Sunday, September 28, 2008


A regular customer of a prescription-eyeglasses chain, one that examines patients and readies their glasses within a few hours, is perplexed.

During the past two years he has purchased more than 10 pairs of prescription glasses and sunglasses from the store. Part of my reader's attraction to this store is that, if you don't like the glasses you've purchased for any reason, you can return them within 30 days for a full refund, no questions asked.

The frames by the particular designer whom he favors are on the expensive side, costing $600 to $700 per set. After keeping his most recent pair of frames for two weeks, he decided that they simply weren't right for him. He arranged to return them, in order to purchase a new pair that suited him better.

When he was ordering the new frames, however, he asked the clerk if the store wanted his old pair back. He was told no, that he should keep them until his new pair was ready.

Curious, he asked what the store would do with the old pair: "Did they donate them to people who needed them? Were they sold to employees at a reduced price? Did they receive credit from the manufacturer?"

The answer to each of these questions: no.

According to the clerk, the store staff "stepped on them."

They destroyed the glasses by crushing them, in other words. Having learned this, when my reader returned to pick up his new glasses, he did not offer to give back his old pair, and the clerk never asked for them. He left the store with both pairs, and gave the ones he didn't care for to a needy person.

"I just could not stand the thought of a perfectly good pair of glasses being crushed for no good reason," he writes. "Did I do the wrong thing?"

Yes, he did.

Not requiring people to return their old glasses when getting a refund would allow unscrupulous customers to take advantage of the policy to keep both pairs, essentially misrepresenting themselves to get something for nothing. It's only fair for the store to ask customers to leave the old pair with the store, even if it doesn't send them to the manufacturer for a credit.

My reader's instinctive distaste for the idea of the wasteful destruction of glasses that could help someone else is praiseworthy. It's not an excuse, however, for him to keep something that doesn't belong to him, however well-intentioned he may be and however little it may ultimately benefit him. The store has a right to set its policies as it sees fit, and his initial agreement obligated him to respect those policies.

The right thing is for the store itself to establish a process by which returned glasses are recycled, resold or donated to those in need, and there's nothing wrong with him speaking to the store management to encourage such a process. If the management is reluctant to do so, for whatever reason, he might then ask if it's all right for him to keep his old pair and dispose of them in an appropriate way. If it's OK with the store, then there's nothing wrong with it.

It is admirable that my reader tried to do something right, but he didn't go about it in the right way. The fact that he didn't feel comfortable telling the clerk what he planned to do with the glasses is the tip-off that his plan, though well-intentioned, wasn't the right thing.

c.2008 The New York Times Syndicate (Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate)

1 comment:

Bill Jacobson said...

While well intentioned, this customer is guilty of embezzlement. There is no rationale by which you can justify taking someone else's property and converting it to your own (albeit benevolent) ends. You may not like the use to which another uses his property but you have no right to take this Robin Hood approach.

Did you not consider that there may well be other consequences of your actions? The company and employee entrusted you with their property (your traded-in frames) to minimize your inconvenience and you repaid their generosity by converting the entrusted property to your own use. The company may well need to account for the incoming frames and hold the employee responsible for any shortfall. At minimum if the company fails to get entrusted frames returned they may well change the policy and require return of the old frames when the new order is placed, inconveniencing future customers. Actions like yours are why companies enact self-protecting (but seemingly bizarre and customer unfriendly) policies.

How can you claim you are working for the greater good when you can't properly account for the harm you've inflicted? Where was the harm in simply asking if you could donate them?!?

William Jacobson
Cypress, CA
Orange County Register (and