No questions asked

So I hear that most retailers in the US have a no-questions-asked returns policy.

Having grown up in New Zealand, the concept strikes me as totally bizarre. Here, the responsibility is on you to make sure you put a bit of thought into your purchases. Changed your mind about a pair of pants? Unless it still has the tags on and hasn’t been worn, you’re out of luck. Even then, odds are you can only exchange it for a store credit, not cash.

I wonder if that is part of the reason for rampant consumerism? How easy is it to buy something knowing you can easily return it later for no reason?

Personally, I hardly ever impulse shop, so when I buy something it’s because I really want it. There’s nothing inherently wrong with spur-of-the-moment purchases, but I don’t see why stores should have to take back products back “just because you changed your mind”. It’s a waste of energy and time for their staff; returns can be a tedious process, to say nothing of their wasted time on the original transaction.

The Warehouse is the one retailer I know of with a very generous returns policy. 12 months on pretty much anything, and I don’t THINK you need a reason. They need one though; when you sell cheap stuff that doesn’t last, customers will expect a refund or replacement.

Sure, I wouldn’t complain if local shops suddenly adopted a looser returns policy overnight; I’m just amazed that one exists. It doesn’t seem to make good business sense.

Your thoughts?

9 thoughts on “No questions asked

  • Reply Sense October 17, 2010 at 00:59

    I have a friend (in the States) that has a changing room phobia, so she grabs a bunch of clothes, tries them on at home, and returns everything that doesn’t fit or that she doesn’t want.

    A lot of times, it’s not that I intend to return something that I’m buying if I simply change my mind, it’s that I get home and realize that the ‘thing’ won’t work for whatever purpose that I had intended it for. For example, I bought a speaker for my laptop recently, and it wasn’t loud enough for everyone to hear the movie that was playing on my laptop/projector setup that I had going on. Luckily, Dick Smith accepted it back and I bought a new, louder speaker set. There was simply no way to judge out how loud speaker set #1 was from listening to it in the store–I had to try it out in my home. I generally try to buy the thing that is cheapest first, and then upgrade if the cheaper thing doesn’t work–that seems like a frugal approach to me, and not allowing returns messes this system up (I got lucky with DS–7 day return policy!).

    Also, sometimes it just saves a trip/time/energy/money–for example, I didn’t know how many storage bins I’d need to fit all my winter clothing, so I was going to buy an extra one just in case, and return it if I didn’t need it, but the store didn’t accept returns, so I only bought the one. Just saves some time when you have a task list to finish. Now I have to go back to that first place and buy yet another storage bin, and I had to stop the progress that I made organizing my wardrobe. Lord knows when I’ll get back into it again. I hate stopping a project because I need something else to finish it! (And that storage bin broke the first time I used it…can I return it? Nope, I can’t. I can’t prove that I didn’t break it, so they won’t accept the return. I got screwed out of $5!)

    And then there are the cases when I’m trying to be frugal–I need something, so I buy it at the first place I go to, checking that off of my list. Later on, I unexpectedly find a similar item that is cheaper and more suited to my needs, so I want to return purchase #1 (as happened with my body wash).

    So I disagree–there are lots of good reasons to return things! I stand by it, it’s just good customer service, in my opinion. It feels stingy and unnecessarily strict to not allow someone to return something that is unused and perfectly sell-able again. I’m sure it encourages consumerism (“I’ll just go ahead and get this; I can just return it later.” with no returning of said item later), but like with anything, it’s up to personal responsibility to make sure you follow up on returning if the item doesn’t work out. Counter to your statement, I’d bet the stores make oodles of money off of people buying stuff that they thought they’d return later, and never do–probably actually makes more business sense than not allowing returns! And keeping customers happy is their JOB.

    Stores are there for the customers; without us, they’d die. They need us, so they need to cater to our needs! A very capitalist American opinion, but it’s how I feel. Keep me happy, and I’ll keep going back to you. Screw me over, and I will take my money elsewhere!

    (And to be clear, the places I know in the US DO require the tags to still be on clothes and a receipt, and ask if anything was wrong with the item you are returning, so that they can fix/pitch/mark down the item if it was faulty/damaged/scratched/whatever. But as long as the item looks unused and sellable, they allow any returns within some time period…usually 30 to 90 days. The big chain stores (WalMart, Target, etc.) accept the return with just the cursory, “Is anything wrong with this item?” while smaller boutique stores have stricter return policies.)

  • Reply Stephany October 17, 2010 at 04:10

    I think Sense said everything I wanted to say. It’s not so much “Oh, hey, I change my mind. I don’t want this anymore,” as much as the “This isn’t what I needed/this doesn’t work right/this doesn’t fit right”. Aside from Wal-Mart and Target, most stores around here have strict return policies. Smaller places require tags, receipts, and looking unused. You can’t return electronics (CD’s, DVD’s, etc.) if they have been opened. I’ve also known a lot of people who get hassled by workers at Target for taking back things. (It’s never happened to me, though.)

    I do think it’s just good customer service. If something doesn’t work right, I should be able to return it. If I buy something and later discover it’s not actually the thing I need but in perfect working order, it doesn’t make sense NOT to return it, because other people can find a use for it.

    In some cases, yes, it is consumerism. But it can be a hassle to return things so I try never to buy something I’m not absolutely sure I need and will use.

  • Reply Serendipity October 18, 2010 at 07:28

    I’m guilty of this. I impulse shop at times and then realize, hey I don’t really need that, so I end up taking it back. Thank goodness Target likes me. I also think something is going to fit me and I end up guessing the wrong size. I’m a lot smaller on top then I am on bottom and I have a harder time buying certain things.

    One time I went to Kohls to return a top and it had been over 60 days and they were happy to return it. They then proceeded to tell W and I a story about how a guy had a pillow for 3 mths he slept with and then returned it. And they accepted it! I’m never buying pillows at Kohls thanks to that story. Maybe somethings shouldn’t be returnable, eh?

  • Reply gem October 18, 2010 at 10:22

    They allow it because it encourages consumerism. Like the first commenter said, having that policy is usually overall pretty good for business.

    Sometimes it is ridiculous how lenient places can be though. I worked at a department store and there were times we had things on our floor that clearly should not have been there. Like there’d be some random dress, of a brand we didn’t even sell and that looked like it was ten years out of fashion. Yet somehow someone had managed to get it returned, so the store would just put a tag on it and try to sell it. It was silly, haha. I never let that stuff slide, but some workers just care so little for their job that it’s easier not to fight the customer’s bullshitting. (I guess I did do some of that. Once I was working for Target and someone had clearly switched sale tags and they weren’t ringing up properly and she’d done it multiple times and I price checked the first few, but then I just got annoyed with the process and gave her an angry look and stopped caring. She’d do it to save like two dollars too, it was ridiculous! But as a lowly minimum wage worker, I can’t say I was too invested in protecting the store.)

  • Reply Fig October 18, 2010 at 10:58

    Sense pretty much said it all.

    I hate the policy in NZ. I miss the ability to return things. It just feels like horrible customer service here.

  • Reply LindyMint October 19, 2010 at 07:19

    There is one store in my hometown (US) that has an Absolutely No Returns policy. They sell home goods for cheap, so it’s nerve wracking knowing I can’t screw up. My former boss used to call the store “unAmerican.”

  • Reply FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com October 20, 2010 at 00:20

    It makes total business sense to me, because I am more likely to buy something knowing I can return it, than to spend 3 hours making sure it was the right purchase before forking over my money.

    And even if I wanted to return it, I might be too lazy to do so, and keep it.. but if I had even a shred of doubt in the fitting room before wanting to buy it, I would have left it and not purchased at all.

  • Reply David Stern November 3, 2010 at 02:34

    I saw clothes for sale in China with price labels from Western stores on and wondered what the story was. Most likely they made too many and never shipped them out of China (Interesting that the price label was put on in the factory). Or were they surplus/returns returned to China for sale there?

  • Reply Layby vs hire purchase | Musings of an Abstract Aucklander May 2, 2012 at 12:22

    […] of the surveys went so well I very, very nearly went through with the purchase (and if New Zealand had strong return policiesI probably would have). This wasn’t one of those surveys that included purchase, or purchase […]

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