You can’t get the staff – Customer Service and returns in the UK & US

I remember reading this piece by PJ over at

This is a real example of me at a counter:

Me: …………… (waiting)

Them: So, I’m wearing a pink with green dress and some frills and then I’m gonna get some new shoes……….

Me: *Coughs*

Them: ..but I don’t have any munny til Friday so I’m gonna have to find something in the sales cos……..

Me: (Quietly – I hate to butt in) “Excuse me”

Them: Oh, Kirsty**, you get this...

This: Hi

Kirtsy: Hiya

This: I’d like to return this bronzer.

Kirsty: Why, what’s wrong with it?

This: Well the case has cracked and I’ve only had it for….

Kirsty: *snatches* Errr, where?

This: Where that giant crack is?

Kirsty: Oh right.

This: *feels nervous. Boyfriend is backing off*

Kirsty: Did you drop it?

This: Well it’s been in my handbag but I didn’t drop it.

Kirsty: It looks like its been dropped.

This: No, I didn’t drop it.

Kirsty: Does it still shut?

This: Well yes, but it comes loose after a bit.

Kirsty: But it still shuts.

This: Yes, but that means I get powder everywhere.

Kirsty: Because someone dropped it.

This: I didn’t drop it.

Kirsty: Did someone else drop it.

This: Not. That. I. Know. Of.

Kirsty: Errr Lisa. Do you think this bronzer has been dropped?

Lisa: Well, yeah.

This: I didn’t drop it. *Starting to get angry*

Kirsty: Well if you dropped it its not really our fault.

This: But I didn’t drop it, the case is very fragile because I only used it a few times.

Lisa: But I dropped one once and that’s what it looked like.


Kirsty: *huge sigh* I can’t give you a refund, or a credit note. I might be able to change it fer yer.

This: Ok.

Kirsty: Oh no, we don’t have any left.

Me: You are f**** kidding me.

** Kirsty is not a real SA I know, fear not.

Anyway. I have all kinds of similar experiences (never with a product I just didn’t like; only with products that were damaged, or that had crap packaging, I don’t even return things that give my rashes!). I remember using a high end cleanser, I’ll give you a clue, the brand has two letters beginning with E and L, and this product was SPECIFICALLY for sensitive skin. I returned it cos it made my face itch. The SA usefully said, “Why don’t you use it as a shower wash?” – With my £22 pound cleanser? Are you mad?!?! However, the company with E and L generally will take things back if they cause an allergic reaction (but not if you don’t like it.) I returned a blush to the E and L once, which had a bizarre clicking features. Every time I shut it, a load of dust would come out of it. I took it back and the girl immediately said to me it was because I wasn’t shutting it properly. I showed her twice how I shut it. No, no, no, let me try said the SA. Sure enough we were covered in a mist of brown dust. You can have another one she said.

I remember a SA giving me the wrong colour lip colour; I went back half an hour later and she refused to exchange my lip gloss, which was fully sealed of course even though it was her mistake! There has to be times where common sense and intuition prevail rather than policies.

At the end of the day, if I receive terrible customer service, I will not buy from a company again. When I have had excellent service (which of course exists on many UK counters) I have returned to them again and again. I think the UK retailers with ridiculously strict rules need to learn a thing or two from US retailers who no doubt have the attitude that they want people to shop with them more than once. Since we get charged extortionate prices in the UK, I am sure the retailer could fit the bill sometimes, in order to keep loyal customers…

(Side note – I used to work in a retail store, where the store policy was refund in 7 days and a credit note for up to 14 days. Normally for non cosmetic items, the return period is 28 days, so imagine how many people turned up unhappy that they only had a week to return their goods – it almost felt like entrapment, since 7 days is a short period of time to return a product for a working, busy person. This was especially tricky if it was a gift since most people buy in advance. We sent so many unhappy people away with the products because they wanted a refund, and if I had my way, I would have offered it to them since it is hardly worth someone scathing about your store and customer service. Also people have spent good money on the goods, and why should they be lumbered with something they don;t want to keep? Bad, bad policy. )

Different counters vary with policies of course and customer service. Now I am sure that the brand everyone worships, spawn of EL, MAC, has plenty of amazing SA’s although it is the counter that people mention to me more than any other about having crappy service. (well, there goes my chances of ever getting any MAC freebies.) I have 5 counters local to me, (I don’t know them, but i could tell you all about their social life) and I have also visited the flagship stores in London where I had the most horrid service ever;

The SA’s (all six of them) ignored me for thirty minutes. When I finally got some attention, it was with ratty young lady who couldn’t help but walk off to tickle a fellow SA. I bought a tub of Basic Red Pigment – apparently it is so fine that a lot of the powder sinks. Well, when I opened it the jar was a quarter full – I kid you not. So I called up the MAC Pro store, the same girl answered (her voice was etched in my brain) and tutted at me,
“Tut, tut. Actually the powder is very fine that’s why it looks like you only have a tiny bit. Obvious, right.” Er – no. Because, a. you did;t tell me. b. It wasn’t a bit empty, it was 3/4 empty. You know what I said to her?

“Oh right, thank you, bye”

Damn my British politeness!

On the plus note, the store in Liverpool which is 50 Min’s away has much, much nicer staff and a generally pleasant atmosphere, but it is a shame its an hour away.

Either way I hope that the polices in the UK catch up, even just a Little to how it is in the US. It does truly amaze me with how quick US companies are to accept refund and offer exchanges, or replacements for items. I suppose it makes you feel like you have more control over how you spend your $$$. In the UK, once you have bought something cosmetic, the chances of getting your money back are slim. Therefore, I will have to be a. extremely careful about what I buy in the stores and b. I will probably stop buying cosmetics in the UK altogether because it is such a rip off anyway.

Thoughts. experiences, opinions? (Don’t lynch me, I am currently suffering from the dreaded insomnia…)

I wish I could sleep anywhere too…

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  1. the Muse says

    fantastic post my friend!

    Whenever I go to the UK I utterly avoid purchasing anything that I know I can get here in the US for two simple reasons.

    Return Policy (as I’m a big returner and I change my mind constantly) and also simply because the prices are obscene!

    I also have experiences where SA’s treat me like utter garbage. I find that I get much better service at counters in high end shops.

    Whenever I go to a freestanding MAC store or a Sephora I normally get treated like utter trash. Either the MA’s are discussing their love lives, playing around, or doing makeup on people who aren’t buying anything (I’m so sorry but it’s true they are constantly doing makeup on people that get off the chair and leave without a single purchase).

    Or I get the big snotty kiss off! :(

    I also find that when I go into Sephora they follow me around as if I’m about to nick something. I really feel like turning around and saying “Hey Lady I have more cosmetics in my washroom then in this entire shop so don’t worry about me stealing something!”

    Seriously, why do they have to follow you around like that? Maybe it’s my imagination but I find that they leave a buncha of sniveling, snickering teenagers alone yet they’ll follow me around as if I’m on the most wanted list or something!

    Anyway I can rant all day about this!

    The good news is now you have me :)
    your personal shopper hehehe!

  2. karen, says

    Girl, that straight up SUCKS.

    Here at certain stores you can return EVERYTHING, I guess I’m just so used to our return policies that I take it for granted.

    I’m sorry about your insomnia! I had a bad bout the earlier in the week, too. Have you heard of Valerian Root as a sleep supplement? It’s sooooo stinky but I think it’s been helping me get good sleep. Gotta warn you though – it smells like FEET!

  3. Row says

    Hey Muse….

    Yup Yup, I totally agree with you. Funny what you said about SA’s spending ages on someone who aren’t buying! I thought only I noticed that! You know, the kid who is probably 16 and won’t be buying anything, or a lady with a sandwich in her hand and is trying to fill her lunch hour.

    Tut tut you get followed? Grrr. I get follwed at this Off License, where the owner gets his sons to stand on crates to watch people – what, incase we steal some Gummi Bears?!

    Yeah your mypersonal shopper, woo hoo!

  4. Row says

    Karen – I will look out for Valerian Root (I can picture what the packet looks like in the Chemists). Yuk, smelly feet. Don’t worry I’m Chinese, my stomach can take it.

    I wish I could return anything! I tell ya, quite a few Mascaras would be going back, a pink kettle, some sock and a brush that hurts like mad…

  5. MandyPandy says

    I’m like Musey; I constantly buy and try but if the product’s no good or turns out to be unsuitable, I return it (sorry, but I’m not keeping it if it’s crap).

    Customer service is really not that much better here in the States. It’s always a bit of a crapshoot.

    Unlike Musey, though, I generally find the service at places like Sephora or Freestanding Mac stores to be much more consistent than, say, dept. store beauty counters (Mac is a SERIOUS offender), but it’s always a roll of the dice.

    I’ve had sales associates at several beauty counters flat out tell me that they don’t “DO” (they’re word, not mine) samples, and one of those counters was MAC, which has a de-facto policy of giving samples.

    PS: Row, what is ‘Off License’? Do they have good Gummi Bears? ‘Cause you should totally steal some for me; I love Gummi Bears!

    I think Row’s totally got the right idea: we should all write about our crappy customer service experiences, if only to reach catharsis! We need to name and shame these ‘shit-service’ offenders, so we can give ourselves (or more likely them) a good laugh. Man, could I tell you stories about my CS experiences!

  6. Row says

    MandyPandy – I need to hear those stories!!!

    I think in the UK we are definately beaten into submission – I mean I am used to counters so I am considered the one people rope into returning things and dealing with exchanges but I think you are totally right – we get something crap which does not fulfil what its supposed to do, and in the UK it’s tough luck. That’s not right!

    I’ve had a lot of places offer me a sample…then try and offer me the full size product. But wait – doesn’t the defeat the point of a sample?!?!

    That reminded me, I was at Trish McEvoy just yesterday because I wanted a empty plastic case for some depotted shadows. The woman was a very sterotypical, bullying type of SA – she told me she couldnt let me buy it on its own without a pink matching leather case.

    How much is the plastic refill? £10. How much is the pink case? £45! In the end, she was so intensive I had to say thankyou and bye. I saw her collegue shake her head at her as I walked away.

    P.S: Off Licence is like a corner store but they can sell cheap booze. Normally quite grotty. Ya know, you take a newspaper, milk and chocolate to the counter and the total price is mysteriously £7, but you don’t know cos they won’t give you a reciept and they dont use a scanner and just enter random digits into the till and you can’t see how much because they purposely covered it with a chewing gum rack.

    Woahhhh rant-fest. I’m terrible when I haven’t slept!

  7. Anonymous says

    Funny you should mention MAC. The two counters local to me have the snootiest SA’s of all. Most of the time they look at what sort of shopping bags you’re already carrying and use that as a guide as to whether or not you’re worth it. It was an experiment, and it’s true.

  8. Chica says

    I don’t go to counters anymore, i’ve given up. Either the SA’s completely ignore you or they’re so pushy I’m scared they’re going to rob me.
    I like bright eyeshadow for when i’m going clubbing and i was just browsing round Urban Decay when a Benefit lady(tango-ed,she must have been wearing 70 tonnes of foundation) attacked me and ‘asked'(demanded) if I needed any help.
    I told her i was just looking for some red eyeshadow and i was fine looking at UD.
    She grabbed her equally orange mate and started laughing at me,
    ‘ OHMYGOD you WANT to look like you’ve been punched in the face? ‘
    Yeah…that’s pursuading me to move away from the UD section and have a look at your make up?!

    but it’s not just cosmetic counters in the UK…
    In clothes shops have you noticed that no matter how long the bloody queue you’re standing in is- there will always only be 1 person at the till and 4000 girls gassing at the end of the counter?
    New Look & Wallis especially!

  9. Row says

    Anonymous – I don’t know what it is about MAC SA’s? I get ignored even when I wave my nice handbags at them unfortunately :)

    Chica – That’s funny I noticed that about Wallis and I haven’t shopped there for a long time – I’d rather get it online.

    You know what I hate – when you actually make eye contact and they still ignore you as if organsing shelves are more important than serving customers.

    What a stupid SA you had to deal with! Laughing in the face of a customer – I am the same as you, I love brights and there are some counters where they just don’t get it. The least they could do is leave you alone and not sound incredulous.

    I went to Trish Mcevoy to see if they had an empty lip palette. “Why would you want that?” the SA asked. “So I can melt my favourite lip colours and carry them around in one place” She looked horrified. “Well we have these ones” she said, pointing to a ready made lip compact. “yeah like that, but EMPTY”. “You could scrape it out.”

    Now – shall I buy your £30 compact in order to scrape out the colour to refil it with my own? No, I don’t think so. Anyway, she soon turned her back on me and walked away. HOW RUDE!

  10. Chica says

    I can’t believe how stupid they are, how do they make it through the interview process? Surely management know that being snotty, catty and generally unhelpful to your customers is not going to result in a sale!
    Honest to God – buy a £30 compact to scrape the contents out!!

  11. yummy411 says

    sorry that you had this experience!

    thanks for stopping by my blog. you have a great blog here.. keep in touch. i’m subscribing via rss feed 😉

  12. Jaime says

    Eeek!!! This all sounds horrible!! I seem to have ok experiences, I always get asked if I need any help, sometimes to the point of harrasment but I can’t think of a time when I’ve been treated badly. I think it could be down to the fact that I look quite ”assertive” (I’m a pussycat really!)

    I just remembered this: (Man Stroke Woman) the make up counter clips made me so angry every time I watched that show.

  13. Row says

    Hi again Chica,

    I know, i think that all the time, especially since I have seen the Estee Lauder recruitment site, and I am presuming they do vet the staff, and more importantly, don’t the have managers that tell them off for gossiping! Grr!

  14. Row says

    Hi Jaime!

    I just went to watch the clip! Hahahaha! That’s the thing sometimes, the manager doesn’t care!

  15. Lea says

    Brilliant blog Rowena! Betta late than neva with my comment.

    Oh dear, it must be horrible for you Rowena, I would dread approaching the SAs myself if I was in your shoes. I must admit, the few times I’ve been to England I never had terrible experience with the SAs. Perhaps because I never purchased make up (price too steep) or try to return anything. You should move to America!

    I agree with the uber slow shipping for items coming from Canada. I once purchased an item on ebay and it took about 3 weeks to arrive. Good thing I was in no rush or I would’ve been royally p*ssed!

    Based on experience here in US, MUAs at MAC shops are always so helpful and friendly. I mean you walk in the store and about 7 people says in unison “WELCOME TO MAC!”. Department store SAS are usually good and not pushy from my experience, I think the SAs know that if one’s really interested that person will ask. I can relate to The Muse’s Sephora experience, they do follow you around like a hawk! Also, I once asked a Sephora MUA to help me with some eyeshadow I was interested in purchasing and she said “I can show you how to apply those but only on one eye, unless you purchase any item I’ll do both your eyes”. I was like…huh? are you going to follow me to the counter and watch me swipe my card?! (well, I didn’t say that out loud). She did both my eyes but I purchased other stuff…I wanted to see if she was gonna get upset. jk. I’m really not evil like that but when you give me rules and it’s my money, you can bet I will be a pain in the bleep rebel.

    My English Muff (aka the bf) always makes side comments about “tip and gratuity”. He can’t get over the fact that he is obligated to give a tip. I tell him, “Well, you’re not required. It’s not as if they’ll run after you if you’re not generous. I’m sure they’ll understand…your accents gives it away”. No offense to the UK readers, but please understand that waiters and some SAs in US get minimum salary; they depend on tips but in exchage they (most) offer excellent customer service, always so attentive. To be honest, many times before I give tip (as in monetary) to MAC MUA when they do a fantastic job on my face without charging me $40 for the make over appointment.

    Okay, I must end my ranting now. Sorry, I’m easily carried away.

    Cheers “ROW”…not that we’re tight like that 😉

  16. Row says

    Hey Lea –

    An MA said that to you?! eek! I would have accepted the make over on one eye and walked around like a freak all day? and if people asked – “yes, this is what they do to you on THAT counter over there.”

    I know what you mean about tips. In the UK, I always tip after a meal, a taxi driver, my hairdresser…but its not an obligation. A lot of my friends don’t tip, or they will tip the hairdresser 50p…which I think, they would be better off not tipping at all…Having said that, in London, I noticed a lot of restaurants now will add the gratuity anyway, which is not done very often up north.

    I think it’s a free will thing more than anything. Most of us Brits will leave a tip, we just don’t want you to tell us that we have to! Your absolutely right though; if someone is not paid very much and work hard in their job, and give great service, then they do deserve a tip.

    My aunt went to New York a few years back, and she had a dollar and a twenty dollar note so she left the dollar tip and the waitress chased her down the street to shout at her. Which is not a good idea as my aunt is a little Mike Tyson.


  17. Anonymous says

    Here in Australia the service at counters, and the return policies are much the same as the UK. As someone who has worked in retail sales, I refuse to put up with slack SA’s. If they deliberately ignore me (eg, see me, make eye contact, and not offer to help or let me know that they’ll just be a minute)I deliberately put my item down on the counter and walk away. Often with a dirty look at the SA’s lol. I haven’t spent much time around MAC counters, but the few times I have I’ve been almost totally ignored. Ditto at most beauty counters at Harrods when I was there last year – except for Origins, the girls there were lovely. Even gave my Mum a little hand treatment with very little pressure salesmanship.

  18. prozacahontas says

    I recently had a bad experience with the UK mail order co. Toast, whose clothes I love and have bought tons of over the years. When I tried to return items from an accidentally duplicated internet order, I was refused credit or a refund because I was outside the 28 day returns period. As I am an American I had never heard of this policy, and when I emailed their customer service department, I got a form letter back saying, basically, tough luck. I told them I was really upset that they would rather lose a loyal customer than take back a couple of items, still tagged, in perfect condition, and they actually responded that they could not help me because that would be unfair to the other people they had refused to help! I now have a huge grudge against this company and despite their pretty clothes, I will never spend any money at Toast again!

  19. R says

    prozacahontas – I do sympthise. Thats the problem with a lot of UK companies – no foresight. They’d rather make a quick buck – like my most recent post on Clinique – I will never shop there again now. The UK is a very – ‘computer says no’ society – common sense doesn’t come into it