Saturday, April 01, 2006


I don't knit, but apparently 36 million other people do.

That's according to Alice Fixx, director of communications for the Gastonia, N.C.-based Craft Yarn Council, which tracks such things. Those 36million people account for roughly $800 million a year in yarn sales from the 3,000 independent yarn stores around the country. It's a boom industry whose growth shows no signs of abating.

One of my readers from Santa Barbara, Calif., is an avid knitter. She buys her yarn from her local craft store, and the store's policy had always been to give refunds on unused skeins of yarn. After a recent change in the store's ownership, however, she was told that yarn could no longer be returned for credit.

"I was buying more yarn," she writes, "so I quietly slipped two new skeins into the bag with the two old skeins, and paid for six instead of eight skeins."

By putting two new skeins in with the bag of yarn she had brought from home, hoping to exchange them, she effectively shoplifted those two skeins.

"This was probably illegal," she writes. "Was it also unethical?"

Again, I'm no knitter, but it doesn't take a knitter to know when someone has dropped an ethical stitch.

In slipping two skeins into her bag and walking out without paying for them, my reader was guilty of shoplifting. There's no "probably" about the legality of it. Good rule of thumb: It's illegal to steal stuff from stores.

But her question about whether it was also unethical raises an intriguing point. If she decided that the new owner's change of policy was unfair to her, since she had purchased the yarn with the understanding that it was returnable, could she justify her actions as setting right what the owner had put amiss? Could hers have been an act of civil disobedience designed to correct the imperious rules thrust upon unwitting knitters by an unexpected change of ownership?

Hardly. Such a justification would also make it OK to slip an extra book into your satchel when you're at the bookstore, since the store has raised its prices and the title you had planned to buy is now more expensive. Why not take matters into your own hands to make up the difference?

Because it's stealing. That's why not.

In the famous Heinz dilemma, posed by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, a husband must decide whether to break into a drugstore to steal a medicine that could save his wife, assuming that he cannot afford the exorbitant price the druggist is charging. With his wife's life at stake, the husband steals the drug.

Heinz's action can be defended on the grounds that the magnitude of saving someone's life justifies even a willingness to break the law if it's the only way to do so. There is no corollary in the knitting world, however. Knitting may be a popular hobby and its devotees may be passionate about it, but there is no moral justification for stealing yarn simply because you're unhappy with a change in the store's policies.

It was reasonable for my reader to ask the store's new owner to honor the returns policy that was in place when she bought the yarn. Once the new owner refused to stray from his new policy, however, the right thing would have been for her to pay for any yarn she took out of the store.

If she doesn't like the store's new policy, the answer is not to steal from the store. Instead she should take her business to any one of the other 2,999 independent yarn stores in the United States that has a policy more to her liking.


yawningdog said...

I have run into changes in return policies more than once. Yes, I know it was on the reciept, but who reads those. Any store that has a change in return policy should be flexible on returns for say the first 3 months, or lose my business. Store owners need to have the clerks say the change in policy, put up signs - if this just applies to the yarn, stick a sign in that section, and honor the previous policy on things bought before the change.

I have to make a whole day trip to do most of my shopping. It is a 2 hour drive over a mountain to the mall. I have had stores allow me to return over the deadlines because they know I just can't drive everyday or anyday. A snow storm will make me cancel a trip and it may be another month before I can get up to Provo, Utah.

I never think twice about an extra purchase at Lowe's, Home Depot, or Costco. They let me return anything, anytime. But Target and Toys-R-Us have 90 day limits. Which seems long until you realize that I have to do most of my kid Christmas shopping in October.

When Target first opened they would let me buy on an old sale with a phoned in raincheck. If you called from my side of the mountain, they would write you a raincheck and hold it until you made it in. I can not get in every week. They stopped this about 6 months after they opened. They lost at least $1,000 from me that year.

I don't think that store owners realize that return policies, rain check policies, and a little flexiblity will make or break customer loyalty.

Anonymous said...

I'm stunned that anyone has to ask this question. Most yarn stores will take back extra yarn within a certain amount of time from purchase date because if you run out of yarn and have to buy more from a different dye lot, chances are it won't match. So most knitters buy more than enough. But this is stealing. What is there to discuss?

Anonymous said...

Stores set the policy for their stores. These are mostly based on their need to make profits. Without profits those stores wouldn't be there. Unfortunately, policies are often made by people who are out of touch with their customers and don't see the bigger picture: Maintaining good long-term customer relationships is good business. Even if they break even on an occassional sale, they make profits in the long-term with returning customers like us.

When policies change or are not friendly to consumers the answer is not to do as we please. In this case shoplifting. (Would have it been shoplifting to stealthfully return the two skeins of yarn and exchange them for two different ones? Yes.)

Instead, we consumers must realize that we collectively have tremendous power to vote with our pocketbooks and to voice our wants and needs. I think it's important to realize that the correct action is not shoplifting but customer action. My message is to take legal action with your pocketbook and your voice. Do this while engaging your friends and you will be surprised how often you'll make a change, remain within the law, and be ethically true to your values...and thereby finding inner peace and harmony with your life.

1. Be sure to tell the manager about your dissatisfaction. Not the store clerk or cashier, ask to see the manager. If you don't tell someone with authority, how are they to know what changes to make? Don't let them guess. Ask your friends to do and say the same thing.

2. If the business is a large corporation, look them up on the Internet and write their customer service department. You'll get a sugar-coated reply that will justify what they're doing. It will hopefully make you angry to read it. Write another unemotional, pleasant letter being specific about the change you are requesting, asking they take your feedback seriously and submit it to upper management, with the threat of taking your business elsewhere. Ask your friends to do the same.

3. Look at the alternatives of taking your business elsewhere. Talk among your friends to determine which store is giving you the most value--prices and service (you probably can't have both), and shop there. If you're choices are limited delay purchases for awhile to make it hurt, at least appear you've gone elsewhere.
I hesitate to say this, but consider finding an Internet source. Small local shops are bound to have higher prices than Internet ones, even considering S&H. If shops' policies aren't providing good service perhaps they deserve to go out of business.
Can't find a better place to shop? Perhaps the store's prices and policies aren't all that unreasonable and you'll find knitting projects with different yarn colors are a new creative fad.

Don't expect immediate changes. And don't expect to always make changes. But please do take legal action instead of illegal action. The Internet has made so much of this easy and gives us consumers a strong voice if we use the tool effectively.


Anonymous said...

Concerning the knitter thief, I have a yarn of my own to spin. We have thieves in our store who have gone beyond the Rubicon of sound reasoning and are so corrupt - they - like our government and police think it is their Constitutional right to steal if their reasoning permits. Next we will find we are killing one another because our reasoning permits it.

These are signs of a corrupt society knit together with phony yarn and ready to shed its old garments and be born anew.

I suggest the knitters of America knit one, pearl two and then read a little Bible, pray and confess their sin. : )

Let us commend people the likes of Don Hull, for their sound reasoning which leads to truth, which leads to freedom.


Marie Kolasinski
Piecemakers Country Store
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

P.S. The yarn store, in question deserved to go defunct as our country also has sown corrupt seed and we will surely reap what we sow.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the theft of the two skeins of yarn was illegal and unethical. At the least, the two old skeins should have been left in the store!