Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Right of Return...

...or perhaps I should say "the rite of return", because here in France, whenever you want to return a purchase, you find yourself facing an immovable, implacable, impossible wall of rigid rules, rituals and regulations. This is also known as the French Bureaucracy!

For example, at the end of last month, I went to return three small items -- total value 17.70 euros (about $23) -- at Conforama, which is a smaller version of Ikea with the advantage of being in the centre of Paris instead of out by the airport. After a bit of aimless wandering, I was directed to an adjacent building. Here I tapped a few icons on a computer screen to indicate I was returning items, and was rewarded with a piece of paper with the number 4 printed on it. An overhead monitor indicated that customer number 3 was being served in the adjacent room. I took a seat and waited.

Some 20 minutes later, my number flashed. I went into the office and sat down across from an unsmiling Monsieur. I explained that I wished to return three items (cloth-covered cardboard boxes that I had hoped would fit in a hanging closet thingie in our bedroom). I handed them over, along with my receipt.

"Mais, Madame, ils sont ouverts," he said, shaking his head in disbelief. Well, yes, two of them had been opened, because it was only after I tried them that I found they did not fit. He was unmoved. I explained again, adding that I had repacked them carefully, and that the third one had not been opened. Frowning, he began tapping on his computer,  then looked at me carefully and announced that he could give me a credit for the unopened one, but not for the opened packages. "But how could I know they did not fit," I pleaded in my best French, "if I did not try them out?"

He sighed, tapped some more information into his computer, and then told me that just this one time -- "exceptionnellement, Madame..." he would allow me to return the two opened packages for a store credit - "un avoir" - of 11.20 euros.

That was not the end, though. He finished typing and hit a key. Across the room an ancient dot matrix printer started up, spitting out two sheets of paper. Monsieur collected them, signed in various places, had me sign, carefully tore off the tractor feed guides and gave me one copy. He then took my receipt and meticulously placed a stamp next to each item and noted the date of return, gave me my "carte d'avoir" and wished me  "bonne journée, Madame." The whole transaction had taken almost one hour!

I took my 11.20 euro credit, went back to the main store, bought six champagne glasses, four tumblers, all on sale, and have not been back to Conforama since!!

If that was a heads-up of the hurdles in returning purchases, my experience at Ikea the following weekend was beyond bizarre.
I had bravely gone out there on my own. Without a car, it's a 25 minute ride on the RER B to Parc des Éxpositions, and then a short bus ride. Once inside, I could have just as easily been in the Emeryville, California Ikea. The same merchandise, the same winding route through the showrooms, same elevator down to the "marché" where I picked up my shopping cart and got down to business.

Arriving at the checkout, I stood in the usual long line, put my stuff on the moving belt, handed over the two slips of paper for items that were to be delivered,  paid my bill, and packed the smaller items into my rolly cart.

So far, so good.

Glancing at my receipt, the total seemed higher than I had expected. The young cashier had the same thought. She took it back from me and studied it carefully. We both noticed a third item among those to be delivered, for 88 euros. I had no idea what this item was, had not ordered it, and had no slip of paper for it.

Uh oh.

First, the young woman asked, would I please unpack my rolly cart and check the items against the receipt. Done. All correct and accounted for, except for the mysterious 88 euros item. Perplexed, the cashier called for help. It was clear a mistake had been made, but not by her, she assured me (and certainly not by me, I added!). Her supervisor studied the receipt and called for a third person who asked me to repack my rolly cart and follow her. Leading me clear across the vast check-out area, she asked me to wait by the "Returns" counter, then disappeared, with my receipt. After 20 minutes I began to get worried. After 30 minutes, I asked someone behind the desk where this woman had gone.  She made a phone call. "She's on her way back." Another 10 minutes, and she arrived, with my receipt. We were not finished, however. In order for me to receive a credit for the 88 euros, this woman had had to go to where you retrieve the larger merchandise and wait in line for someone to find the items. Having completed this task, she was only now in a position to initiate the lengthy, paper-laden process of "return of merchandise" of the mystery item, and issue a credit to my carte bleue!!! (I never did find out what the item was.)

By this time, I was speechless in both French and English. The thought of struggling with my overloaded rolly cart back to the bus and train loomed. I took a taxi instead -- cancelling out, of course, all the savings I had made by shopping at Ikea. To add insult to injury, there was an enormous "manifestation" at the Place de la République in support of the Egyptian protesters. Traffic was at a standstill. I paid off the cab somewhere in the outer 18th arrondissement, and humped and bumped my heavy rolly cart up and down the Metro stairs all the way home!

BUT I was learning the system. A few days later, at the venerable BHV, I sailed back to the curtain rod department...

 ...plonked down my  unopened packets of curtain accessories I had bought the previous week, along with my receipt, and, even though it still took a form to be completed, signed by two BHV staff and me, followed by a walk to the other end of the floor...I was instantly rewarded with a credit slip for the full 25 euros!!

Vive la France!

À bientôt!


  1. Ha, They all have us in the end. Definitely there are reasons to shop with a friend