Shrink-wrapped aggravation, part I

The absence of shrink wrap nearly cost me $30. I didn't realize it at the time, and naturally became upset when I learned about it. Fortunately, though, I believe I will resolve the matter successfully.

My first week of classes of the fall semester at Temple University Beasley School of Law just finished, and I'm still standing. I just started my third year, which normally would be the last. However, because I'm studying in the evenings, I still have one more year to go.

Like most university book stores, the one for the law school allows returns during the drop/add period. Also, the books have to be in the same condition as when they were bought. Before classes began, I had gone to the book store and bought some textbooks I needed. On Thursday (one day prior to the deadline for returns) I went back to the book store to return two books, neither of which I had written in, and both of which were in pristine condition.

The first book, Solove's Information Privacy, posed no problems. However, the second book, Lowenstein's Election Law, caused the clerk to look at his existing inventory of that book. Returning to the front of the store after a few moments, he apologized and told me that he could not accept the returned book as "new," but only as "used"—a difference of about $30. The reason? The editions of that textbook on his shelves are all individually shrink wrapped. Mine wasn't.

Despite my protests, the clerk refused to give me the full refund. He did, however, write a note to the store manager (who was away at the time) explaining the situation, and said that any decision would be up to that manager.

Ridiculous, yes? I (and I'm sure many others as well) have returned books in the past for full refund, even though the book was missing shrink wrap. In addition, what about the situation in which a customer inadvertently buys a non-shrink-wrapped copy of the book? Suppose that before I arrived, another customer had removed the shrink wrap, looked at the book but then simply returned it to the shelf? What about the fact that other "new" books are sold without any shrink wrap to begin with?

True, the store does have a sign stating the requirements for returns and refunds. The sign DOES say that the books have to be in their original condition. But why not be explicit, and address the issue of shrink wrap? Adding such a statement shouldn't involve that much trouble or expense. However, the aggravation and misunderstanding it would save would be enormous.

Once again, a principle of customer service makes itself plain: the more you do to set customer expectations, the less chance an unhappy customer will result.

Comments or questions? I can be reached at


Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

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