Customer Service and The Music Industry: Don't Be Bullied

AR-cash2a.jpgThe other day, I had an experience at a major brick and mortar type music retailer here in San Francisco that left me unsure whether to ask for upper management, call security or leap over the counter to give the poor soul a big hug to let him know that everything was all going to be OK.

Clearly, however, my return of a new LP by one of the biggest selling artists of our times triggered a very strong emotional response with this store employee.

It left me perplexed wondering if his response was a reaction to:
-- pressure from upper management to reduce the number of returns
-- disappointment with his life that at 30-40 something he is but a clerk at a music store
-- my graying beard, representative of some upper crust old fart whom he felt hadn't a clue
-- disbelief in the vinyl renaissance as a pure hipster marketing play/ploy
-- lack of medications

In all likelihood, it was some combination of all of those possibilities.

Just try to imagine my surprise, however, at his response when I returned the album less than 24 hours after purchase and only asked for an exchange for the same album. My copy came scratched and had a lot of dirt in the grooves in two areas on either side of the disc. Thus the poor sod of a sales clerk, seeing what he was dealing with, began to rant fairly loudly to/at me about:

-- How the store has to eat all the returns because the music industry changed its policies with the CD back in the 80s and thus they are getting screwed by sloppily manufactured of LPs.

-- That CDs were great and how he can't understand why some people find them less than satisfying ... I believe he said something to the tune of 'oooh, CDs aren't good enough for you now, are they..." said with all the sarcasm of prime SNL period Bill Murray and referring not to me in particular but to an imagined disgruntled buying public.

-- That audiophiles are too picky, and that the scratch and dirt I saw on the album were nothing significant and that I should somehow be satisfied with it. He considered a scratch something he could feel with his finger. This was an album-wide surface scuff. Um. Hello! For $25 plus tax, I expect my NEW LP to be pristine. If it was a $2 bargain bin used copy, perhaps I'd be more forgiving. At that point he literally challenged me, insinuating that I was responsible for the scratch and the dirt. He used the word "challenge" as to whether the replacement copy would have similar dirt and scratches.

-- When opening the potential replacement copy, he began to go off on he stupidity of the extra security procedures stores now add to the albums -- heavy extra thick clear tape on the edges, apparently making it difficult to slit open the album to steal the free download card (I had no idea this sort of thing was happening). Of course, our beleaguered working class hero blathered on about it in a most loud and animated fashion, saying essentially to the imaginary buying public (not me) "jeez, don't you know how to find free illegal downloads by now like the rest of the world?"

He was having trouble slicing open my potential replacement album. I'm not making this up folks.

And he was mad that I was right. The replacement album, while not having the surface scratch, actually had more embedded dirt in the grooves than my original copy.

AR-powerfist.jpgNow, I began to realize through all this that a part of this clerk's antics was perhaps no more than a tactic to try and get me to back down and keep the bad LP.

And thus I am writing this editorial for you, Dear Readers, as a reminder that you have rights as a consumer and that you shouldn't be bullied by a wayward retailer or crazed employee.

Now, fortunately, in all my years of shopping at music stores, this is only my second instance of coming head to head with an utter asshat like this.

The earlier one ran a store in my hometown and I later heard through the grapevine that he was busted for selling dope or something from the back of his store.

Karma is a bitch, dude.

Don't be afraid to return stuff you buy online too. Check your online retailer's return policies before purchasing items. I have had to return albums purchased via and eBay (including some used items which were not up to snuff). Usually the sellers are pretty amiable to help you out as they want to get a favorable rating or at least NOT get an unfavorable rating posted. Just recently one seller of an autographed B-52s LP replaced the very warped LP for me, no questions asked; I'd remembered seeing that he had several of the autographed promo LPs so I didn't hesitate to ask for the replacement (which was much much better sounding and not warped).

What should you do if confronted by a similar situation as I endured? Well, I'm not a lawyer but I know that we have rights as consumers and some sort of standards as audiophiles. There are certain expectations we have when buying products like "new" albums and if they aren't meeting our standards, the best way to let the stores and manufacturers know about it is to return the disc until you get satisfaction! Its like with anything, money talks and in many instances it is the only way some companies will listen.

AR-Lennon.jpgNo one should be telling us that it is acceptable to purchase an album sold as new yet which has significant visible scratching and other damage to the disc. It is up to people like you and I to establish standards for acceptance, not the other way around. Its not easy, but its important to stand your ground!

So there you have it. Power to the people! The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Pick your favorite consumerist slogan and just remember that you have powers you should not be afraid to exercise.

End of my rant.

Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine,, Sound+Vision Magazine and He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written:

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