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Holiday pain eased when seller does right thing

The Baltimore Sun

Iam already dreading the holiday gift-giving season.

The pushing. The shoving. Grabbing gifts left and right. The frustration and bickering. The tears.

And that's just describing the Christmas Day ritual of opening presents.

I haven't even begun to rant about the actual shopping. I kid, but only a little bit.

The National Retail Federation says we're expected to spend a stunning $474.5 billion this holiday shopping season, 4 percent more than last year.

Still, it expects us to be more deliberate and demanding about how we spend our money because of concerns about housing and credit -- not to mention the usual hassles about packed parking lots, long lines, crowded stores and sometimes thorny return policies.

With that in mind, Alma Rettew says she's got three words of advice for retailers on how to stand out this season: good customer cervice. Rettew knows of what she speaks, since she was fortunate enough recently to encounter excellence.

"You usually find smaller, local stores developing personal relationships with a customer to attract and retain business," the 42-year-old engineer from Phoenix, Md., said.

"It's unusual to find that with a large corporation. L.L. Bean reminded me that there are still companies out there that are doing the right thing," Rettew said.

The beginning

Rettew's pleasant little misadventure began last month while she was trying to get a jump-start on holiday shopping. (Yes, she's one of those people.)

"One of the items I got was a pre-planted bulb arrangement for a friend's birthday on Christmas Eve," Rettew said. "As I was on the phone, I checked with the person taking the order to make sure about the anticipated delivery date."

Rettew said she was told that the bulbs would be ready for shipment at the middle or end of November and delivery would take two weeks.

"Perfect," Rettew said. "It would get there just fine for the Christmas Eve birthday."

So Rettew placed the order and used her L.L. Bean credit card to pay the $29.50 (plus tax) for an order of the Holiday Paperwhites bulb in a tote.

One day later, she received an L.L. Bean e-mail confirmation for her order. Two days later, she received a shipping confirmation e-mail.

'That's not right'

"Shipping?" Rettew squeaked. "That's not right. This isn't supposed to go yet. So I called the contact number and told them what happened."

Usually in this space, the next half-dozen paragraphs revolve around the number of times a wretched consumer had to repeat their story to company reps and the hours or days or months that a consumer spent trying to fix a problem.

Oftentimes, the story includes a corporate grinch or two who ignore the complaint, block all efforts toward resolution or tell the consumer to take a flying leap.

Two solutions

But in this case, before Rettew even had a chance to complain or spit out the words, "Oh no...," or "This is unacceptable...," or "There's been a mistake...," the Freeport, Maine, company offered not one, but two solutions.

L.L. Bean said Rettew could choose to have her money refunded or she could have another bulb arrangement shipped at the correct time.

"They owned up to the mistake immediately," Rettew said. "When I said I'd take the refund and then mentioned that I had to explain the mistake to my friend, the woman from L.L. Bean said they would send my friend a note. I didn't have to do a thing."

I know you cynics who are dead inside are thinking, "Hoo boy, this is where L.L. Bean blows it. They're not going to follow through. They're gonna screw this up somehow."

But within a week, the recipient of Rettew's prematurely delivered gift got a letter of apology from L.L. Bean and Rettew received a refund.

'They were sorry'

"The note to my friend said they were sorry for any embarrassment or inconvenience they may have caused," Rettew said. "My October credit-card statement showed a charge for the bulbs and then a credit.

"It was so nice that they presented me with solutions before I even had to demand anything," Rettew said. "And then within a week, I had confirmation that they did everything that they said they were going to do."

Leon Leonwood Bean would be proud. Even though the company he started in 1912 has grown into a mega-corporation, it wins customers for life every day by doing right by them, the small-town way.

Rettew was so pleased she felt compelled to share this good experience -- and we all know what good word of mouth is worth to businesses.

Now imagine if every business kept this in mind for the holidays? We all might start feeling like this truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests@baltsun .com or by phone at 410-332-6151. Consuming Interests is now also a blog, at baltimoresun.com/consuminginterests.

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