The birthday shoes

I am lucky in that my fiancé ordered me a pair of Dr Martens for my birthday. I liked them, but they were too big.

Sizing is a common problem for Dr Martens.

There are those that have never worn Dr Martens before and get a pair too small, as I did the first time I bought Docs a couple of years ago. After one painful day of wear, my little toes had bled all over and it was a very nice store assistant who exchanged them for a larger pair.

But Dr Martens also has the problem of the varying sizes of its shoes. The pair of size eleven shoes my girlfriend bought me this month were bigger than my size eleven boots. Quite a bit bigger in fact.

And so my girlfriend and I had that sad moment where a present is very much appreciated (the receiving and the giving) but it isn’t quite right. Sort of like when my lovely grandparents bought me a Playstation one Christmas in my adolescence and the machine broke on first play of V Rally. Heartbreaking stuff, I know.

So, the task in hand was to exchange the Dr Martens for the next size down.

Easy come, not-so-easy go

Dr Martens does free next-day delivery, which is great and totally represents best practice for items that cost between £70-£200.

But it’s a case of easy come, not-so-easy go because although it offers free returns, it doesn’t offer in-store returns.

This means it doesn’t do exchanges at all on online orders. One has to return the offending (ill-fitting) item, receive a refund, then set out all over again to buy a new pair.

The returns are free, that’s one thing, and one has the option in the UK of sending back via the Post Office or via a Collect Plus store.

The problem that dare not speak its name

The online returns process is, however, easy to follow. There’s a page where one can enter an order number and this will fire off an email to the user which contains a return number.

This return number is then added to a returns label that comes with your order just in case (Dr Martens obviously gets a high number of returns).

Then, as mentioned above, one posts for free.

The strange thing is that I couldn’t find reference to in-store returns (or lack of) anywhere in the returns section on the Dr Martens website or in the FAQs.

It was as if Dr Martens didn’t want to put anyone off buying online by stating explicitly that returns to store won’t be accepted.

So, I called the Stratford Westfield store to seek confirmation that I indeed couldn’t return the shoes to their store and was given that confirmation.

Why does it have to be this way?

There are around 300 stores that stock Dr Martens in the UK. Pretty much all of them are only stockists.

One wouldn’t expect to be able to return to these mere stockists after buying from

But there are only 19 official stores stocking exclusively Dr Martens. Some of these official stores are new, too. The Westfield Stratford store has been open only a couple of years.

If not everyone has or has had access to a Dr Martens store, the in-store returns issue perhaps isn’t that big a deal, particularly outside London.

With the large amount of online returns Dr Martens must get, not accepting them in-store may also help stores avoid being inundated with stock, which could quickly swamp an already busy store.

To be fair to Dr Martens, there’s a size guide on the website, but it’s inadequate, simply a list of how sizes compare internationally. Providing an extensive guide to fitting, tackling many of the FAQs would help stop customers making an error. Or perhaps a chart like this one, allowing one to measure one’s feet.

It would be handy to force a customer to click through this upon checkout and warn about sizing issues, but this would more than likely cause people to abandon purchase.

So it’s a tricky issue to allow in-store returns.

That being said, London customers will be disappointed by lack of in-store returns. With Dr Martens enjoying a renaissance, this could be a large amount of customers that feel disenfranchised (almost literally).

If it did allow returns to its official stores, I would exchange my shoes. As it is, with only a refund via the post permitted, it’s highly likely I won’t get another pair. I may not have time to visit the store as well as posting a refund and I won’t order online again, for fear of an ill fit.

The problems created

  • Many phone calls to store for clarification of no in-store returns.
  • Customers deterred from buying again, with no exchange possible.
  • Return of damaged goods in the post creating customer service disputes.
  • Increased postage costs and warehouse work.

The problems solved

  • No mix up with stockists.
  • No inundation of official stores, particularly in London, with lots of additional stock.

What should Dr Martens do?

The pros of allowing in-store returns, I would argue, outweigh the cons. If Dr Martens was to implement this, especially in London, I believe the business would benefit. Perhaps, as Dr Martens expands, this is already on the cards.

Dr Martens could also create a new section on the website that deals with the issue of sizing and leave it prominently in the navigation. It could also follow these guidelines from Paul Rouke, to try to reduce the number of returns altogether.

Great customer service

One abiding lesson here is taught by Dr Martens’ customer service. I called both the Westfield store to ask about in-store returns and then customer service HQ to process the online return.

Both provided excellent and courteous service and were skilled at dealing with the issue. I guess that’s one of the take-homes here. If you have a policy that feels less than ideal to some customers, make sure that in addressing it you are as helpful as possible.