Civil Disobedience While Shopping

Ms. Faye Riva Cohen
April 2, 2013 — 1,227 views  

I had an unfortunate experience at a store the other day.  It is not the first time I have had this type of experience. As my Firm sends out thousands of greeting cards during the winter holidays, I decided to buy extra cards in case we ran out at a chain store in October. When we decided to send out a printed post card instead of cards this year, I tried to return the 23 boxes of cards I had bought. First I tried to return them the next month at the store where I bought them in southern New Jersey, but it was closed for a time after it was flooded out by Superstorm Sandy. When I tried to return them at another store in New Jersey the same day I was told that I couldn’t receive a cash refund, just an even exchange. I was shown the back of my receipt which stated that “[w]e will gladly exchange any unopened item with original receipt. We do not offer refunds.” As I didn’t recall all of the items I needed that day, I waited until I had free time and I could make a list of things for which I would exchange the cards.

When I returned with my cards to the third store recently I was told to do my shopping and I would be credited for the cards at check out. However, when I tried to check out I was told that I couldn’t return the cards because “seasonal” items could not be returned. I asked what that meant because cards that say “peace on earth” have no season. That also means that items purchased for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, July 4, Halloween, etc., in fact any holiday, can’t be returned, even the day after the holiday. When I asked where that policy appears in writing, either on the receipt, which specifically says the opposite, or anywhere posted inside the store, I was told it was a new policy and the staff was told to enforce it.

I am a lawyer. I have been trained that the written word is stronger than the verbal word. I have been taught that policies which are not in writing and advertised to consumers can’t be changed on a whim without notifying those consumers. In other words, telling me that I was wrong, when I felt the store staff was clearly wrong, was like placing a red cloth in front of the bull. In this example I am the bull, and this bull doesn’t take any b.s. So, what did I do? Well, I engaged in an act of civil disobedience. I told the staff that I was not moving from the checkout aisle until they honored the chain store’s written exchange policy. Not only was I not moving, but they could call the police if they wanted me to move, and then I would be happy to sue the chain store and the staff involved. I am not proud to say this is not the first time I have done something like this. I wouldn’t recommend it for people who aren’t lawyers, and it is even dicey for lawyers. But, someone has to enforce the principle of a policy which is clearly wrong, and would most likely be found to be illegal if tested in a court of law.

Well, this is how the three staff I was dealing with, and I will call them Tweedlydeedee, Tweedlydeedumb, and Tweedlydeedumber, dealt with the situation. Tweedlydeedee, the cashier closed down her line, walked away, and didn’t open another line, leading to long lines at the other registers, and customers giving me dirty looks, as people in a hurry don’t care if I am protecting their principles as well. The assistant managers, the other two Tweedlydeedumb and Tweedyldeedumber, starting calling other stores and telling them how mean I was and how unreasonable I was, and how I was threatening to sue. They apparently reached other mental heavyweights who agreed with them, except the last person they reached agreed with me. So, after a half hour of civil disobedience, the cashier returned, checked me out with a nasty attitude, and told me she hoped she wouldn’t get in trouble for giving me a refund, which by the way, only amounted to half of my purchase that day. The one bright spot was an assistant manager who wandered in, although he was off duty that day, and he said immediately that even though that may be their new policy, as the receipt says otherwise, and the object was to please the customer, he would recommend giving me a refund. He also suggested that I drive to the original flooded out store, and take up the matter with them, but then he apologized. He also apologized for the protracted and hysterical reaction of the two Tweedlydumbs, and he was clearly embarrassed that they weren’t taking his advice to make the customer happy.

So, the object lesson is to keep and read the terms of a receipt, stand one’s ground for one’s principles, even if others don’t take a stand, and in my case, deprive that store of the many hundreds of dollars worth of business I give them each year because in their view “the customer is always wrong”.  

Ms. Faye Riva Cohen

Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C.

I am Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire and am a Philadelphia attorney who has been practicing law since 1974. I am the president and managing attorney of both the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and Legal Research, Inc.