Saturday, October 12, 2013

The solemn ritual

Delhi airport.  Boarding will be announced,for my flight,  in ten minutes. I am at a showroom, a 10-minute walk away from my boarding gate. I like one of the shirts there but I don’t have time to try it on. “Don’t worry, sir”, says the helpful, smiling  salesman. “Any problem, you can exchange it easily in any of our showrooms in India. No questions asked”. Reassured, I pay for the shirt and rush to the gate.

Delhi airport again after two weeks. Back at the same showroom.   I want to return the shirt and take one of a larger size.  Bespectacled salesman turns stern. “What’s the problem with the shirt?” he asks. “No problem, but I want to return it and take another one”, I reply. “But there must be a reason”, he says.  “There’s no reason. I just feel like exchanging”, I tell him.

Nodding his head disapprovingly, he pulls out a thick book. Turns the pages one by one.  Inserts carbon paper between the pages.  (I can’t recall when I’ve seen carbon paper last).  Places the book in front of me and says, “Please write full name, address, contact number, reason for return of material”.  “And why should I do it?” I ask.  “Because we have to follow this procedure whenever a customer wants to return some material” he explains. “That may be your procedure. Why should I follow it?  I can’t believe that you have such red-tapism?” I tick him off.  “The procedure is same in all our showrooms in the country”, he tells me, adjusting his spectacles to look sterner.

I give up. I fill up the form with imaginary name, address and phone number. Against reason for return I write, “Because I want to”.  Seeing a lot of blue ink on the page, salesman is satisfied.  Grudgingly allows me to pick up another shirt.

As a salesman myself, I can understand the intent behind the whole drama.

When a sale is about to be made,  the indecisive or cat-on-the-wall customer needs assurance that, if he later realises that he’s made a mistake in selection, he will be able to exchange the item for another one, without too much of a hassle.  A good salesman provides him this comfort and closes the deal.

However, when you come back to exchange the item, the shop doesn’t like it at all. But it can’t turn you away.  Nor does it want you to go away with an impression that it’s a simple exercise. Yes, they are doing you a big favour and should collect some brownie points from you. So, they introduce an elaborate procedure. Ask you to fill up forms in triplicate, with carbon paper between the pages. With a stern-looking salesman watching you perform the solemn ritual.