.

Comfort exchange requests can come about from a variety of circumstances. Most of the time, the customer finds the bed is too hard, or too soft or too something else. Recently, I heard a story, a new twist on comfort exchanges from a colleague whose daughter and son-in-law purchased twin beds for a “tiny house.” The house’s bedroom was in the loft with a low ceiling. The thickness of the first mattresses put the sleepers so close to the ceiling that they bumped their heads when they got up. I am told that the brick and mortar retailer, based in Arizona, cheerfully exchanged the thick mattresses for thinner ones and refunded the difference in cost. That solved the bumping problem. (I never did hear if the thinner mattresses were as comfortable as the thick ones).

Have a time limit. The old 21-day industry standard may have changed, but a time limit is still important. A minimum time is a good idea.

Is this a real comfort exchange? I would say so, since it is pretty uncomfortable to bump your head when you get up.

Regardless of which, if any, comfort exchange policy your store offers, it is wise to publish the policy in writing for all customers and RSAs to see. Don’t leave any ambiguities that can and will be argued over later. Note that all RSAs should be well acquainted with the store’s comfort exchange policy. Following are some general guidelines that are frequently found in various comfort exchange policies. Bear in mind that these are guidelines, not rules.

Unless the manufacturer supports comfort exchanges of its products, it should be noted that this sort of exchange is usually a store policy, not a manufacturer promise or guarantee. There are exceptions to this.

Guideline #1: Only one exchange is allowed per customer transaction. It is worth pointing out that some customers would never be satisfied even with a dozen exchanges, so limit it to one only.

Guideline #2: The returned bed must be in NEW condition. This means no soiling, staining, odors or abuse. Be careful of offering a comfort exchange to customers who smoke. Some retailers insist that the customer also purchase a mattress protector or no comfort exchange will be allowed. The reason is it needs to be clean so that it's easier to legally re-sell it. Re-selling is explained later in the article.

Guideline #3: Have a time limit. The old 21-day industry standard may have changed, but a time limit is still important. A minimum time is a good idea, also. Some customers will call complaining the next morning after the sale.

Guideline #4: Many retailers require that the re-selected mattress be at least as expensive as the first selection. Or, if of lesser value, no refund of the price difference will be offered.

Guideline #5: It is wise to send your delivery staff to the customer’s residence to deliver the new set and pick up the old one. Really bad things can happen to mattresses when customers bring back a mattress. I also highly recommend that delivery trucks be supplied with disposable rubber gloves of various sizes. Also, make it a policy that all delivery men wear these rubber gloves when delivering a new mattress, and even more importantly, to wear the gloves when handling a used mattress. Who knows what pathogens or other creatures may be lurking in some of these used beds?

Guideline #6: If a couple shares the bed in question, BOTH parties should agree to purchase the new bed. If only one person decides, you are very apt to have another request for a comfort exchange, and the same problem all over again.

After reading all this, the following question may have occurred to you. What does the store do with the returned mattresses? Some manufacturers will take them back, and this is often done with a direct customer-manufacturer communication, which leaves the retail store out of the equation. Most of the time, though, the retail store has to dispose of the returned bed. In most states, if not all, it is unlawful to re-sell a used mattress unless it has been legally and properly disinfected and re-labeled so that it is clear to a prospective buyer that the mattress has a history of prior ownership.

Warranty Exchanges

A lot of so-called warranty exchanges wouldn’t happen if the RSA did a better job of explaining the fact that virtually all mattresses will get some minor body impressions. Body impressions do not mean sagging, although the customer will probably describe them as that.

It is important to remember not to agree to an exchange until someone from the store has examined and photographed the offending mattress.

Another problem, not often analyzed correctly when processing a warranty complaint, is the absence of proper center support for queen and king sets. A mattress set that is not properly supported in the middle will most likely eventually “sag” in the middle. When this happens, the manufacturer is not at fault, and usually will not replace the affected mattress if they become aware of the cause of the problem. Every warranty examination should include looking under the bed, or removing the mattress from the frame to see if the supporting frame has broken, or was not built with the required center support. I have found that when this problem is fixed with a new frame or other substantial support, that the “sagging” problem usually goes away without having to replace the mattress.

Since this article is about the process of exchanging products, and not a discussion of the warranty itself, we will limit our warranty remarks.

Small retail stores should be especially careful about accepting warranty exchanges, especially without checking out the mattress before agreeing to the exchange. Not all manufacturers are generous about taking back products where the defect may exist only in the customer’s mind.

Mattress Disposal

Bear in mind that something has to be done to dispose of the old mattress that came back to the store in either a comfort or a warranty exchange. By dispose, we mean either:

  • Re-sell
  • Send back to the manufacturer
  • Give it to charity or a needy employee
  • Take it to the dumping ground.

 

Most state laws and local public health ordinances do not allow the co-mingling of new and used mattresses. This means the following:

  1. When the old mattress is picked up, it should not be loaded onto a truck that has new mattresses on it.

  2. When the old mattress arrives back at the warehouse, it must be stored in a separate facility away from the new mattress inventory.

  3. If it is to be resold to the public, in most states, if not all, the reseller must properly disinfect the old mattress and re-tag it to make it clear to any buyer that it is a used mattress. None of this processing is necessary, as a rule, to give it away or send it back to the manufacturer.


Ultimately every retailer
must monitor returns and exchanges in a way to determine whether or not an exchange policy is profitable, or not.

Attitudes About Exchanges

Different retailers adopt different attitudes toward exchanges and these attitudes affect their policy.

Some retailers dispute exchange requests vigorously. Years of experience has informed them that many exchange requests from customers are based on silly and superficial reasons. They consider consumers, often correctly, as spoiled by the notion that “the customer is always right". Some customers, frankly, are not worth the trouble they cause. This combative attitude, unfortunately, has some drawbacks. For one thing, it is more stressful to be forever battling customers over frivolous complaints. It also does not play well in the “word-of-mouth” advertising realm. In this day of social media, it will earn the fighting retailer some unwanted comments on various blog sites.

At the other end of the spectrum is the “We’ll take back pretty much anything” retail store. Some of the big box chains are well known for this. I have noticed that some small store owners are adopting a similar attitude. The idea is, “Why fight it?” The customer certainly is happier when exchanging a product is done hassle-free. The retailer is under a lot less stress. It does have the possibility of creating an inventory of previously owned products, not to mention extra warehouse space to house these products.

A good solution to this problem is to create a “clearance area” somewhere on the premises. Many, if not most, customers like a bargain and there’s no better place for a bargain than in a clearance center.

Mattresses need a special disinfecting process before they can be resold. State laws may vary on this, but it is possible that previously owned (but cleansed) mattresses might possibly be allowed to co-mingle with new mattresses in an isolated area of the showroom. (Check state and local laws before proceeding with this.) And, of course, furniture, unless it is upholstered, does not need any special process to be resold.

A Few More Points

State and local laws vary on what is legal and what is not legal when it comes to returns and exchanges. Many of these laws concern the posting of the store’s return policy so that this policy is clear to the customer who actually decides to read the notice on the wall behind the service desk. There is a website https://consumer.findlaw.com that lists, by state, some retail laws. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this site. I just ran across it while researching this article.

Exchanges and returns are part of being in business. There is no escaping this simple fact. The wise retailer will have a policy that keeps reasonable customers happy and therefore increases sales.

Here are some ideas to consider when developing a return and exchange policy.

When a customer comes in your store to complain about his purchase, this should also be treated as an opportunity to solve a problem. Solving problems are how sales are made.
  1. Have the policy in writing and posted conspicuously at your store’s sales desk.
  2. Make certain every retail sales associate is thoroughly familiar with the policy.

  3. While it is good public relations to have a liberal exchange policy, it is important to establish a time limit for exchanges and make sure the customer knows what the time limit is.

  4. When a customer comes in your store to buy a new product, your RSAs should treat it as an opportunity to solve a problem. When a customer comes in your store to complain about his purchase, this should also be treated as an opportunity to solve a problem. Solving problems are how sales are made.

Final Thoughts

The willingness to exchange products, or refund the purchase price can be the difference between happiness and misery, especially for the smaller retailer. An overly generous, no questions asked policy might result in unscrupulous customers who just “borrow” from you, but never really buy. This could make a marginally profitable business quickly turn into a losing one.

Ultimately, the retailer must monitor returns and exchanges in a way to determine whether or not an exchange policy is profitable, or not. And, by profitable, I mean is the return policy making me more money due to goodwill than it is costing me in “eating” the losses that accrue from too many returns?


David Benbow, a twenty-three year veteran of the mattress and bedding industry, is owner of Mattress Retail Training Company. Dave’s company offers mattress retailers a full array of retail guidance; from small store management to training retail sales associates (RSAs.) Dave’s many years of hands-on experience as retail sales associate, store manager, sales manager/trainer and store owner of multiple stores in six different American metropolitan areas uniquely qualifies him as an expert in selling bedding at the retail level.

David is the author of the recently published book, “How to Win the Battle for Mattress Sales, the Bed Seller’s Manual”. This book is the first book to systematically present a complete, organized, but easily read and understood text book for mattress and bedding retail sales associates, beginner and experienced professional alike. It is a complete training course in one 292 page book. The book can be purchased on-line at  http://www.bedsellersmanual.com.

He also offers hands-on training classes for retailers on a variety of subjects and issues as well as on-line classes that can be downloaded from the websites mentioned above.

David can be contacted via e-mail at dave@bedsellersmanual.com or in person at 361-648-3775.
Read other articles by David Benbow