Steak your claim

The customer is always right, but it often takes time for an Israeli business to realize it.

My little fight for Israeli consumers began when my husband came home from his office with a nicely wrapped Rosh Hashana gift from his works committee. He and his colleagues each received a lovely wooden box with a velvet underside and metal locks. Inside was a professional chef's set of six steak knives, a hefty dagger that could be used to slaughter a cow and a two-pronged fork. The works committee got it from Tollman's, the chain of fancy houseware goods and furniture established decades ago by a South African immigrant and his wife. As we are rarely, if ever, steak eaters, and prefer a well-done chicken, this was not a practical gift to help our Jerusalemite family celebrate the arrival of 5766. There was no exchange slip or even an address or phone number. But, as a journalist who tries to right wrongs, I found the phone number of Tollman's Jerusalem store branch on Rehov Emek Refaim. Carmella, a store employee who answered the phone, listened to my request to exchange the knives for something we could use, took my cell phone number and promised to call back. An experienced Israeli, I was not optimistic that I would ever hear from her again, but she indeed rang me up half an hour later. "I checked, and there is no problem. Come in any time you like and exchange the set," she said cheerfully. I was so pleased by this unfamiliar behavior that when our consumer affairs writer, Eva Ben-David, walked into the newsroom, I praised Tollman's. But I had spoken too soon. My heart sank when Carmella called me again, apologizing for a "misunderstanding." Management said that because works committee deals are worked out with the Tollman's outlet at Beit Yehoshua in the center of the country, I would have to go there and not to the Jerusalem branch a few kilometers away. Sure, I thought to myself, and spend more on gasoline for the two-way trip than the value of the knives, besides wasting hours better spent on pursuing news scoops. Reaching a higher-up in the company, I argued that people who want to exchange gifts at their nearest shop were likely to become not only happy customers, but so enthused with other merchandise on display that they would make some purchases. Nevertheless, his ruling was that the decision was "final." But to my surprise, Carmella called me hours later, saying that the issue of returning works committees gifts had reached the highest rungs of management and been reassessed. "You are welcome to exchange the knives," she said. This consumer-friendly decision was final, she promised, assuring me that anyone who receives a Tollman's product from his works committee could exchange it at the nearest branch if he was not pleased with it. Consumers who believe they have a case should fight for it, as a matter of principle. Maybe businesses will bend as a result.