I came back from lunch a few days ago and there was a woman with a Ficus benjamina all wrapped up at the front counter next to her. And I thought, okay, we sold another Ficus benjamina, good on us.
Then I got back to the potting room, and there was a bagged up benjamina there too. A mystery was afoot! (Or ahand. Or ajar. At least, a mystery was a vailable. Maybe two vailables.)
So I went up to the counter and asked what the story was with this plant, and, after the lady and her tree left, I was told that this customer had called and complained that she bought a Ficus from us some weeks ago, and that when she got it home, it started dropping tons of leaves and generally acted miserable.
Oh, she was told over the phone, they'll do that. Just keep it away from heat vents and give it plenty of light, and it'll come around eventually. Customer's response: oh, no, I have the perfect spot for it; it's the plant, not me, and you sold it to me so it's really all your fault.
Long story short, the customer talked long enough, and hard enough, to a large enough number of people, that eventually she wore us down. We don't do exchanges on houseplants because they're not guaranteed, and they're not guaranteed because there's no way to be sure that people are giving appropriate care to the plants. We encourage people to call and ask questions, and we're even willing to do a physical inspection if someone's willing to go to the trouble of bringing a plant in to us, but we don't do exchanges for non-guaranteed plants.
And this is something I hate about customer service: you can have a perfectly reasonable policy, for perfectly reasonable reasons, and most of the customers will be fine with that and play within those rules. There will also be a handful of customers who are likeable enough, or disadvantaged enough, or regular enough, or whatever, that you don't feel bad about offering to bend the rules for them without them even having to ask. And then there's the handful of customers who comprehend that there are rules, but somehow don't feel like the rules should have to apply to them. And it actually drives me crazy that those customers, more often than not, get whatever completely unreasonable thing they're asking for, and set precedents, and then before you know it, every time Mrs. So-and-so buys her groceries, somebody has to carry them to her car three blocks away because she's Mrs. So-and-so and that's just what you do for Mrs. So-and-so.
So this lady got to walk out with another perfectly healthy Ficus, fresh off the truck, and sticks us with one that isn't going to be sellable for at least a few months, because the perfectly healthy plant we sold her didn't work right in her perfect spot for it, under her perfect care. Grrr.
The best part happened when I took the plastic bags off of it, though, to assess the damage, and it was immediately obvious what had happened. In fact, it was so immediately obvious that it was hysterically funny, I thought (everybody else had a comment, but I was the only one who thought it was funny).
A minor factor in the situation is that she'd added a layer of what I assume is garden soil to the top of the pot. Don't do this. Not ever. Garden soil is too heavy, it won't drain, it'll lead you straight to root rot, plus it could have bug eggs or weed seeds or whatever. Potting soil for containerized plants is different from topsoil for a reason. But that wasn't the main problem. Can you solve the mystery of the returned Ficus just from examining the picture? This very thing was mentioned in passing, in the abovelinked Ficus benjamina profile. . . .
(Answer to be found in comments. No fair looking before you have your own theory, though.)