Israelis who are stuck with store credits they can’t use – or anyone from any part of the world who has a gift certificate for a store they don’t care to deal with – can go through an Israeli-developed app, Zeek, to help find a customer who will be happy to take that credit or certificate off their hands.
Israeli law may require that stores give consumers refunds when they want don’t want an item they’ve purchased, but force of habit on the part of both shopkeepers and consumers often leads both to taking the traditional way out of a deal – the customer gets a store credit for returned merchandise.
Many Westerners who make aliyah – especially Americans – have a hard time wrapping their minds around the Israeli aversion to giving refunds. It was only recently that the law was changed, and stores and service providers are now required to give customers refunds if they decide they don’t want what they’ve purchased or received as a present.
Before that, the only way to get rid of an unwanted item was to find a buyer for it or bring it back to the store for a credit. Consumers who were interested in only one particular item a store carried – and eventually changed their mind regarding that item as well – could recoup their money only by selling their credit, usually at a significant loss.
The Zeek app aims to replace the hassle by transferring credits to someone who wants them, eliminating the inevitable squabbling over refunds.
The 2010 legislation requires refunds – but even with that change, getting one is often a challenge. According to the Israel Consumer Council, “the right to receive a cash refund (as opposed to store credit) will apply to different products such as furniture, home and garden equipment, electrical appliances, clothing and footwear, packaged products that have not been opened after purchase and more,” as well as services such as “internal tourism services, cosmetic and aesthetic services, communications services (cable, satellite, mobile communication),” and others.
But the law is rife with caveats, asterisks, and small print: Stores can refuse to give refunds if the package is open (how would you know if you didn’t want a product unless you tried it?), it does not apply to a large group of products like food, medicine, dietary supplements, undergarments, jewelry with a value of NIS 3,000 and more, and must be “undamaged and unused by the consumer.” In addition, clothing and shoes must be returned within three days.
In many cases, consumers find pursuing a refund more trouble than it’s worth, so they take the line of least resistance – settling for a credit, in the hope that they will find something else they want from the same store. But for those who can’t, Zeek has a solution – a platform that lets buyers, sellers, and barterers of store credits to find each other, no matter where they are. According to Zeek CEO Daniel Zelkind, retailers are cleaning up on this system, to the detriment of consumers. As much as NIS 600 million ($175 million) in store credits go unused every year.
The Zeek app, available for Android and iOS, allows users to scan a copy of their credit and upload details to Zeek’s cloud. Users name their asking price. Zeek categorizes and tags the credit by store, product, style, gender and age appropriateness, and any other criteria users potential buyers would search for. Buyers pay no commission, and depending on store policies, sellers can often sell different chunks of their credit to different customers, allowing them to maximize their sale coverage.
While Zeek is clearly a made-in-Israel app – it could have evolved only in a country where refunds are not a matter of course – the app is useful abroad as well. Zeek has tens of thousands of users in Israel, as well as in Europe and the US, where it is used to buy and sell gift certificates. The ability to break certificates into smaller chunks is a useful one for users abroad, according to Zeek. Plus, the fact that it’s all cloud-based makes Zeek convenient and user-friendly. “When you sell the gift vouchers or store credits, all you have to do is send it to us,” the company says. “Once it is received and approved, you will be contacted and we will forward you the money in the most convenient way: either check, PayPal or directly to your bank account. If you purchase a store credit or voucher, this item will be sent to you by mail.”
Among the investors in Zeek is Waze founder Uri Levine, who opted out of joining when Google acquired his company. Levine, who discovered the power of crowdsourcing and social networking with Waze, sees this new venture as the next step in the evolution of both. “Again and again we’re seeing that the power of community trumps other more traditional, individual approaches,” said Levine. “Why hold only one piece, when together, we can see the whole puzzle?”