* Sports Authority Sucks

Your brand is your brand.

My dad bought me a nice Red Sox jacket from Sports Authority for my birthday. (Thanks, Dad!) He bought the right size, but the jacket runs large (actually, “runs huge” would be a better description) and did not fit.

Since sizing was clearly an issue with this jacket, it made sense for me to go to the store to exchange it. I planned to try on a replacement jacket and return home happy. So, after lunch today, I drove to the nearest store, which was inconveniently located 25 minutes away in Marlboro.

Bad news. Not only does the Sports Authority in Marlboro not carry this particular jacket, they also do not accept returns in store for items purchased online.


In 2012, it is reasonable to assume that if a customer buys a product from BRAND-X, then the customer can return the product to BRAND-X, online or in person. I have returned items to brick-and-mortar stores that were purchased online from L.L.Bean, Sears, and even KMart.

What was I supposed to do? Mail the product back to Kentucky, have it credited back to my dad’s credit card, buy the replacement coat from the store in Marlboro, and send my dad the bill? Is this the “user experience” that Sports Authority envisioned?

I asked to speak to a manager, and the person I was speaking with told me that she was the manager. I explained that “Sports Authority is Sports Authority” and that their policy was a bad one. Heck, they could have mailed the box back themselves, given me a store credit, and let me get a replacement coat. We’d all be even, and my dad wouldn’t have to do anything. But no. The manager offered no solutions, only excuses.

I left my box at the customer service desk and briefly walked around the Red Sox section looking for a replacement jacket. Then the easy solution dawned on me: Return the jacket to Kentucky, buy a new jacket elsewhere, and never shop at Sports Authority again! Yes, that’s satisfying.

This is a not a new problem. My law school classmate Jill Smith blogged about this exact same issue three years ago when she tried (and failed) to return a $1.75 spool of thread, which she had purchased online from Jo-Ann Fabric, to her local Jo-Ann store:

Let me explain something as clearly as I can to the people who make decisions that create these kinds of conversations:

Your brand is your brand.

If you want to benefit from a brand name that has customer loyalty attached to it, you have to be prepared for your customers to view that brand as a whole entity – online and off. Your customers neither know nor care about your corporate structure. Beyond that, when a customer is faced with an employee (your corporate spokesperson, like it or not) explaining that their broken item must be mailed back to the online entity for the approximate replacement cost of the item itself, it makes your customers… unhappy. And that unhappy experience creates a very strong impression. Call it a brand association.

As a result, I now associate the entire Jo-Ann Fabric brand with dingy, disorganized stores, unhelpful employees in dirty uniforms, and a corporate policy that is a paragon of customer-unfriendly ‘gotcha’ rules.

Congratulations, Jo-Ann Fabric branding team. That’s a clear picture of a store I won’t shop at again.

This issue of proper sizing for online stores is also not new. Last month, Amazon.com bragged about hiring three women to do nothing but try on size 8 shoes for its online reviews. Seriously, it took Amazon until 2012 to do this? Heels.com, the online shoe store for women that I co-founded, has been doing this since it was founded in 2007.

Returns are part of retail. Just like credit cards. In fact, when I purchase any product or service, I expect to be able to pay with check, credit card, or PayPal. It’s for these reasons that my law firm, Clock Tower Law Group, accepts these three forms of payment.

It just makes sense.

You know what does not make sense? Not being able to return something at Sports Authority that was purchased at Sports Authority.

Your brand is your brand.

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Erik J. Heels is an MIT engineer; trademark, domain name, and patent lawyer; Red Sox fan; and music lover. He blogs about technology, law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll at erikjheels.com.

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