Guaranteed. Period.

 

When I lived in Italy, I worked with a guy who said to me, “What is Italy famous for? Three things: its history, its art, and its food. Well, we can’t sell history and art, but we can make a lot of money from its food!” His company made low-budget TV commercials, and he wanted to make a series of how-to videotapes (not CDs; this was in the olden days, back before the new millennium) of a chef preparing the culinary masterpieces of Italy. By the time I met him he’d let the idea simmer for too long.

 

I said, “We need some kind of guarantee to reassure buyers. If the customer doesn’t like it, he can send it back.”

 

I told him about L. L. Bean, the mail order company in the US that will accept merchandise back for ever. Their motto is “Guaranteed. Period.” You can send a piece of clothing back if you don’t like it, of course, or if it doesn’t fit. You can also wear it for ten years, send it back, and still get a refund. I told him it was a great sales tool, and that he’d sell more tapes that way.

 

“Absolutely not!” he cried. “’Caveat emptor’ which is Latin for “buyer beware.” Italians love to use Latin slogans. “If they bought it, they own it!”

 

We had a lot of other marketing disagreements, and I stopped working with him after a short while. He was able to turn his idea into a half-baked sales proposition.

 

The point of the story is the brief article that appears in the American Marketing Association’s February Marketing News (2/15/08). It listed L. L. Bean as the highest in customer satisfaction.

 

It’s true that some people will always abuse the returns system, but it really doesn’t matter what system is used – 30-day return, or return with receipt only, or exchange only, etc. – someone will always try to beat it. What matters is the public perception of the quality of the product, and the willingness of the company to stand behind it.

 

The markups in clothing make this a good place to use such a strategy. In fact, of the ten companies listed for highest customer satisfaction, five either sold clothes exclusively or sold them in conjunction with other merchandise.

 

Would such an offer work for high-end clothiers, for a Brooks Brothers or a Giorgio Armani? Might be worth a try.

 

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