CHICAGO — Refunding a customer’s money is sometimes necessary when a washer or dryer doesn’t operate the way it should. But just as individual laundry operations can have unique qualities, the way in which store owners handle refunds also can vary.
American Coin-Op recently surveyed its trade audience about this topic. Respondents were polled anonymously, then the publication followed up with select owners who agreed to speak further about their refund policies and what influences them.
While store owners will honor the trustworthy customer, they don’t want to be duped by the dishonest. More than half of the owners surveyed (54.9%) say they record refunds in some way to ensure certain customers aren’t taking advantage of the situation.
Francis Murphy is president of Bubble It Laundromat in Ayer, Massachusetts. The partly attended store with five employees is quarter-operated, with card readers on the largest washers.
“Customer fills out a claim form with their name and address to receive a refund,” Murphy says. “I take that info and enter it into a … database that I keep. I can then track anyone who might abuse the refunds; I think in the last 10 years, I may have had to tell three people to cut it out. The claim form itself has a line for the machine number; 90% of the time, the customer specifies the machine, which allows us to track any recurring issues.”
Bryan Neal owns unattended Shore Drive Laundry in Virginia Beach, Va., and is preparing to open Liberty Street Laundry in Chesapeake, Va., this fall. Refunds at Shore Drive are recorded for accounting purposes but not customer tracking purposes, he says.
“Refunds, to me, are not a big deal. Ninety-nine percent of the customers requesting a refund are not asking for $60. It is usually in the $1-5 range. A simple check of the security cameras validates the refund. We can see that the machine malfunctioned, or see the customer caused the error. But why embarrass them? Just refund them and they will be happy.”
Randy Alderson and his wife own and operate Sparkle Laundromat in Coal City, Illinois, a rural community southwest of Chicago. The store offers 40 washers and 21 dryers, mostly stacks. Payment accepted is coin or card. The Aldersons live a few blocks away and can pop over on short notice.
“We have 16 cameras we can view from our home or cellphone,” Alderson says. “Between the cameras and the SpyderWash system, we can usually see what happened, if not a single jammed quarter. Most all of our refunds are immediate and in person. If we cannot get there quickly, we will make arrangements to meet them there the next time in, or send them a check.”
Surveillance cameras and card payment systems have made it easier to identify events worthy of refunding, while apps like Venmo and PayPal make sending refunds via mobile device a snap. Still, a sizable share of respondents choose to mail a check or leave a refund in an envelope addressed to the customer at the store.
If a customer wants to know a particular store’s refund policy, they may have to ask. According to the survey, only 21.6% of respondents say their policy is clearly displayed for everyone to see.
American Coin-Op’s Your Views survey presents an unscientific snapshot of the trade audience’s viewpoints at a particular moment. Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
Subscribers to American Coin-Op emails are invited to participate anonymously in the industry survey. The entire audience is encouraged to participate, as a greater number of responses will help to better define owner/operator opinions and industry trends.