Common Sense Is Not So Common

All of us have had the experience of running into a “far from normal” Christmas return policy at a store. However, have you ever experienced difficulty merely trying to cancel a transaction? Here’s my story. I’d love to hear yours.

Boxing Day 2012The day after Christmas (also known as Boxing Day), I went shopping with Lindy, Fiona, Taylor, and Glinda.  Lindy is a smart shopper and she found a Coach House Gifts store where several items had been marked 75% off.  We each decided on an insulated mug (originally $5.99), and Lindy also found each of us a couple of pins for 49 cents each.

Despite our mother’s life-long statements to the opposite, Lindy and I are both quite good in math.  I gave the clerk a five dollar bill and she tried to give me eighty seven cents back.  I protested, explaining that the mug was 75% off.  The clerk said she would check “whether that’s true” and headed to the front of the store where the sign was very clear:


Lindy informed her that the two of us are extremely honest and that we do not make things up.  The clerk returned and attempted to ring up the sale again.  Again, it was wrong.  I calmly asked her to please cancel the transaction and give me back my five dollars.

English: PaperworkIt turned out this was an almost impossible task.  The clerk said that she would have to fill out return paperwork–despite the fact that I had never accepted the products.  They were still sitting there on the counter.

The clerk called over another clerk, who frantically kept repeating phrases such as “return transaction” and “post-void cancellation” (as if I really cared to hear all about the buzzwords related to the store’s policy).

Observing that this second level of interaction could not figure out how to proceed, a clerk in another line leaned over and said:

Just pop open the register and give her the five dollars back. We can worry about the paperwork later.

This person has quite a career ahead of them, using tricks such as “common sense” and “get the frustrated people out of the store before the lines get any longer.” By this point, we had been waiting at the register for over 10 minutes, and the queue of shoppers behind us was growing.

But the original two clerks just hissed back at the other clerk the same phrases about “post-void cancellation” that they been muttering to us about. Then one of them informed us they would have to speak to “a manager.”

Cover of "Brazil"At this point we felt like we had been cast into the movie “Brazil“, with us being told repeatedly that we needed a completed 27B/6 form to get out of the place during our lifetimes.

I was tempted to pull out one of Mother’s favorite sayings:

Keep it. You need it more than I do.

but the principle of the thing bothered me.  I could not allow this store to take advantage of people, so Taylor and I stood at the front of the line and calmly demanded my money back.

Eventually, twenty minutes later, the assistant manager returned. She had been “at the bank”; this caused my sister to suggest that maybe the assistant manager had to go to the bank to get the five dollars. Judging from their laughter at that wisecrack, the crowd queued behind us was turning against the store.

But we were not done. The assistant manager began to explain the paperwork they would need to complete:

We have to process a post-void cancellation and generate a documented return slip before…

Hello Kitty TaserWe all kind of blanked out for a minute, and then I explained that I didn’t care.

Having worked with the public for a long time, I explained that her job was to take care of my request and not explain their internal procedures.  Why do some people do that?  Why don’t they understand that they are in business to take care of people and not to complete paperwork?  Without their customers, they would have no paperwork to complete!

I finally received my five dollars back. However, having stood waiting for over 30 minutes on Boxing Day, just for a simple return of five dollars, convinces me I will never shop at Coach House Gifts again.


  1. Mary Berner says:

    My hubby Oscar had a weird situation happen. He is so honest he tried to return too much change he was given from a transaction. The clerk was so perplexed by his insistence she take the money back–no matter how he tried to explain it was to no avail. He was from Mars and she was Venus.

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