Returning things in Chile

Sub-title: why sometimes, even after 5+ years of expat life where you really are actually quite happy with how things have shaped up, a system other than the one in which you grew up can still make you want to poke your eyeballs out. I never said it was a snappy sub-title.

day 276: whence the headache

Via cuttlefish

I’ve read – and made – plenty of complaints about customer service in Chile in my day (although I’ve also sung praises when appropriate). Sometimes it seems like the customer is more like an inconvenience than, say, the entire reason someone’s business and source of income continues to exist.

That said, learning to work the system goes a long way. Things like double checking and anticipating disaster and basically being completely certain that even the smallest of purchases is going to go horribly wrong aren’t so much paranoid as proactive.

Which is why I did all of those things this weekend when I bought spray paint. There were two purple colors. Based on the caps, I wanted morado. But then there was a little piece of wood they’d sprayed with the various colors to give customers a more realistic idea. Based on the sample, I wanted violeta. It seemed as though maybe the morado and violeta labels on the trusty sample had been switched. So, I asked. And was assured that no, the sample is right, that’s why we make the sample, because the caps aren’t always true to life.

That's a whole lot of cans

Via Ben Husmann

You see where this is going.

Back at home, newspaper down, painting clothes on, can shaken FOR-FREAKING-EVER, I tested out my violeta. And, surprise, surprise, it was not the color I wanted. Insert profanity here.

There was nothing for it but to go back to HomeCenter and exchange violeta for morado. In the US, this would have been a case of walking into the store, grabbing the correct can and taking it to any cash register to exchange it with the incorrect can. Here? Epic quest involving a stop by customer service, a visit back to the paint department (totally unhelpful, the guy basically said “oh. yeah. you should look at the color on the cap.”) and, eventually, a trip to the depths of the parking lot where a sweltering, small room houses post-sales.

The next train is at...

Via State Records NSW

Unfortunately I was not the only person with a post-sale issue that day. So there I stood, number in hand, sweating, waiting for my turn. When it finally came, the woman was totally uninterested in the fact that I’d had to return to the mall – 20 minutes each way – pay to park again, trek around the store to be sent to the right place and then wait in the hell known as post-venta for 15 minutes. I wasn’t expecting a discount, but an “oh, I’m so sorry about that” wouldn’t have gone amiss.

The best – and by best of course I mean worst – part was that this did not all end with someone bringing me a can of morado in exchange for my violeta. No no. Instead, I was handed a credit note and told to go back into the store, back to the paint department to grab my own can and back to a cash register to make the trade. The post-sales lady seemed confused as to why I did not jump for joy over being to that I could go to any cash register, any one at all!

Is it the end of the world? No, of course not. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor inconvenience. I’m not sitting here plotting my move back to the US because returns can be difficult. It’s just one of those little cultural differences where as I’m standing in post-venta hell praying for my number to be called, I salvage the situation by thinking “well, at least it’ll make a good blog post.”

And oh my god, people of the internet, I’m talking in generalizations here. Some Chileans do everything perfectly, some Americans do it all wrong, let’s move on. Don’t tell me you haven’t ever hated your life while waiting to return something because I know that would be a lie, even if you’re the biggest patriot Chile’s ever seen.

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36 Responses to “Returning things in Chile”

  1. Meg says:

    I live in Santiago and my Chilean boyfriend can’t even understand when I tell him how easy it is to return something in the US. He works in retail and told me that here in Chile the customer doesn’t even have the right to return something just because they change their mind, and the idea of getting a credit back on your credit card is incomprehensible. I think I blew his mind when I told him that I once returned something to Nordstroms 6 months after the fact, with no receipt, and they let me choose to get the money back whatever way I wanted. Every time I think I want to buy something here I feel like I have to be 100% sure that I want it because I don’t want to deal with the hassle of making a return.

    • Emily says:

      Rodolfo’s mind was blown the first time we returned something in the US – it took literally 5 minutes and was so easy!

      I do feel like it’s gotten easier to return things here “just because” – I returned a pair of jeans the other day and aside from having to wait in line, it was pretty painless. And I actually saw a commercial a few weeks ago from Sernac telling people about their rights as consumers to return things if there’s a problem, so hopefully we’re headed in the right direction.

  2. Kyle says:

    I am not the biggest patriot Chile’s ever seen, pretty sure that’s obvious. I HATE trying to return things. Sometimes it’s to the point where I’d honestly rather just lose the money than go to post-venta hell.

    • Emily says:

      I’m too stubborn for that. I definitely have other battles where I just think “whatever, it’s not worth it,” but when it comes to returns, I want my damn money back!

  3. Cata says:

    Returning things in south america sucks! probably anywhere outside the US!! this is the only place where the customer is ALWAYS right!! sometimes I forget how bad it is everywhere else! It really makes me appreciate the system here more… not everything in perfect in the US but that part is pretty good. I’ve had so many fights in COL because of defective items and they will tell me I MADE THE DAMAGE on purpose!!! I get so mad that I don’t even want to get started!! haha at least you got the right color now

  4. Abby says:

    I have been in that post-venta hell at Homecenter. Awful!!

    • Emily says:

      I actually felt really bad for the people who work there. It was hot, the air quality can’t be great, and obviously there are no windows. At least I didn’t have to spend my entire day there!

  5. Sydney says:

    And so the obvious next question is….what were you painting? And, I’m with Kyle on this one. I think I would have just purchased a second can! You get points for patience. Seriously.

    • Emily says:

      Just a shelf I want to hang in the living room. That’s about as far as my DIY skills go, and even for that I’m crossing my fingers that it turns out ok.

  6. Sue says:

    I am green with envy! You know how much I LOVE the look of those paint spray cans – I almost drooled at the sight :)
    B&Q and Ikea returns can be frustrating but that sounds horrendous.

    • Emily says:

      Haha, well don’t be too jealous – I’m sure you could get some spray paint of your own and have a much easier time returning it if it turns out to be the wrong color!

  7. Marmo says:

    Lamentablemente, nuestra cultura local haría fracasar un sistema de cambios fáciles en post-venta; rápidamente varios se organizarían para conseguir productos defectuosos y/o usados para ir a cambiarlos a las tiendas cada cierto tiempo, otros harían un vicio el comprar algo para luego ir a cambiarlo por otra cosa, luego otra, luego otra y luego otra, ad infinitum, hasta que les dijeran “basta”.
    Por eso acá se pide la boleta de compra, o el cupón de cambio, pues lamentablemente, se celebra que alguien logre engañar a las grandes empresas, y se justifica (equivocadamente, en mi opinión) que alguien le saque maliciosamente provecho a algún descuido en cualquier sistema. De ahí el motivo que todo tenga boleta, todo tenga un comprobante, y no se facilite para nada ni siquiera la posibilidad que alguien engañe al sistema de alguna forma.
    También lamentablemente, esto es una espada de doble filo; las empresas como supermercados o multitiendas tienen incluso considerado un margen de pérdida por fraudes, robos o mala intención por parte de los usuarios, sobre todo en supermercados, donde (provocándome mucha rabia) hay que ver siempre envases de yogurth o chocolate a medio comer, abiertos, y obviamente sin que nadie pague por ello.
    Finalmente, y disculpa por extenderme tanto, creo que hay muchas cosas que mejorar en el servicio al cliente en general, no sólo en post-venta, si no desde la atención al entrar a cualquier tienda en adelante; necesitamos desarrollar mejor nuestra cultura de servicio al consumidor, si se supone que es una de las orientaciones económicas principales del país.

    • Emily says:

      Marmo, como siempre explicas todo lo que está detrás de un comportamiento/sistema con las palabras perfectas! Estoy 100% de acuerdo que un cambio en las políticas de cambios tiene que ir de la mano con un cambio societal. Obviamente en todos los países existen los que quieren aprovechar de los beneficios, pero lamentablemente como dices tú, en Chile serían demasiados los que intentarían hacerlo.

      No tengo problema con que el cambio sea siempre con boleta, pero sería una ayuda enorme poder hacer los cambios en cualquier caja en vez de tener que ir a un rincón escondido para esperar en una fila interminable!

  8. Since I’m not a Chilean expat, I don’t think I can really comment on how frustrating it must be, though having spent so much time in Argentina and after a couple of incredibly frustrating return experiences, I can only imagine what you have to go through. Anyway, what I’m REALLY curious about is what the heck are you spray painting purple???

    • Emily says:

      You can be an honorary Argentina expat and share the frustration.

      I’m painting a shelf! I randomly decided that the dining part of the living/dining room needs floating shelves, and they need to be purple. The shorter one’s done, and I think I’m going to return the other one (oh god, more returns!) and get another of the same size, but I need Rodolfo to hold them up to the wall for the final decision since it’s hard to hold them myself and also stand back to look.

  9. Andrea says:

    Customer service in Australia can be pretty shocking more often than not. I’ve probably got 50 good stories. Only the fact that I was there for John kept me from plotting my return to the US on so many occasions. Sigh.

    • Emily says:

      I’ve heard stories of internet and the service (or lack thereof) associated with it, so I’m not shocked to hear that it’s not much better in other industries.

  10. Carine says:

    In Canada, it is like in the USA…show your receipt to the Customer Service person and get your refund in less than 5 minutes. It must be really frustrating trying to deal with so many people just to exchange the product. Ah, things we take for granted :)

    • Emily says:

      You’re so right – you don’t appreciate what you’ve got til it’s gone! I have definitely learned to be thankful for the ease of returning things in the US now.

  11. Marmo says:

    ¿Has pensado qué echarías de menos si dejaras Chile?

    • Emily says:

      Sí, pero basándome en mi experiencia viviendo fuera de EEUU, creo que es difícil saberlo antes de estar en esa situación. Por ejemplo, te puedo decir cosas un poco obvias y hasta fome como el sistema de impuestos (mil veces más fácil aquí!), los viajes en bus (viajar en bus en EEUU es medio flaite), el paisaje, los saludos con beso (ya me acostumbré, es raro saludar con un “hola” general no más), etc. Pero sé que lo que realmente me va a dar pena van a ser las cosas que voy descubriendo de a poco cuando me doy cuenta que me hacen falta en otro lugar, sin necesariamente haber sentido que eran tan importante mientras formaban parte de mi vida cotidiana.

  12. Madeline says:

    It is all buyer beware in Chile. In a lot of things. If you buy the wrong thing – your fault.
    If you have your purse stolen – your fault
    If you are tricked- um… your fault.
    My husband was freaked out at first in Canada that women turn their backs to purses in shopping carts while in the grocery store. You wouldn’t do it in Chile. Although i love some things about Chile, it can make you paranoid. Exhausting?? I think so

    • Emily says:

      I think a lot of big cities are the same in terms of the purse/personal safety stuff. I know for me moving to Santiago was a big change because I come from a smaller town in the US, but I’m pretty sure that I would have gone through some of the same things if I’d moved to New York City.

  13. Virginia says:

    Hahahhahahah Emily! Your story is a familiar one. I cant tell you the amount of times I bought stuff in Homecenter and then had to go through the painful process of taking it back! I tell you, there was once a time where they #@!*d me off so much that I stormed out the shop and was ready to buy my plane ticket back to the UK!! On a brighter note, now that we are actually back in the UK, I secretly miss all that!! The grass is always greener as they say. Hope you are well. Gini.x

    • Emily says:

      No, I don’t believe that you miss this! I’ll buy that you miss other things, but not this. I think absence is making your heart grow a little too fond :)

  14. Abby says:

    That might have done me in! Everything in CR was difficult. I remember one time I about exploded from the inside over trying to get my water turned back on… I’m with Kyle on this one. I think I would’ve just purchased the other color and not jumped through all those hoops! I’m so lazy!

    • Emily says:

      I’m pretty lazy, but I’m more stubborn than I am lazy. You’re going to laugh, but I just went back to buy another can of paint for the next shelf, and only upon getting home and opening the other shelf did I see that it has a corner bashed in. Back to the returns department I go! (Although the shelf is like $25, so that’s more worth it than the $4 spray paint)

  15. “well, at least it’ll make a good blog post” gets me through many trying situations in Latin America :-)

  16. ahhh… I guess I will miss US business practices while abroad! Gee.

    – Maria Alexandra

    • Emily in Chile says:

      I think you will in many ways! Of course lots of countries have things that they do best, but the US does tend to be a winner for customer service.

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