This is a cautionary tale about a company I used to be a brand evangelist for, but am now teetering on the edge of disgruntled. I have been wearing Levi’s jeans since I was a little boy. They always fit, they last a long time… they’re just damn good jeans. I can’t explain the overall value of a pair of Levi’s – it’s not the cost. They’re not cheap (though not expensive by today’s standards of “good jeans” either). It’s just something about them, something American, that always spoke of quality and service.

On November 20, I placed an order for three pair of Levi’s 559, size 33×34. I’ve lost a bit of weight, so my 34×34 jeans are a little baggy. I have already owned several pair of the style 559 jeans, and have been very pleased with them. About a week later, I received the jeans and tried them on to find that one of the three pair didn’t fit. They were extremely tight (I couldn’t even get them close to buttoned), but the other two pair (exact same style and size) fit perfectly. I thought, “must be a manufacturing defect.”

“No problem, I’ll just exchange them,” I thought to myself. I called Levi’s and explained how they were way too small and how it had to be a manufacturing error, since I had several pair of the same style and size that fit perfectly. The customer service representative instructed me to send the jeans back using a prepaid return label, and a new pair was on the way to me. Great!

Several weeks later, I was shocked to notice a credit on my credit card for the jeans I returned. I immediately picked up the phone and called Levi’s customer support to see what happened. I didn’t want a credit, I wanted my jeans! I got a semi-helpful representative who told me that she would look into it and put in a request to get my replacement jeans shipped and the credit reversed. A month passed with no jeans and no contact from Levi’s.

I called Levi’s only to get a confused representative on the phone who insisted Levi’s “did not do exchanges” but only issued a credit. I would have to reorder my jeans, she insisted. When I looked at the website, the same jeans I’d ordered prior to Christmas for around $30 a pair (on sale) were now $60 a pair plus tax and shipping. After arguing that the jeans were incorrectly sized, and the return should have been an exchange in the first place she explained the “exchange process” at Levi’s.

Here is the process a customer must go through to exchange an item at Levi’s according to their own customer service representative:

  1. Place order (online or phone)
  2. Receive order in mail
  3. Contact Levi’s to initiate exchange (paperwork in box only covers returning for credit)
  4. Send package back to Levi’s
  5. Get credit on card for returned item less return shipping
  6. Call Levi’s and place re-order (most likely for more than original item)
  7. Request credit for difference

Does that process seem a little convoluted and impractical? I had now called Levi’s a total of 5 times, in addition to several customer service emails. I wasn’t happy but I placed a reorder over the phone, charging over $60 to my card (the representative was nice enough to waive shipping charges.)

I started to get a little nervous, because the representative explained the return/exchange process and instructed me to place a reorder before knowing exactly what credit (if any) would be issued. I reluctantly placed the order anyway, but then the representative quoted Levi’s policy, something like “Do you authorize Levi’s to charge your card for $XX.XX? After an order has been placed, it cannot be changed or cancelled.”

That makes me feel at ease… talk me into ordering the jeans again at full price, then tell me I can’t cancel or change the order even though I still don’t know if I can get a credit for the difference.

Well, a week later the jeans arrived. I was excited to have the whole ordeal just over with… so I thought. The replacement jeans didn’t fit either. I cringed at the thought of another interaction with Levi’s customer service. At this point, I was willing to send them back for a partial refund just to be done with it. I’d rather go to a store and buy a pair of jeans!

I called customer service again and this time got a pretty nice representative. I explained briefly what happened with the orders, the problems I had so far, and that I just wanted to be done with it. Amazingly, he said he’d ship me another pair of jeans immediately, and would email me a prepaid return label to send mine back. Sure enough, 5 minutes after I got off the phone with him, I had two emails: a receipt for my replacement jeans (pair #3) and an email label from UPS to return the second pair of mis-sized jeans. In just a couple of days I received the jeans and they fit well.

Why So Complicated?

As an e-commerce store owner, I am absolutely amazed at how complicated Levi’s has made the process of exchanging an order, especially when it was a manufacturing defect that caused the error. After talking with more than 5 different customer representative, I was explained (in detail) three completely different return/exchange policies.

It’s completely possible that Levi’s employees simply don’t understand the policies and procedures… which is the main reason I didn’t include any names in this post. It’s not necessarily their fault. Had I received one representative that didn’t understand policies, I would think they were simply new or imcompetent… but after speaking with countless representative it was clear there were serious problems with the policies and the organization itself. There was absolutely no consistency in my interactions with the ccompany. The only consistent was chaos.

Lessons to Learn

Levi’s, please understand I’m a huge fan of your products but I will never buy direct from you again. It was my worst online retail experience, and I buy almost exclusively online. As an e-commerce business owner I have taken this opportunity to take a serious look at our own customer service policies. Are we making returns or exchanges difficult on our customers? Are our return and exchange policies simple and easy to follow (for both customers and employees)?

So what lessons did I learn about this experience?

  • Make returns and exchanges easy for your customers, even if that makes it more difficult for you.
  • Make policies so simple, it’s easy for employees to understand and convey them to your customers.
  • Make sure your employees understand policies and procedures. Quiz them… often.
  • Above all else, make it right. Take care of the customer.