What do I actually do as a customer if I want to return or exchange goods purchased in the store, but the period expires soon or has already expired? Can I still reach someone in the shops who could possibly give me information or help me? We have simply tried it and randomly called over 30 major fashion retailers throughout Germany–from Hamburg to Munich, from Cologne to Berlin. While some chain stores kept a dial tone on the line, others had an automated message on tape or a direct forwarding to customer service or the online shop. We were astonished that large chains such as C&A, COS, Nike and Zara only had a ring back tone. Especially here one would have expected the customer to receive an automated announcement with reference to the online store or similar.

This shows how differently companies deal with the current situation and, above all, in what form they want to maintain customer communication. Even if it's just a call–companies should not underestimate the effect it has on customers when they only hear a beep on the other side of the line or talk to an extremely nice customer service lady who listens, is understanding and can help. Even small gestures shape brand association. Especially now, when physical contact with customers is excluded, brands should be even more interested to reach them through other channels. Even if it is only a phone call.

Of course it is not a representative picture that we want to record, but it is a snapshot of the current situation. This is the protocol in alphabetical order:

Adidas Store/ Munich
The call is forwarded directly to the customer service of the online store. A telephone operator explains to me that goods that are purchased in the store cannot be returned online. The return period has been extended from 30 days to 100 days.

Appelrath Cüpper/ Frankfurt (friendly voice announcement)
Friendly announcement that all stores are currently closed, but you can also shop in the online store. For questions, you can reach the hotline 24/7 and also the customer service via email 24/7.  The voice message ends with: Stay healthy.

Bershka/ Cologne
Ring back tone. No answer.

Bestseller/ Hamburg
Ring back tone. No answer.

Boss Store/ Stuttgart
The call from the Boss store in Stuttgart is directly forwarded to customer service. A very friendly lady answers my call. She says that “A lot of people call, I guess they have time right now. The return periods have of course changed. You can get that in writing if you wish.”

C&A/ Oldenburg
Ring back tone. No answer.

C&A/ Freiburg
Ring back tone. No answer.

Chanel/ Berlin
The call is answered personally by a lady who provides information on returns and exchanges and other requests.

COS Store/ Frankfurt
Ring back tone. No answer.

Engelhorn/ Mannheim
Forwarding to customer service from the online shop. A friendly lady explains that the return period extended if shops are open again and that nobody is in the store at the moment.

Galeria Kaufhof/ Frankfurt: (After a few ringing signals, a man answers the phone. The conversation is very friendly and helpful and at the end he wishes me all the best and health.)
“Our emergency call center and also the goods center are always occupied. This is also because our food section is still open. In the first week many customers called, but now it's fading. We are probably closed until the 19th of April. But that is not for sure yet. Of course the return period has been extended due to the circumstances As soon as we reopen, everything can be returned or exchanged. Returns are possible in all Galeria Kaufhof branches.”

Görtz/ Hamburg
I actually reach someone directly in the Görtz branch on Spitaler Strasse in Hamburg. In a short, pleasant conversation, he explains that he still takes care of online orders that have arrived in the store and that there is no need to worry about return periods and exchanges, as all periods have been extended.

Hunkemöller/ Erfurt
Ring back tone. No answer.

Intersport/ Kassel
Friendly voice announcement with reference to website, Instagram, Facebook. For urgent requests customers can write an e-mail.

JD Sports/ Cologne
Automatic telephone message: “The number you have dialed is temporarily unavailable, please try again later.”

Kauf dich Glücklich/ Stuttgart
Ring back tone. Voicemailbox.

Louis Vuitton/ Düsseldorf
The call is passed on to customer service. A friendly lady answers questions about changing exchange periods. Once the store is open again, customers can exchange goods up to 30 days.

New Yorker/ Brunswick
Forwarded to the central office. A not very friendly lady gives information about return and exchange period. It is extended by 14 days from the reopening of the stores.

Nike Store/ Hamburg
Ring back tone. No answer.

Nike Store/ Berlin Mitte
Ring back tone. No answer.

P&C/ Frankfurt (friendly voice announcement with longer explanation)
The message explains that the health of employees and customers is top priority. Therefore all P&C stores are closed. For the time being, customer service for the customer card and general enquiries cannot be reached by telephone, contact form or e-mail.

Pimkie/ Frankfurt
Ring back tone. No answer.

Primark/ Berlin
Short telephone announcement that the store will be closed from March 18 on by order of the government.

Promod/ Dresden
Telephone announcement: The person you called is currently not available.

S.Oliver Store/ Leipzig
Ring back tone. No answer.

Timberland/ Stuttgart
Ring back tone. No answer.

Tom Tailor/ Hamburg
Ring back tone. No answer.

TK Maxx/ Göttingen
Telephone greeting with reference and telephone number of the customer service.

Vero Moda/ Düsseldorf
Ring back tone. No answer.

Zara/ Karlsruhe
Ring back tone. No answer.

Zara/ Frankfurt
Ring back tone. No answer.

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