Most Americans know what Costco is, but have probably never heard of Italy’s Coop. The Coop is a national chain of member-owned grocery stores. There are three varieties: InCoop, which is the small version; the normal size Coop, which is what we have in Orvieto; and the gigantic IperCoop, which is much more like a Walmart than a simple grocery store. In fact, the IperCoop is big enough to sell motorcycle helmets – something we needed when Alan came home with his prized Vespa.
After trying on helmets in all the local cycle shops, he happened to be in an IperCoop in a nearby town, tried on their “store brand” and much to his surprise, felt it was by far the most comfortable. He called to ask if I wanted him to pick up one for me and I sarcastically said: “Only if we can return it”. Returning things in Italy is a totally foreign concept. You can imagine how shocked I was when Alan came home with my helmet, saying they had assured him that OF COURSE it was possible to return it – within 2 weeks. Not exactly Costco’s one year policy, but it was by far the most lenient we’d seen in Italy. In fact, it was the ONLY one we had seen in Italy.
As it turned out, while my helmet was perfect, Alan’s wasn’t because it didn’t protect his ears from the wind noise when he was going over 35 mph. And that’s how we got to experience another Italian Adventure: Returning A Purchase.
It seemed like the process was going to be just like the US when we went to the return desk at the store where Alan bought the helmet and handed in our receipt.
However, the woman behind the counter then took out SEVERAL page-long forms, each one needing to be filled out manually and signed. Alan had to turn over his Italian identification papers so she could copy, by hand, every single piece of information on each of her several forms. He then had to sign all of them, after which she returned one of the copies to serve as his store credit. There’s no such thing as a cash or credit card refund. Time expired: 15 minutes.
Since we had only two months to use the credit before it would vanish and we weren’t sure when we’d be back in that town, we scurried around the store, picking up two of things we’d normally buy one at a time – just to use up the credit. Time expired: 35 minutes.
While this particular IperCoop had 25 checkout counters, we Store Credit People were only allowed to use five of them: numbers 5, 6, 11, 15 and 22. I panicked a bit when 5, 6, 11 and 15 were closed, but we finally found #22 open. We gave Ms Cashier our paperwork, figuring that since she was in one of these “special” aisles, she would know exactly what to do with our credit. However, she had obviously skipped that part of her training since it had never occurred to her that there would ever be the possibility that someday someone might return something. So she had to stop the checkout process for 15 minutes while she called a higher authority to make sure this wasn’t some kind of underhanded plot. Of course, the only person who could approve a transaction of this sort wasn’t available at that particular moment, meaning all of us in line had to wait until he/she returned. In the end we found that we’d overbought and had to shell out 3 euros, which Ms Cashier took, but you could just tell she wasn’t happy about our walking away with bags full of things she was pretty sure we didn’t need, while she was left with only a few coins. Time expired: 20 minutes.
Total Time Expired: over an hour.
Now let’s review the Costco process. Go to the store within a year of your purchase, give the unwanted item to the person behind the Return Counter, leave 20 seconds later with a credit card refund.
Hmmmm…..I’m just not sure that would EVER fly in Italy.