How not to do customer service

I first wore Birkenstock sandals after my botched bunion surgery in 2014. I didn’t know it at the time, but the surgeon nicked a nerve that now inflames under normal walking pressure. It’s mildly painful, wildly uncomfortable, and permanent. The only fix is to deaden the nerve, which would make that part of my foot permanently numb. My other option, the one I’ve taken, is good shoes and an orthotic that redistributes pressure away from that spot.

Birkenstock’s famous footbed takes the pressure off so I can walk comfortably, no orthotic needed. As soon as the weather warms up enough each spring, I ditch my shoes and wear my Birks nearly exclusively, until the cold returns in the autumn. I alternate between two pairs, one with black leather and one with brown. A classic Birk is open at the heel, but I buy the style with a back strap so I’m extra sure they’ll stay on.

I have historically bought my Birks directly from Birkenstock, via their online store. I won’t be doing that anymore. Twice now I’ve received sandals with issues, and have run into brick walls getting the company to accept a return.

Their return policy is clear: they accept returns only of goods in “original purchase condition.” Trouble is, it can take several days of wearing new Birks, as they break in and conform to your foot, before you discover whether they are are comfortable or not. By then, the sandals are no longer in “original purchase condition” — your foot has imprinted upon and discolored the footbed, and the sole has curved a little bit.

Both times I’ve wanted to return a pair of Birks, after several days of wearing them some of the lumps and bumps in the footbed found themselves in the wrong places under my feet, and caused considerable discomfort. As you can imagine, when a shoe has a lumpy footbed, the lumps have to be in exactly the right places or walking is painful.

The first time this happened, I argued with Birkenstock customer service until they relented. The second time this happened, which was this year, they would not back down. I argued that this was surely a manufacturing defect. They replied that I was welcome to email them photographs to show the defect. But even if they agreed that there was a defect, the sandals would still need to be in “original purchase condition” for them to refund my money. I would have to ship the sandals back at my cost, and await their judgement.

I replied that I would henceforth buy from other sellers who had less restrictive return policies. I then ordered a pair of Birks from DSW’s online store. Zappos or Amazon would have worked just as well, but they were out of my size. All three companies have return policies that let me return the sandals if they’re not right, even if they no longer look perfectly new. You know — how it should be. Fortunately, it wasn’t necessary, as the new Birks were comfortable.

The official Birkenstock store’s return policy just doesn’t make sense.