Customer Service in the US: The Customer is Always Right?

When I first moved back to the Bay Area from the Arabian Gulf, the first places on my list to visit weren’t the Golden Gate Bridge or Lake Tahoe, but, Costco and Target! A place where I could get almost everything I needed for my family under one roof? With easy parking and a Starbucks inside? Yes, please! But truthfully, it wasn’t the plethora of wonderful things inside these stores that I had missed, but, the amazing American customer service that we take for granted while living here, but miss like crazy when we live abroad.

Customer Service: It’s the little things…

In the U.S., you can buy an item, open it, use it, and then return it if you are not completely satisfied. This type of return policy is unheard of in the Gulf. The second an item is purchased, returning it becomes a ‘Mission Impossible’, they almost disavow any knowledge of the item once it has left the store. If you are lucky, you purchased the item at a store where you could bring back the item within 7 days for store credit (though this would likely expire before you got a chance to use it).Customer Service: A Target Store

But more often than not, everywhere had the same, sad, 4-word customer service policy: “Sorry ma’am, not possible.” Here are some instances where you would hear this customer service policy:

I just bought it, but I lost the receipt. Can I return it?

Can you look it up with my credit card?

Can I buy the item you have advertised on the sign outside?

“Sorry ma’am, not possible.”

This policy often also applied to local restaurants. You could try to plead your case, but it would be the same response.

Can I make it sweet potato fries instead of regular fries?

How about if you just put no potatoes at all on the plate?

I’m sure you know what the answer was.

In the Bay Area, we are spoiled for choice. For example, you can go to almost any café and ask for a decaf latte with soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, coconut milk, or no milk and all you hear is ‘Yes!’ This is music to my ears.


After we moved, we had to buy (and return) many things. I remember my first return. The cashier took my item and receipt, processed the return, and refunded my cash before I could even open my mouth to say anything. I was in shock at the ease of the transaction. I then thanked the employee profusely for doing such a great job and unintentionally created a moment of awkwardness for everyone.

Customer Service at Target

The employees WANT you to save money here

As I was buying something, a salesperson said there was a coupon which she had at the register that would give me an additional 20% off. Another day, the shoes I wanted were out of stock, but the manager rushed over and said they were just unloading a truck and they would hold a pair for me to pick up later. My family and I are also jumping back into the 21st century with all the other conveniences that stores offer here which we missed out on in our years abroad, such as online shopping with free shipping, apps that save you money, and curbside pickup. It’s as if people just want to please you, I love it!

Customer Service: A Costco Store

Costco has the BEST return policy!

Now that it is time for back to school shopping, I hit my local Target with my son’s school supplies list from his teacher. After buying everything, I came home to find she had emailed the class changing the scissors and colored pencils required. If I were still in the Gulf, I would have begrudgingly bought more items without even bothering to try to exchange them. But now, I will just happily run over to my neighborhood Target, armed with my receipt, and exchange my items without giving any explanation whatsoever. Sigh. So happy to be home!

About Archana Patwardhan

My family moved from across the world to the Bay Area when I was a toddler, and the travel bug never left me! After college, I moved to New York City in search of adventure where I worked in the fashion industry and met my future husband. After getting married on the beautiful beaches of Goa, we moved to Dubai, UAE for almost ten years. There, I started my food blog, had both of my children, and had the opportunity to travel to many exotic places. After nearly a decade away, this California girl was ready to move home! It has been fun seeing how much I have “changed” after so much time abroad, and am enjoying readjusting and rediscovering the Bay Area all over again.

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