A note to retailers, both online and in brick and mortar stores: as the holidays approach, you can forget doing anything about changing your return policies. My own experience has revealed to me the depth and scope of the American penchant for returning merchandise.
My first inkling of this was when I was working in a nonprofit charity thrift store. A customer arrived with an armload of toys. At first I thought she was donating them. But as it turned out, she was returning them.
“I bought them in the thrift store last week, but my children won’t play with them anymore,” she said. “I want my money back.”
“How crazy is that,” I said later to Vicki, another volunteer. “A customer wanting to return something to a nonprofit thrift store!”
But Vicki had a story to top mine. “When I worked at The Gap, a man came in with a bag of worn out shirts. He told me he had lost weight and the shirts didn’t fit anymore so he wanted his money back. But get this! We hadn’t carried that line of clothing in ages. The shirts must have been 12 years old!”
“That’s crazy, but this idea has possibilities,” I replied. “Maybe I should take my half eaten loaf of bread back to Kroger and tell them since it’s half gone I want my money back.”
“Or return the wedding ring to the jeweler 20 years later, after the divorce,” Vicki chimed in. We bandied preposterous scenarios back and forth for a while, laughing whenever we mentioned the man at The Gap or the woman with the toys.
But I didn’t laugh the next weekend when I told my husband I was going to the mall. He said, “The ax head flew off my ax. While you’re out doing errands, could you run by Lowes and see if they’ll give me a new ax? This one’s about three years old and I think I got it at Lowes.”
“Wait a minute. You mean you want me to return an ax you think you might have gotten at Lowes three years ago and see if they’ll give me a new one? With no receipt? Just my word that you might have bought it there?”
“Yep,” my husband replied. “I’m pretty sure that’s where I got it.”
“No way. You’re on your own with this one.”
My husband shrugged. “Okay, I’ll do it.”
I went to the mall and returned three hours later. My husband was in the yard chopping bushes with his brand new ax.
“I don’t believe this,” I said.
“Like my new ax? That’s what I call good customer service,” he replied cheerfully.
Like I said, retailers can hang it up. Forget The National Retail Federation’s admonition that “Unless retailers invest in their ability to manage returns, the volume of returns coming back will cause problems in their overall supply chain.” Dismiss dire warnings outlined in the article 260 Billion Dollar Ticking Time Bomb: The Costly Business of Retail Returns.
Nothing’s gonna change, folks. As you can see, some habits are too ingrained in the American psyche.
And while by the way, got any shirts you want my husband to take back to The Gap?