Customers’ expectations are set in more than just the fine print.
I had a failed attempt at returning a product to IKEA recently that highlighted how customer expectations are set in multiple places and venues.
We purchased a laptop workstation at IKEA, put it together, and realized that it wasn’t going to work for us. When I tried to return the product, I was told that I couldn’t return it since it was built.
So I offered to take it apart. Would they accept it then? No.
I offered to put it back in its original packaging. Would they accept it? No.
Every thing I tried to do to comply with the wording on the receipt was denied.
At every step, the employee gave me a reason that wouldn’t work. Reasons which seemed to run counter to what the wording on the receipt told me or didn’t mention in the first place.
It was impossible to return my item. I left a very unhappy customer.
My wife and I have literally spent thousands of dollars furnishing our home with IKEA products. Unfortunately, this incident tarnished my impression of IKEA and directly impacted my likelihood to buy from them again.
This reminds me of what Andrew Lock says on his video podcast: “Marketing is everything and everything is marketing.”
IKEA was relying on me to read and interpret the fine print on the receipt to match their definitions of words like “unused” and “built”.
Unfortunately, they had three failures that lead to confusion. You would be wise to make sure you aren’t setting false expectations with your customers.
Mistake #1. Appear to Accept Returns
There is a large area near the checkout registers where IKEA sells as-is products. This gives the impression that they are reselling products that people have assembled and returned.
Lesson: Does your store, website, or other public-facing materials give the impression that you allow certain things that in fact, you do not?
If so, make some changes. Be consistent across the board.
Mistake #2. Appear to Welcome Returns
IKEA has big posters showing a heart with open arms extending out of its sides that says “It’s OK to change your mind.” Unfortunately, it isn’t really OK to change your mind once you get your product assembled and can actually see it isn’t what you hoped it would be.
Lesson: Broad statements with emotion-invoking imagery doesn’t compel people to read the fine print and get the real story.
Mistake #3. Conflicting Copywriting
IKEA receipts are printed on stationary paper that includes the company’s return policy. This doesn’t match the bold black letters that are on the front of the receipt printed at the register. Which one should I believe? Inconsistent information confuses customers.
Lesson: Does your company have different messages in different places? Your receipts, website, signage, emails, and all other forms of communication should be consistent in their wording and message.
IKEA gives the impression that returns are welcomed and that you can have a worry-free purchase. “Don’t worry,” they say. “It’s OK to change your mind.” Unfortunately, they fail in comunicating the reality of what they are willing to do.
I asked the employee at the returns counter: “Surely I can’t be the only customer with this problem?” She responded: “We have to turn away a lot of people for the same reason.”
This screams of a failure in the process. With so many failed returns being attempted, surely IKEA could do a better job of setting expectations up front.
Lesson: If you are seeing lots of frustrated customers post-sale, something must not be right on the front-end. Take a look at your communications, processes, and products. What is causing the failure downstream? Identify it and fix it.