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A lesson from Walmart and the blueberry affair

Walmart had a special going on fresh blueberries — just $2.50 a pint. So, Frank Mauer headed for his nearby Port Richey (Fla.) Supercenter. But, when he got there all the blueberries were gone. So, Mauer figured he’d just get the blueberries another time and asked for a rain check. That’s when things went south!

St. Petersburg Times’ retail reporter Mark Albright decided to investigate and publish Mauer’s story entitled: “Man vs. Walmart in Blueberry Battle.” After reading it, I think it’s a good reminder for all retailers, big and small.

When Mauer asked for a rain check at customer service, he was told: “Walmart doesn’t offer rain checks.”  Mauer explained he didn’t understand. After all, the fine print in the ad circular he’d received seemed pretty clear: “If an advertised item is out-of-stock at your Walmart, upon request, we will issue you a rain check so that you can purchase the item at the advertised price when it becomes available,” Mauer read aloud. That’s convincing, right? Nope. The response was still: “Walmart doesn’t offer rain checks!”

A little frustrated, he thought he’d go higher up. The assistant manager came out and, you guessed it: “Walmart doesn’t offer rain checks,” he insisted. By now, Mauer is ticked, stops arguing and begins telling customers about Walmart’s “false advertising.”

When the cops responded to Walmart’s call, Mauer was escorted to the parking lot and “talked to” for 45 minutes. Then, he went to another Walmart just to see if they would say the same thing. They did. Convinced he was still right, however, Mauer contacted the newspaper.

“We screwed up,” Dan Fogleman, a Walmart spokesman, told Albright. “We are taking this very seriously.” For starters, all Florida Walmart District Managers were told in a conference call to be sure all workers understand rain checks are available for any advertised special (some limitations) that is out of stock. Further, all store managers coast-to-coast were also reminded to ensure the policy is understood by everyone.

So, how can we benefit from the great blueberry affair? First, it doesn’t make any difference if you’re big or small, communication problems with employees can easily exist. Especially in running a small business like a boat dealership, we are often so bogged down with what we’ve got to do that we don’t make the time necessary to ensure our employees know what our customer policies are and what expectations we’re creating for our customers. That’s not fair to the employees or the customers.

Second, our employees should periodically be reminded of the best way to handle a displeased customer. For example, if the employee is empowered to solve the customer’s problem, he should know it. If it’s beyond the employee’s authority, he should know the acceptable way to hand off the customer to someone who can solve the problem.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the blueberry affair should never have gotten to the point of bad publicity and a lost customer. If the customer service reps behind the counter were not empowered to resolve Mauer’s problem, most assuredly the assistant manager was (or should have been) expected to know how to “manage” the situation and effect a positive outcome. After all, what was at stake here was a rain check for a $2.50 pint of blueberries and customer satisfaction. Good lesson!

Comments

11 comments on “A lesson from Walmart and the blueberry affair

  1. Charles Goodsell

    This should have been a no-brainer. Even if they gave him the blueberries you have him coming back in the door. Isn’t that what it’s all about. Repeat customers are our lifeblood.

  2. Capt. Chris

    Just another case of being penny wise and pound stupid. Give employees the flexibilty to think beyond the end of their noses to obtain outcomes that benefit everybody. Companies love to have policies that are so restrictive that they can plug anybody into any position, but when you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!

  3. Dudley Dawson

    One of the best guest speakers ever at the annual NMMA Industry Breakfast in Miami was Horst Schulz. He built the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain into a powerhouse, mostly through empowering employees to provide exceptional customer service. It is he, and not WalMart, that should be our role model. Do a Google search on “Horst Schulz” and “Ritz-Carleton” and read everything that comes up regarding how he ran that operation. You might even consider sending one or two of your top managers to the “Ritz-Carleton University” for some in-depth training.

    I had my own WalMart “blueberry moment” a year or two ago. A cashier rang up two of an item when I’d only purchased one. After double checking my bag to see if I was lying, she made me pay anyway and sent me to “Customer Service” to get a refund, where my bag was searched again after a 15 minute wait in line. I asked to see a manager, but none was available. A couple weeks later, I was again double charged by a different cashier, but this time I stood my ground, refusing to leave the cashier’s line until it was made right. First the head cashier arrived and instructed me to go to “Customer Service.” When I refused (with increasingly frustrated customers behind me in line), she called an assistant manager, who issued the same instructions. I again refused, so she called the store manager, who arrived with security. When the problem was explained, the store manager finally explained to the cashier, head cashier and assistant manager how to correct the problem on the cash register in about 10 seconds. She also said, “Our mistake should not become a customer’s problem.” AMEN!!

  4. Jason

    I would like any Mercruiser dealers to explain the rules set forth to you directly about the direct sale of any Mercruiser new marine engine or package? I was told dealers and non dealers can not sell any new Mercruiser engine to a customer that does not have it installed by the selling dealer. Also was told that if a dealer or non dealer was caught selling that Brunswick would stop selling new Mercruiser engines to them. I have a customer attended the Hartford, Providence and Boston Boat Shows to price out a brand new Mercruiser 5.0 MPI Bravo 1 package for him 1995 Sea Ray. After getting quotes from 5 different dealers, he called me and asked if I could offer him a better price. After I quoted him, he agreed to purchase it from me. When another dealer found out he did niot get the sale, he called his Mercruiser distributor and complained that he lost the sale to someone in another state. Now, what does this mean? A customer can not purchase a Mercruiser engine anywhere he wants? Does this mean he does not have the freedom of choice? I was told that if a customer came into my shop and purchased a new mercruiser engine and left with it to install it in his boat Brunswick would no longer sell me engines. After I explained this to my customer he was livid. he was so upset he called Brunswick direct. He called me back and said the customer service girl told him she never heard of that and if he wanted to purchase an engine he could from anyone in the USA and would not have any issues at all. She said she has never heard of this….So I ask anyone that reads this…..what do you think?

  5. Former Merc dealer

    Brunswick does not care about rules. This is still old news. Bam, miami marine, doug russell, ebasic power, marine power service, outdrives.com, and the list goes on and on….most still sell engines all over the US. Brunswick chose to cancel a few select dealers for this practice. They chose to still sell engines to internet based business. They preach dealer true and true. Its such a crock. As a former dealer, we installed more Mercruiser engines at our shop than most dealer did in their last 10 years in business. Loyalty..none. There will never be an answer to this question. The internet guys will still be selling engines all over us, the hard core dealers will still be trying to sell boats, the non dealers will still be the backbone of real service, that keeps the marine industry going…only now when times are tough do you read about service departments. come on….be real

  6. ARCH

    The moral of the story is this: Dont do business with people that have too much time on their hands. JUST KIDDING!
    With regards to a large discount retailer like WalMart, I have very low expectations. I tend to avoid them the best I can, to minimize disappointments. I prefer to pay a little more and get much better service at TARGET. Shorter lines, better lighting, employees seem like normal people and not the mutants they hire at Walmart. OH, sorry, getting off track there.
    NORM, good story.
    I’ve seen so many instances of an employee at a boat dealership (or any business) who has a bad attitude and provides bad service, when his/her supervisor wouldn’t have done the same thing and wouldn’t have supported the way the customer was treated. I also tend to use some common sense, and if I experience bad service from a certain individual, I ask for their supervisor and usually it’s handled correctly right there. I usually don’t hold it against a business when one of their 7$ an hour employees are rude or do something wrong. This just happened to me last week at SEARS.
    As soon as I told the MRG what happened, he guessed which employee it was and he guessed right. In this day of 10 to 15% unemployment, why would anyone have an employee who is a rotten apple?

  7. steve s

    The real moral to the story for all us greedy boat dealers….

    Walmart’s horrible service has been well known for years. So why are they the most successful retailer in the world??

    PRICE SELLS!!

  8. Gordy McKelvey

    Mercrusier will sell direct to the customer if they b***h loud enough. Several years ago a certain country music entertainer took delivery of a new Sea Ray (Brunswick) from the local Sea Ray dealer in Music City USA. The local dealer was told what to price the boat out to this certain country music entertainer, plus we had to provide full price service on a DEEPLY discounted boat. Brunswick/Mercrusier do as they a damn well please, whenever they please.

  9. warren

    There is NO advantage to being a Mercruiser dealer anymore. Why would there be? As far as I can tell Brunswick must approve of internet sales as there are so mamy now doing it.
    I guess that would be between Brunswick and the dealer. Brunswick can pick and choose who they want to sell to however if there is a contract and or dealer agreement that is NOT being fairly and or equally enforced that may be a legal issue . I am not an attorney and don`t particularly like em but this is something that should be addressed .
    The problem has become even worse as we all are fighting for what little business is out there and now more than ever the “little guy” will be unable to compete with those internet wholesalers.
    I wonder does Bruswick allow the internet sales of bowling and exersize equipment on the internet?.
    Sounds like “Jason and Former Merc Dealer “are upset that there isn`t a level playing field.
    I was informed that Brunswick sells Quicksilver and Mercury product tru Land and Sea and Kellogg and that allows NON dealers acess to engines,drives etc.
    I can`t imagine why Brunswick would have different limitations on internet sales for two companies that reside under the same roof (Mercury vs. Land n Sea and Kellogg)
    How do they handle the warranties for these engines?
    Is a dealer forced to perform warranty on an engine he didn`t get the sale on?
    Where is the level playing field for that ?
    I have the capability to fix an engine I install but will Merc pay a non dealer for warranty ?
    What a mess!!!

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