Monday, May 3, 2010

Illegal Return Policies

Part of living abroad in Mexico involves educating oneself of the local laws and legislation that govern our existence in this tiny tropical metropolis. It seems every trip to the lawyer or accountant leaves my brain fried after what seems like hours of more foreign procedures for how to conduct business. In my personal life I am far less aware of the laws of this land, which sometimes can leave me vulnerable. Shopping at the Bodeguita del Medio on 5th Avenue a while back, I was caught in such a susceptible situation.

Allan has been talking for some time about purchasing a shirt from the Bodeguita del Medio, a Cuban bar with store attached where I used to take Latin dancing classes. The shirt is green with a red box on the front with a white star in the middle. The white star comes from the Cuban flag and is meant to symbolize freedom. The shirt is quite popular in Playa, and I think most people wear it to be trendy rather than to tout any communist affiliation.

One evening Allan and I had been shopping together on 5th Avenue in the pricier section, near the Cozumel Ferry. We decided to split up for a while as there were some shops I wanted to go into, while he desired to browse in others. As I passed by the Bodeguita del Medio, I decided to pop inside and purchase the shirt as a gift for Allan. After my purchase I went on my merry shopping way, and a while later met up with Allan who coincidentally has just purchased the same shirt for himself not more than 5 minutes after me.

We immediately returned to the store with receipt in hand with plans to return one shirt and spoke with the same clerk who separately sold us the merchandise. He would not accept a return; only a merchandise exchange would be allowed, even though I had the receipt, original bag, original tags still in place and had just purchased the shirt not even 10 minutes ago. Although I was not familiar with Mexican law I sensed something suspicious. Despite my reasoning with both him and the manager, we were making no progress.

I decided to call a good Mexican friend, Claudia, who is both well connected and well-familiar with the laws of this lovely land. Claudia informed me that the store must accept the return with receipt within 5 days of purchase if the item is not used and still in its original packaging. If they refused to accept the return we could go to PROFECO, or the Mexican version of the consumer protection bureau and file a complaint. When I mentioned this to the manager, he stood firm and stated "I don't care - go ahead and file a complaint. We're not going to return your money".

Frustrated yet highly motivated for justice, I went home as it was late and planned to go to PROFECO the following morning. After a good nights sleep I awoke early and went to PROFECO (located next to Domino's Pizza on Juarez). They were very friendly and concurred that Mexican law states that a consumer has 5 days to return any product that has not been used along with the receipt. So, the lady at PROFECO called the store and "enlightened" them as to Mexican law. Only after the threat of being labeled by PROFECO as a corrupt establishment did they finally agree to allow me to make the return.

I thanked the clerk at PROFECO and practically skipped over to the Bodeguita del Medio (for the last time in my life). After once again arguing with the cashier that, yes, I could return the shirt, he called the accountant from upstairs who tried to encourage me to make a merchandise exchange. When I refused she quickly refunded my money.

The return process was quite simple once they finally caved in. Why did they try to make it so difficult? I understand that the US is much more of a consumer economy so there is a high volume of purchases. The very low number of US returns probably barely makes a dent in their numbers. Whereas in Mexico far less people spend money so any return would have a higher impact. This is vacation land however and many tourists frequent the stores along 5th Avenue and probably spend a lot of money. Perhaps the management of the Bodeguita del Medio is just greedy. After all the cashier conceded he was unaware of the law, but stated that he was just following the "politics" of the store.

Yes, I could have just regifted the $170 peso ($14 USD) shirt instead of making a huge fuss. But yes, they could have given in and gave me the return without the fight, without the bad publicity and without me now never setting foot in that establishment again. It's just the principle that they are so fragrantly breaking Mexican law and don't really care because most of the time they get away with it.

Office Depot has done almost the same thing. I've made a few returns and now they tell me I am no longer allowed to make returns in their store, only exchanges. I'm sure if I went to PROFECO and complained soon they would say I am no longer allowed to purchase in their store.

It's really just ignorance.

We LOVE living down here, have wonderful Mexican employees and friends and most of the time go with the flow.

When I feel like I am flagrantly wronged I just won't stand for it.

Playa del Carmen Condo and Villa Vacation Rentals

The bar part of the Bodeguita del Medio.

The store section.

The green shirt with the star is the one we bought.

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