Opinion | Commentary - Distribution

Search Autoparts/Aftermarket-business/Opinion-commentary-distribution/

Managing returns

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 00:00
Print Article

Returns. In the automotive aftermarket, this seven-letter word elicits so many four- letter words that it should actually be referred to as a synonym for four-letter words if the aftermarket had its own thesaurus. It is a problem that plagues the industry, and the reasoning behind returns, warranties and defects, claimed or otherwise, is a quagmire of explanation. To resolve or amend the flow, I think we must take drastic steps within each market segment that we serve. Just because we are in a service industry does not mean we are an industry of servitude, but as long as we all bow down to ridiculous customer demands, the customer will always be right even if they just think they are. It’s a dangerous slippery slope that we have all slid around on for decades. Let’s examine some types of returns and discuss the ways in which I see to reduce or eliminate them, and keep this in mind, it all, and I do mean ALL, starts at the point of sale.

 

Core returns: Remind the customer that the core must be returned in the original box. Tell the customers, retail or wholesale, to be sure to empty all fluids, and do not store the core outside or in the back of their trucks to get the box wet or damaged. Be especially vigilant in regards to wholesale accounts, because they are the biggest abusers and constantly hold that thin veil of threat of “never buying anything from you again.” Personally, if anyone threatens me with never buying anything else from me again, I run a huge red flag up the pole next to their account because more than likely, they are abusing me in other ways also. Two eyes on you Mr. “Can’t Drain A Master Cylinder.”

Excessive new returns/wrong part returns: This problem is typically the result of three common things. The first is misdiagnosis or guessing what’s wrong with the car without even looking at the car (installer accounts) or not having the car looked at by a professional (retail customers that have a brother who knows a guy in Texas who lives across the street from a “mechanic” who says it’s the gas cap.). Secondly, ill-equipped mechanic shops that utilize a “trial and error” diagnosis technique wherein they order everything it could possibly be, and send back everything it isn’t. Last on this list are the customers who buy from you because you have it in stock, and then return someone else’s product in your box, because they got it cheaper online. There is also the “form and fit” return issue. This type of pervasive return has a direct correlation to how many people you know who actually read the instructions that are included in the box/package.

Warranty returns: I could write a doctoral thesis on these. Improper diagnosis, improper installation or excessive usage are the leading causes for all warranty returns. Case in point, I recently had a customer who purchased a set of Monroe Magnum shocks for a 1999 F150 8 years ago. The truck was driven daily six miles off road to a strip mine site, not to mention the fact that the person in question was an avid hunter of deer, bear and other varmints. He actually became upset when I explained that the shocks were worn out and there could be no possible way that it was a manufacturers’ defect. He just kept repeating, “They’re lifetime warranty!” This was soon followed with the, “I’m never buying anything here again” comment. People, retail and wholesale customers alike, do not understand a manufacturers’ warranty against defect and furthermore insist that the warranty is for any and every reason that they can think of to claim a warranty. It’s almost like people think the warranty is an expectation, not a conditional concern. If that’s the case, men and women should just be able to return their spouses, get a new one, with no alimony, settlement or child support charged if one of the tenements of their marriage vows is broken. For the love of Mary and all things Holy, warranties are conditional.

PAGE 2

I used to blame all of the return problems on the giant retailers. In fact, it’s not their fault – it’s the fault of the independents (us). We have all been so eager to keep and maintain our customers that we seem to capitulate at the brush of a feather in order to “keep our customers happy.” We’ve all done it, and some of us live by the creed of “no questions asked” return policies when it comes to our larger accounts and dealers. This over-the-top effort to maintain the stability of our customer bases occurred at the emergence of the “big-box boys,” and it hasn’t gotten any better. Our clientele got addicted to a no-holes-barred return policy that we propagated out of fear, and now it’s up to us to wean them away from the instant gratification a customer gets when he or she return something that clearly should not be returned. It’s so commonplace that returns abusers have no guilt for doing it. Like stealing your sister’s Barbie dolls and burying them in the yard. I thought she somehow deserved it, and besides, she’s my sister, what’s she going to do? I won’t walk her to school anymore!

How do we fix this? Ain’t gonna be easy. The first step is to educate our employees on what a warrantable or returnable item is. Secondly, we have to make sure that this information is communicated during the POS. Off-handed comments like, “It’s a lifetime warranty” should come with the punishment of public caning for the offending counter person. A better statement might be, “These shocks are warrantied against defect for life, with receipt, but not against wear or abuse.” Can you imagine what this simple little point of clarification will do to limit your returns? It requires diligence to continually educate our customers regarding return issues, but the potential pay-off is huge. Thirdly, educate your installer and dealer accounts on how to approach a potential warranty situation and remind them of how much money they are leaving on the table for not having the correct equipment and training. Also be sure to take this opportunity to remind them about the cores and excessive new returns.

Allowing our customers to nurse the teat of the “anything goes” return has created a somewhat cranky mal-adjusted brat of a customer base. Breaking the cycle of endless returns will result in a lot of crying, screaming and “you don’t love me anymore” comments, but it’s honestly the best thing we can do for our customers, and the dealer/installer/wholesale accounts will benefit the most. Why? Being held accountable will force them to be better trained, better equipped, and as a result, more profitable. I realize it’ll be like potty-training a two year old, but I also remember how much happier I was for not having to change diapers, not to mention the self-esteem it instilled in my two year olds’ in their new found ability to deal with their own @!$%. This is a business, not a popularity contest, and much the same as being an effective parent will not make you popular with your kids, it will result in a better outcome for everyone involved. I like rules, regulations and guidelines. Without them it’s chaos, and/or my wife complaining about all of these damaged core boxes she has to duct tape together, asking where the paperwork is for the A/C compressor warranty, and why she has to send back the three sets of heavy rotors we just got in this morning. A subtle change in our collective attitude about governing returns from the point-of-sale will benefit the entire industry. According to my wife, if I came with a lifetime warranty, she’d have swapped me out years ago.

 

Returns. In the automotive aftermarket, this seven-letter word elicits so many four- letter words that it should actually be referred to as a synonym for four-letter words if the aftermarket had its own thesaurus. It is a problem that plagues the industry, and the reasoning behind returns, warranties and defects, claimed or otherwise, is a quagmire of explanation. To resolve or amend the flow, I think we must take drastic steps within each market segment that we serve. Just because we are in a service industry does not mean we are an industry of servitude, but as long as we all bow down to ridiculous customer demands, the customer will always be right even if they just think they are. It’s a dangerous slippery slope that we have all slid around on for decades. Let’s examine some types of returns and discuss the ways in which I see to reduce or eliminate them, and keep this in mind, it all, and I do mean ALL, starts at the point of sale.

 

Core returns: Remind the customer that the core must be returned in the original box. Tell the customers, retail or wholesale, to be sure to empty all fluids, and do not store the core outside or in the back of their trucks to get the box wet or damaged. Be especially vigilant in regards to wholesale accounts, because they are the biggest abusers and constantly hold that thin veil of threat of “never buying anything from you again.” Personally, if anyone threatens me with never buying anything else from me again, I run a huge red flag up the pole next to their account because more than likely, they are abusing me in other ways also. Two eyes on you Mr. “Can’t Drain A Master Cylinder.”

Excessive new returns/wrong part returns: This problem is typically the result of three common things. The first is misdiagnosis or guessing what’s wrong with the car without even looking at the car (installer accounts) or not having the car looked at by a professional (retail customers that have a brother who knows a guy in Texas who lives across the street from a “mechanic” who says it’s the gas cap.). Secondly, ill-equipped mechanic shops that utilize a “trial and error” diagnosis technique wherein they order everything it could possibly be, and send back everything it isn’t. Last on this list are the customers who buy from you because you have it in stock, and then return someone else’s product in your box, because they got it cheaper online. There is also the “form and fit” return issue. This type of pervasive return has a direct correlation to how many people you know who actually read the instructions that are included in the box/package.

Warranty returns: I could write a doctoral thesis on these. Improper diagnosis, improper installation or excessive usage are the leading causes for all warranty returns. Case in point, I recently had a customer who purchased a set of Monroe Magnum shocks for a 1999 F150 8 years ago. The truck was driven daily six miles off road to a strip mine site, not to mention the fact that the person in question was an avid hunter of deer, bear and other varmints. He actually became upset when I explained that the shocks were worn out and there could be no possible way that it was a manufacturers’ defect. He just kept repeating, “They’re lifetime warranty!” This was soon followed with the, “I’m never buying anything here again” comment. People, retail and wholesale customers alike, do not understand a manufacturers’ warranty against defect and furthermore insist that the warranty is for any and every reason that they can think of to claim a warranty. It’s almost like people think the warranty is an expectation, not a conditional concern. If that’s the case, men and women should just be able to return their spouses, get a new one, with no alimony, settlement or child support charged if one of the tenements of their marriage vows is broken. For the love of Mary and all things Holy, warranties are conditional.

Article Categorization
Article Details
blog comments powered by Disqus