Is The Customer Always Right?

Some weeks ago, Bloomingdales announced that they were taking a hard line on the return of their clothing. Because some folk tend to wear the clothes and then return for a refund, the store has decided to attach a device to the garments that would preclude that possibility. Any returned merchandise must have the device intact and attached. The measure should curb an $ 8.8 billion fraud bill! This is a sad commentary on the moral standards of a section of our society.

To make matters worse, the wrong doing is not restricted to clothing. Plant nurseries are confronted with a similar dilemma. People return plants for a variety of reasons. The plants are kept for some days and then brought back because “they are not looking good”/ “ I changed my mind”/ “my spouse does not like these”/ “ I found a color I liked better at another place” and so on. How the plants were cared for in the interim is uncertain. Were they watered, given sun/shade, kept healthy, are factors not determined. Flowering plants have on occasion, been used for an outdoor event and then returned because “it didn’t work out”. This last one is exactly the same as the Bloomingdales problem. To use plants to “stage” a property for a showing and then return them is not unheard of.

People come a year after purchasing a plant wanting their money back because the item did not survive the winter. No mention of the possibility that perhaps they themselves could have done something wrong. Wrong plant for the site. Wrong conditions. And some times sheer bad luck from a nasty winter which knocked off plants all over the region.

There is of course, the possibility that the plant purchased might have been sick or diseased. But for the most part, that would have been made visible quite early. On the chance that this was not the case, the nursery would have eventually been notified by other buyers or the growers themselves when the problem surfaced. In which case, refunds would be appropriate. However, this is not the usual situation. Most times, people want to blame the nursery for all horticultural failures.

Some nurseries offer a limited warranty. It probably helps in customer relations. But what is the responsibility of the buyer? Do we not have to act in good faith? How do we dare demand good service, excellent quality and fair prices if we don’t do our part in adhering to the honor system?

Plants are living creatures and by that very nature, there are simply too many variables in play. Reputable nurseries do their best to offer the best. The customer then must do his/her best as well. Do the research, choose wisely, plant correctly, care for the plants diligently. Don’t abuse the system. If the plant was mislabeled or the flowers turn out to be a far cry from the desired color, then by all means ask for a replacement but lets not make others pay for one’s own mistakes or failings.

I know of no nursery tycoon. This is not the business that generates wealth. Nurserymen take on this work because they love it. Typically, nurseries also provide knowledgeable staff from whom one can learn a great deal. When a customer demands their money back and succeeds, it is mostly because the nursery has little choice. They cannot prove where the fault lies and so they swallow the cost. Returned plants are hardly ever in a state of robust health – hence the resale of such items is low.
The Bloomingdales black tag cannot be used here. Instead, everybody will have to pay the price for the bad behavior of a small population.The cumulative effect of such a practice is far reaching.It hurts the growers, the nurseries, the customers. Prices will go up, selections will be smaller and less varied, and in the long term, there will be fewer people dedicated to the promotion of quality, interesting plants.

On my part, I’m fully aware of how often I have made mistakes by making wrong purchases or stubbornly planting in inappropriate places or delaying the planting for too long. Worse, I’m guilty of neglecting to give the required care. I take full ownership and there is no blame to pass on. On the occasion, when an order of bulbs bloomed to exhibit the color or type that had not been selected, the supplier has graciously given a refund or credit. The same for plants that were incorrectly advertised. In general though, the fault is mine. I do recall that once, although a batch of tulips was the wrong color, it actually looked spectacular. When visitors congratulated me for my keen selection, I took full credit.

Recently, at my local nursery, I heard a neighbor demand a refund for a shrub that had died. It had cost about $ 20.00, was purchased a year ago which included a harsh winter and a summer with little rain, been moved three times in the garden and had some construction work done very close to it. Really? Is this what we have come to? I’m still cringing.

A batch of freshly delivered bulbs

A batch of freshly delivered bulbs


New purchases await

New purchases await


At the nursery

At the nursery


(c) 2013 Shobha Vanchiswar

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2 thoughts on “Is The Customer Always Right?

  1. Wow. People return plants after using them for events? I’d heard about the clothing thing but that’s the lowest of the low. Unfortunately there are people who view plants the same way that they view dresses and coats – all commodities. Hard to fathom for the plant lover.

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