Store Policy Changes Part II: Returns & Exchanges

Welcome back to our two-part series. If you missed the post on special orders, I recommend reading it before proceeding. Again, I want to  emphasize that with this post I am not holding any grudges, attempting to shame anyone, or upset by past behavior. My only goal is to help all of our customers understand why we will no longer be making exceptions to these policies.

The Return Policy

What our policy is: The general gist is that you can’t return things without tags attached or outside our time frame, but all of the details are provided on our Returns & Exchanges page, on the back of every receipt, at the register, and in every fitting room.

Why it needs to be enforced: Returns are the enemy of any business, but with undergarments, the policy becomes embroiled in general questions about ethics and health code violations. Most US state laws do not require retailers to take returns on bras because they are classified as underwear, and many similar boutiques either do not accept any returns or only issue refunds in the form of store credit. I prefer to keep the policy more liberal as I understand sometimes what feels good in the store feels less comfortable at home.

BTW, this absolutely happens. I had a lady bring in a bra we do not sell that was discontinued six years ago and want to return it.

Nevertheless, there are multiple reasons why returns hurt us. On a simple level, we rack up credit card processing fees both for the initial transaction and for the return. The total averages around $2.50 per bra depending on the price and the credit card used. In our shop, we also spend a lot of time with customers and encourage everyone not to rush, to bring appropriate clothing, and to generally take their time while shopping. I am known for talking people out of buying products to ensure they are completely satisfied. As a result, when a customer comes back to return an item, sometimes the only thing they bought during a fitting, we also lose the time from the service we offer. Despite marketing them as such, bra fittings are far from free for the retailer.

Lately, we have predominantly experienced problems with three aspects of our policy: the tags were not attached, the bra itself is worn, or the return is past our time frame.

Unattached Tags: I want to trust everyone, truly I do, but I have no idea what you did to the bra after you purchased it, especially if its tags are not attached or missing. Did you wear it a few days so that your body oil, sweat, and beauty products have been absorbed? Was it a strapless bra you needed for one occasion and are now trying to return to save money? Was it an honest mistake where you ripped off the tags, put the bra on, and realized it was too (insert negative adjective)? I don’t know. And that’s the problem. I can tell if a bra has signs of long term wear or improper washing, but I can’t always tell if you still violated the return policy . . . but only by a little. Because of that uncertainty, accepting returns without attached tags forces me to decide whether to

  • Resell the bra at full price, which is gross, unscrupulous, and illegal.
  • Mark the bra as a return and reduce the price, which decreases my profit and increases the difficulty of selling it.
  • Donate it to charity, which forces me to take a total loss.

The position forces me to choose between believing the person returning the bra at potentially the expense of my other customers or choosing to protect my other customers at the expense of the person returning the bra. Either way, I lose, and going forward, I will be firmly enforcing our policy.

A Worn Bra: In this scenario, either the bra is clearly showing signs of wear or the customer admitted to wearing it for several days or weeks. Occasionally, after continued wear, the customer simply does not like the style as much as expected; however, with a clearly worn bra, my only recourse on a return is to donate it and take a loss. More often, we see customers wanting exchanges or returns on items which were improperly cared for and are now damaged (shredded underwire, ripped lace, melted hook and eyes, etc.). Not to be unnecessarily curt, but I know when a bra has been mistreated. Before investing in bras in my correct size 10+ years ago, I had no qualms throwing mine in both the wash and the dryer. Between my own history and the 7+ years of owning this shop, I can spot the signs. And hey, I’m not perfect. I sometimes don’t hand wash my bras, but I know that if they get damaged, that’s on me. Neither we nor the manufacturer are responsible for replacing bras because of improper care. We can occasionally repair them, but that will be the extent going forward. This proved to be a scenario where we were frequently asked for a one-time exception, which quickly becomes a slippery slope.

A New Bra Outside the Time Frame: Since I typically order every week to two weeks depending on the vendor, a tight return policy time frame ensures I not only do not end up with duplicates but also that I can monitor cash flow. We allow returns for full refunds up to seven days after purchase, but if you cannot return to the store in that time frame, you can call us and alert us to a return via mail. You then have seven days from the conversation to actually mail it back. Our policy is not so dissimilar from those of other boutiques as well as online retailers. This has just been an area where a disproportionate number of times I’ve been lenient only to literally not receive the bra back for several weeks or even months.

Because Math! That’s why! There are obviously financial pitfalls to all returns, but I find the most serious ones are the times we make exceptions to the above policies, particularly ones where I cannot ethically resell the bra. Assuming again our average bra cost is $60, if I accept one return per month, then I lose $60 plus any shipping costs and credit card fees. We will assume for the purpose of this example, there was no free shipping involved, which adds between $3.75 and $5.00 extra per returned bra. Consequently, the total monthly loss becomes $62.50.  Over 12 months, our loss is now $750. That’s enough to bring in an extra fashion style per year or to diversify sizes more or to pay for better amenities in our fitting room. It’s a lot. And that’s just for one bra per month. At three bras per month, it’s $2,250 per year, again not counting in the shipping expenses. Now we can afford a sign above our door, improved fixtures, expansions to new products, and more. When we revisit the losses from the special order policy, this number really starts to climb, and it’s easy how we can lose to $5,000 every year through policies alone. This also comes out of my paycheck, and in some cases, what it comes down to is you asking me to take money out of my pocket and put it into yours.

The Exception to the Exceptions: While we will not be making exceptions to these return policies, I am not including truly defective items in the mix. Every now and then, a bra slips through quality control and something happens. In these cases, we typically work with a manufacturer to replace the item at no cost to either us or the customer, but these are subject to their own conditions and are on a case-by-case basis. I only rule on whether to approach a manufacturer if the bra is brought to me in person because I need to see the overall condition of it. Ultimately, the manufacturer will then make the call, but in the 7+ years I’ve been doing this, I have only found *maybe* 35 bras which needed to be replaced. Usually, the problems relate more to not hand washing. However, I wanted to note this because I would hate for someone to wear a bra twice and the wire popped and feel like we wouldn’t do the right thing and replace it. But, I also don’t want to become some kind of bra replacement store for issues of improper care or use either. Balance in all things, right?

If you have any questions regarding these policies, please don’t hesitate to reach out and email me. Otherwise, it’s my hope that by being firmer here, I can help the business grow and thrive.

Erica

Store Policy Changes Part II: Returns & Exchanges
Erica
Erica is a lover all things lingerie and is passionate about helping people find the bra which fits and flatters. Side passions include reading, writing, hiking, dairy-free food, walking her Jack Russell terrorists, and dying her hair everything from black to red.
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2 thoughts on “Store Policy Changes Part II: Returns & Exchanges

  • October 27, 2018 at 12:09 pm
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    you absolutely do not have except worn bras. why you’ve been doing this at the first place? most bra shops say :”unworn, without trace of Fragrance, deodorant or stains. I have new bras with tags, that I outgrow since I bought (lost weight or gained), but i never thought about returning them as 2 months had past(or exchange for appropriate size). you absolutely do not have to. did you think about online selling through amazon or similar sites? it could be a good start. Cannot find any retailer, who sells Polish Nessa in USA. Only store in Texas do not sell online. People are loosing their clients… Sad

    Reply
    • Erica
      November 1, 2018 at 3:34 pm
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      Haha, it wasn’t something I consciously started. It more came about because customers would try to leverage their past purchases or future ones against the one bra which either didn’t work for them or which was damaged. I also was much more of a customer pleaser for those first few years and wanted everyone to be happy with what they bought. Of course, I still want customers to be happy, but there have to be limits on what we can do. I mean, I have a pair of shoes in my closet that I thought were going to be comfortable which don’t hold up to the long days I have. But I wore them, so they’re mine. We actually do sell through Amazon and online, which helps, but Amazon honestly has a much higher rate of return. We also wind up with people who bush boundaries even further. Amazon puts the customer first regardless of the situation, so it can be hard to enforce policies there. For example, we received a bra back today which was three weeks past the return date, and it is clearly worn. The customer reattached the tags and is trying to get a full refund. Amazon pre-authorized the return and is giving them back their money, so we have to fight with Amazon for not only the return shipping cost but also the price of the item. It helps boost us when times are slow, but boy is it a pain in the butt! Also, listing new products on Amazon is very time consuming. You need to purchase SKUs if they don’t have them (many of the Polish companies don’t) plus take pictures which meet Amazon’s strict guidelines. With our online store, I’d like to revamp it to boost sales there, but again, the returns are usually higher there too.

      Reply

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