When business loses its sparkle…

We generally love what Swarovski is doing. What was once a bit of a sleepy brand, associated with dust-collecting crystal panda bear figurines, has reinvented itself as a design house. The trademark red storefronts showcase gorgeously raw crystal pendants and modern vases, Nadja Swarovski recently graced the cover of Town & Country magazine, and the company has made some significant inroads into the art, architecture and design worlds with its collaboration with Vincent Van Duysen and Tord Boontje.

So it surprised us to find out that at a retail level, they are not the well-oiled machine they appear. Recently, we went to one of their gorgeous stores to look for a gift. The helpful sales associate showed us a few items and we settled on two. We had handed over our credit card and asked for a  gift receipt. We were informed that the recipient could use the warranty card to exchange or return the item within 14 days from the date of purchase.

We thought we must have misunderstood, so we clarified the exchange policy.

14 days.

Given that the event we were buying the gift for was more than two weeks away and their was no wiggle room on this policy, we thanked the sales associate and left the store without making a purchase. We walked across the aisle to a direct competitor and asked them about their returns policy. It was more liberal and they got the sale.

We understand why retailers are reluctant to hand back the cash after they have booked a sale. And we even understand why certain retailers on short merchandising cycles are reluctant to offer a long period for exchange (nobody wants a pair of spring’s gladiator sandals — even if unworn — to come back in September.) But Swarovski sells gift items. And people like to be able to return gifts.

This short-sighted returns policy all but eliminates Swarovski pieces for wedding gifts (how disappointing to return from a two-week honeymoon only to find that you are now the proud and permanent owner of six identical $725 vases.) And for Christmas (who wants to be in the malls during those last chaotic weeks.)

This disconnect between what the brand is clearly hoping to be (the go-to company for nicely designed, luxury gift items) and the experience at a retail level shows a breakdown in the critical thinking process. So many companies get things right at the top levels and then fall down in the interaction with clients and customers.In this case, we heard the Swarovski story, liked what we heard, were impressed by their products and merchandising, and made a special trip to got to their store, but because of one element of customer service (returns), chose not to complete the sale and spent our money with a competitor instead.

All of the efforts that go into turning around an ocean liner can be thwarted if there is even a small leak at the bottom of the vessel. What steps can a company take to ensure that everything is ship-shape throughout the organization?

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