Manager Defends Retail Renting As Valuable Sales Tool

A former camera store manager came forward to defend retail renting as a common tactic that helps drive sales. Retail renting is when a customer buys a pricey item like a prom dress with the intention of returning it later. Our completely unscientific poll shows that 70% of you disapprove of retail renting, but our tipster insists that it is a victimless crime and a valuable sales tool. Our enlightening chat with the former manager, inside.

(What appears below was formatted from an IM conversation)

I saw just about any kind of retail renting you can think of. The biggest thing that I wanted to convey is that we, in the business, all did it. Managers, employee’s and even the district managers got in the action too.

Sometimes, it was legitimate product testing. I never liked telling a mom that this camera would take great pictures of her children until I tried it out on my own. Other times, I “tested” the portable DVD player for a week while on vacation. But the rule was always that you paid for the item and then returned it when you were done with it. Nothing under the table.

Customers did it to. The occasional rental didn’t really bother me all that much. What I found was that customers would on occasion buy a camera from me later on once they learned how lax we were about returns.

In fact, last week I “rented” a $1900 lens from [the store.] Now, normally I actually “rent” lenses from a company that’s equipped to do so. However, I needed the lens the next day and [the store] was my only option. As far as I’m concerned, its a victimless crime.

The lens had already been opened and used by someone else. My thought was that if I beat up or damage the lens, I own it. If not, I return it and nobody loses anything. I know that for a fact as a former manager. The only time it would bother me would be when somebody got to return something well beyond the time limit. I sold a digital camera to a woman once who obviously had used her camera on her vacation. However, she had gone almost 15 days over the 10 day return window. Corporate allowed her to return the camera and I had a huge chunk of my check taken away. Had it been during the same window as when I received the comission, I wouldn’t have minded so much.

I think that people need to understand that its really a victimless crime. In the world of cameras, unless the box has a factory seal you have to assume that its been opened and played with at some point. Some stores even go the extra step of breaking all the seals on all the boxes to remove that bias.

We sort of saw the idea of renting as another way to get people into the store to buy something. Even if they didn’t buy a camera, they would on occasion become printing customers. This isn’t something that we encouraged people to do mind you. Its not like you could walk up to me and say, “Hi, I’d like to buy a camera for the weekend and take it back,” and I’d say SURE SIR HERE YOU GO.

What normally happens is the customer would come in and within 5 minutes would make a $500 camera purchase. Before leaving they’d take the camera out and have me spot check it to make sure it wasn’t broken or anything. it was at this point that I realized they were renting. I wished them a nice day and started a pool within the store as to when they’d bring it back.

Some stores would try to “scare” the customer by warning them of return refusal policies or restocking fee’s that don’t exist. My guess is that they were banking on the fact that the customer would be too guilt stricken to question company policy. Some of them were right. But I always found it was hypocritical to stop customers from doing what we ourselves did on a regular basis

My first store manager bought and returned her home printer every month. When she quit, she returned it for good.

I guess what I’m trying to argue is that if its done correctly, its a victimless crime. The insiders do it in much worse fashion anyways. I would argue that if your willing to rent something, you might be willing to buy it (eventually). Allowing you to rent with me increases my chances of a sale. And that’s what I really want.

Do retail renters ever go the extra dishonest mile and try to return damaged equipment?

Oh yes, but that’s why you check out the equipment before you allow the return. That’s where I put my foot down. If I couldn’t sell the camera at full price to the person behind you, we have a problem.

The best is since [the store] has a warranty that covers customer damage, people assumed that if they broke it they could return it and the warranty would cover the repairs. Meaning we’d return their broken camera and fix it under our warranty and somehow not lose money on it.

You needed every plastic cover, every piece of wrapping to bring it back into my store and most of my customers knew that.

These would-be scammers didn’t react well when confronted.

Most of them threw a fit. I would assume because they got caught. But that’s what you get for disregarding how serious I take returns. Some people would rent without regard for the fact that I would still have to sell the product.

Sometimes we’d turn it into a sale. Well, I can’t return this camera but I’ll let you exchange it. Then i’d write “NO RETURN/EXCHANGE” on their receipt and the camera box. But yeah, they’d get pretty pissed. Especially when I found all the little things. I’ve denied returns because that little cover that comes with the batter (that everyone loses right away) was missing. Or a tiny scratch on the bottom of the camera.

My store was very thorough with returns.

So our former manager has no problem with renting. Would she herself rent from another store?

Hmm….
Well, there aren’t many stores where you can these days. I did “rent” a heater from Costco once. I needed to warm my house for a party. I rented a $200 space heater, though I did end up buying a $30 a few weeks later from them. So I don’t think it was a loss. I even repacked the rented heater the exact same way it was.

I suppose renting out of simple need is ok. Habitual renting to me would feel like stealing, and in truth, I did consider keeping the heater.

Does this change your opinion of retail renting? Take to the comments with your moral indignation.

(Photo: *** Fanch The System !!! ***)
PREVIOUSLY: Is Retail Renting Ethical?