Electronic records of purchase may not always be considered sufficient for claiming refunds later.
Electronic records of purchase may not always be considered sufficient for claiming refunds later.

Retailers must move with the times

By Georgina Crouth Time of article published Aug 15, 2016

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Voltaire, the French Enlightenment thinker, is credited with the quote: "Common sense is not so common" and that's as true today as it was in the 18th century.

Because what some might view as obvious seems to escape a concerning percentage of people - and corporates.

To me, the insistence on a till slip or an actual gift voucher seems mind-bogglingly antiquated and unnecessarily paper-based.

We live in the digital age, which means we're all connected via technology with each other or with information, so when you buy something and the retailer uses a computerised till system, whether or not you have the original proof of payment, the retailer is able to trace the sale if, say, you lose your slip but have your credit card details and a date to offer instead.

Or you show via your cellphone or internet banking you were in the store on a particular date and spent money in store. One plus one - it's obvious.

And people lose or misplace till slips. (I'm averse to clutter, so in my case, I probably threw it away and realised too late I might need it.)

Same thing with a gift voucher. They're either bought as a gift (meaning you don't necessarily provide the receipt) or they're given by stores as a credit in lieu of cash (to people like me who can't provide proof of payment).

If you're diligent, you put the voucher away safely in your wallet or you might put it away in a "safe place" and then forget where precisely that safe place was (ahem).

Rickey Pandaram is not loskop (scatterbrained) like me, so he put his voucher in his wallet. But then his wallet was stolen.

He wrote to me, complaining about the gift voucher he had received from his family: "Thank you for all the hard work you do. I read most of your columns. Please help me with this. It's probably a first of this type of problem.

"My wife purchased a Totalsports gift voucher for me on June 15 at the Chatsworth Centre to the value of R1 200.

"This was a Father's Day gift presented to me by my children as they know that I practically live in gym clothes.

"The voucher was paid for in cash. Unfortunately, my wallet was stolen at the Westwood Mall a month later.

"I immediately set about cancelling my bank cards, which included my Totalsports card as we still had the receipt at home.

"Totalsports Chatsworth was wonderful and processed the cancellation. We have the proof from their card division.

"Now here is the problem: Totalsports is refusing to issue me with a replacement voucher.

"They say that a gift voucher is considered to be cash and in terms of their policy for gift cards, they cannot assist me.

"I find it laughable that a gift card is a substitute for cash.

"A gift card is traceable and can be used in a limited few stores, unlike cash.

"So Totalsports is going to keep our hard-earned cash, without the exchange of any merchandise.

"I am also not entirely convinced that the terms and conditions policy would state that no refund or replacement is due to the consumer if a gift card is cancelled.

"Further, we are totally unaware of such a prejudicial policy if it does exist and would not have bought a gift card in the first place had we been informed or made to sign for such a clause and the like.

"Please help as I would hate for others to be in this predicament when a retailer has all the paper proof and chooses to rob a consumer of his cash."

Calling it "robbery" is a bit harsh, but it is an interesting conundrum and Pandaram has an excellent point.

He has the receipt for the gift card so it's certainly traceable, if only someone bothered to try. It's really not difficult in 2016.

I mailed The Foschini Group's head of marketing and e-commerce, Kathryn Sakalis, pointing out since vouchers are entered into a computerised system, their reissuing should not be a problem.

Sakalis concurred, mostly, responding: "Thank you for bringing Mr Pandaram's complaint to our attention. I would like to start by apologising to him that he was not more efficiently assisted with regards to replacing his gift card.

"The store was partially correct in that our current gift card terms and conditions state that gift cards are treated like cash and cannot be replaced if lost or stolen. As such, our store followed the group's policy when dealing with Mr Pandaram.

"However, this relates to cases in which there is no reference number for the gift card. So you can imagine that if customers come in claiming that their gift card was stolen, but they have no reference number we can use to block the gift card, we can't then refund the card.

"Unfortunately, we have had incidents like this where customers claim their gift cards were stolen, but this was actually not the case."

But here's the decider: "Mr Pandaram had the gift card number at hand and we could suspend the card prior to any value used on the card.

"In cases like this, we will definitely replace the gift card. My team will be contacting him to arrange to have the gift card replaced for him as soon as possible.

"Mr Pandaram's complaint has also highlighted that our current gift card terms and conditions are not customer-centric in those unfortunate situations where a gift card is stolen, but where it is possible to suspend the card before any of the funds have been used.

"We will be revisiting our gift card terms and conditions and educate our stores on how to efficiently deal with situations like this.

"We thank both you and Mr Pandaram for giving us the opportunity to do so.

"I hope that Mr Pandaram will enjoy spending his Father's Day gift at Totalsports."

Ten out of 10 to Sakalis and TFG for customer care - they acknowledged and accommodated the complaint, promised corrective action and to review their policy and gave Pandaram what he wanted: a replacement voucher.

Cape Argus

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