Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

Tom Farmer, chief executive officer of European car servicing company Kwik-Fit, once said, “The decision to do that extra bit must be embedded in the company’s culture.”

Not long ago, I witnessed a clerk in a grocery store take issue with a customer over a refund for a watermelon. It seems that simply bringing the cut, wet product back wasn’t enough. The clerk wanted a receipt the customer couldn’t produce.

Whenever I see something like this, it makes me so mad (as radio commentator Earl Pitts used to say) “I could just crumble up barb wire.”

A friend of mine put it this way: “Whenever I get turned down for a refund at a store, I don’t lose my cool, but I make it a point to talk to the manager and tell them, “You might have my money, but you’ve lost my business.”

Many grocers have installed tougher refund policies over the past decade, and refund policies have tended to get more stringent since the recession hit. I suppose it had to come to this, as many liberal-policy chains increasingly became victims of refund abuse, especially if the stores disbursed cash for high-ticket or suspicious items.

But for fresh produce? A leaking watermelon at the service counter?

We also have to keep in mind that the customer who brought the watermelon back to the store is the exception. Most customers who bought something that wasn’t “good” — overripe, dehydrated, in some stage of decay, bruised, etc. — simply discard the item and never even mention the problem.

Produce managers and clerks have to be aware and listen to customers as they shop. Customers may not come right out and ask for refunds on something that didn’t work out. They may say something like, “I don’t know if I should try that watermelon again — the last one I bought wasn’t so hot.”

When an off-the-cuff, in-passing comment like that takes place, little alarm bells should be ringing in the produce manager’s head.

“What?” The produce manager thinks, “They don’t think these melons are good? I’ve been cutting these all week, and they’re diamonds and eat like candy.”

Rather than argue with the customer or, worse, get the customer service desk or store manager involved, the best course of action is to say something like, “I’m sorry you had a bad experience with the melon. Let me cut a good one for you and wrap it up at no charge. Or (pulling out a credit slip from the apron pocket) can I offer you a refund?

The customer will be surprised — and impressed — that they need neither the product nor receipt, just their word.

For this small investment, you can be assured they’ll be back.

Produce refunds are such a small investment for that kind of result.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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