This is a very tough issue, Christina. I think you have two choices.
One is to continue to buy from this store, and stop returning corked wines for a refund. As a practical matter, I believe the great majority of winelovers do just that. I've rarely returned corked wines, partly because my belief is that most retailers eat the return and don't seek a refund up the distribution chain, and partly because it is such a hassle to do so.
If you want to continue to both continue purchasing and seek refunds, you have to sit down with the owner and talk out the situation. On the bright side, it was the owner that went ballistic. Whatever you are able to negotiate will be a done deal.
A few suggestions -- your own mileage will vary depending on personal style -- but this would be my approach:
Gather together as much documentation as I could on how much I've purchased over the years -- you write that it's thousands of bottles, and you might have credit card receipts, other receipts, whatever, that will give you some hard numbers. The owner may well know that you are a "regular", but the returns may loom much larger in her mind than the purchases that stick.
Try to estimate what percentages of your purchases were returned -- if it's in the 5% area, you are probably on safe ground from even a cork sensitive consumer's perspective. As a purely economic matter, though, if it's higher than that and if the retailer has difficulty getting refunds higher up the distribution change, a 5% loss on sales is very difficult for a retailer to absorb and still gain a profit.
The basic reason for doing this analysis is to try to empathise with the owner and having hard numbers is a very good way to open the discussion.
Call and set up a formal meeting, preferably at her store in the office area where you and she can meet one on one.
After reinforcing your credibility as an important customer, try to find out if she can get refunds from her distributors for corked wines. She may be reluctant to do so for a variety of reasons.
A great deal then depends on whether as a regular customer who returns say 5% of her purchaser you are a "profitable" customer.
Based on the personality you've demonstrated in the past on WLDG and FLDG, I sure you'll know how to handle the owner once you understand the sitch from her perspective.
You may decide to stop returning corked wines during or after this meeting. If you do so, be sure to tell the owner you are going to bear the risks of corked wines in the future. From time to time thereafter, when things are slow in the store, tell her privately how many bottles you have purchased that were corked.
I've dealt with a retailer for ten years, we maintain a very friendly relationship, and I know that he gives me special treatment because I don't return corked wines -- although from time to time I mention my corkers and we discuss the general problems of corked wines and attempts to solve the problem.
Last edited by Bob Ross
on Mon Jul 10, 2006 10:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.