How to Return Anything for a Refund

Let the buyer beware?


How many times have you made a decision to purchase a product from a store based on their returns policies? Are you hesitant to shop because you’re reluctant to deal with uncooperative clerks, boorish managers and endless red tape if the item is damaged, or if you decide you don’t really want your purchase? Have you been burned by the fine-print that requires ridiculous criteria be met before a return is allowed? All of us have been frustrated with the inability to return a product at one time or another and policies are now more convoluted than ever.

Online competition has forced brick-and-mortar businesses to reexamine and update their returns policies for these reasons: 1.) to discourage “short term” buying, when an item is needed only until the customer’s online purchase arrives, and 2.) no-hassle, customer-friendly returns represent value and are a hedge against shopping online. These dual motivations unfortunately keep patrons guessing. Are you in the store that cheerfully accepts all returns to keep you as a customer? Beware if you went to the business that tows away your car while you’re negotiating in vain with Ricky-the-hapless-trainee or Bob, the world-weary store manager that has “heard every excuse in the book.”

Businesses with inflexible returns policies will post them somewhere in the store. The notice may be a sign taped to a shelf, wall or pillar. It might be printed on your proof of purchase, or a policy page stapled to your receipt. The basic message is usually: No return without a receipt! Keeping the receipt might be only the beginning of the hoops you will jump through to get your money back if there is a problem, however. Posted signs often display a laundry list of criteria to be met: No returns after seven days; all items must be in original condition; must have shrink-wrap intact; must have all labels and tags; or, your check must clear the bank before a cash refund can be made. These are just some of the conditions that make returns an unsavory experience.

Most shoppers would like to return more purchases than they do, but don’t want to be turned down or can’t muster the persuasiveness required to challenge a hardened staff. Your hard-earned cash isn’t gone for good, however! “Let the buyer beware” doesn’t have to be the shopper’s mantra. Common sense and good judgment can help prevent you from getting stuck with purchases you don’t want.


Satisfaction guaranteed!

The ominous warning
The ominous warning
A pleasant afternoon of shopping
A pleasant afternoon of shopping
With cheerful guarantees of satisfaction
With cheerful guarantees of satisfaction
If there's a problem, however, they send you to talk with this guy
If there's a problem, however, they send you to talk with this guy
With predictable results.  He should have kept his receipt
With predictable results. He should have kept his receipt
"...I know I lost my receipt, but my car had a flat tire and I had to wash my hair and the check is in the mail and I need money to take the family to see the Coors plant!  You have to okay my return!"
"...I know I lost my receipt, but my car had a flat tire and I had to wash my hair and the check is in the mail and I need money to take the family to see the Coors plant! You have to okay my return!"
The end result!
The end result!

How can I get my money back for this stuff I bought?


Stringent returns policies are not designed to make your life miserable. They are in place to protect stores from the abusive consumer—shoppers continually trading items for another product, ardent readers that finish books in a day, or social butterflies needing a new coat or dress for just one evening. Businesses hope to discourage these folks from such antics while being fair to the average patron. Remember, stores want to keep good customers. With this in mind, here’s how to take back nearly any purchase for a refund, even if rude employees claim all sales are final.

1. Don’t assume an item can’t be returned. Some products must be used to determine they’re defective. Wearing a shirt or washing it might be necessary to expose its flaws. Food that is spoiled can be returned to grocery stores. You’ve lost nothing by asking if a product can be brought back.

2. Have a good reason for returning the item. Your reason should be simple, not a detailed story casting you as the victim of improbable circumstances. You can say the item is defective, the wrong size or color, an unwanted gift, or you just don’t like it. Multiple reasons sound like excuses, so don’t oversell your case with fifteen reasons the store should accept your return.

3. Keep your receipt. Nearly every store requires proof of purchase before allowing merchandise to be returned, but many people fail to abide by this one simple rule. You must be able to prove you bought the product in the store you’re trying to return it to. If you can’t, the chance for successfully returning it drops 95%. It might be possible for stores to check an electronic journal to verify your purchase, but you are asking a manager to jump through unnecessary hoops just to take money from the register and put it in your hand--a scenario that won't seem very worthwhile. Let me repeat: keep your receipt.

4. Shop at stores with favorable policies. Learn which businesses have customer friendly policies and visit them first. Large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Target tend to have simpler, more straightforward policies. Be particularly cautious with small, privately owned stores—they make protecting their assets a top priority and are more apt to implement unusual conditions for returns.

5. Return merchandise promptly. No business offers unlimited returns privileges. As soon as you realize you don’t want your purchase, take it back. The longer you wait, the less credence the reasons for your return will be given. Don’t give a store manager cause to chide you by asking why it took three months to decide your shirt was the wrong color.

6. Return your purchase in good condition. If a store can re-sell your merchandise, they are more likely to accept its return. Water-damaged books, dirty clothing and ripped, battered packages cannot be resold and the store will be reluctant to take a loss on a product you destroyed.

7. You must be willing to compromise. A partial refund, an exchange or a store credit are all tools a business uses to keep your good will while protecting themselves from customers that abuse returns privileges. Accept an exchange or credit if it is offered—there must be something else in the store you wouldn’t mind owning.

8. Don’t act angry. Causing a scene usually won’t encourage a store to give in to your demands. Store managers recognize this ploy and will often become even more unwilling to see things your way. A polite, respectful interaction is the best way to gain the sympathy of the person authorizing your return.

9. Don’t act guilty. Wanting to return a product for a refund is not a crime. Don’t act like you did something wrong or become apologetic. Occasionally an employee will try to assign blame to a returns request, but there is nothing legally or ethically wrong with wanting a refund.

10. Don’t look for loopholes in returns policies. Businesses reserve the right to refuse returns for any reason, and if you scan their policies with the intention of finding omissions or poorly worded phrases, you will be ignored. You might win such an argument once, but the wording will be changed before you can benefit from this tactic again.


See how easy it is?


If you follow these suggestions, store managers and their staff will be happy to help you. Ricky the trainee and Bob the cynical manager will be only vague memories. You will be the type of customer they want to help—reasonable, logical, aware and considerate of the store’s position. You will have done everything to make it easy for them to give you your money back for that unwanted purchase. They will put that cash back in your hand and remind you to come back soon.

Isn’t that what you wanted in the first place?


Comments 28 comments

jayjay40 profile image

jayjay40 6 years ago from Bristol England

I find it difficult to return things, but luckily my daughter has the knack. I feel so silly returning things just because I don't like it or it doesn't fit.I feel its my fault for buying it to start with. I'm bookmarking this so I can read it when I have to return something next time


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

jayjay40, I understand how you feel. I used to feel the same way, but after spending time as a manager okaying returns appeals (returns request that fell outside our normal policies), it got easier for me.

Much of what I wrote came from those experiences, and you wouldn't believe the stories I heard on the other side of the desk. Customers made up amazing things in an attempt to talk me into granting a refund. I typically granted the return for any realistic explanation, as long as the purchase wasn't made months and months earlier.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate your comments.

Mike


Ghost Whisper 77 profile image

Ghost Whisper 77 6 years ago from The U.S. Government protects Nazi War Criminals

I have absolutely no problem returning things...strangely, I don't know why..maybe it is that look I give...or my raspy bold voice...I think they just know that I am not going to get the run around and that I have no problem going to the top--and I have been known to go to the top-especially with rude service return people. My usual reply when they are rude, "That's funny because the store was so pleasant to me when I was spending the money..and now this type of rudeness-keep going with your rudeness-I want to always remember why I will never spend another penny in here."

They usually shut up and call someone who can handle the truth better... I got a no on a 'refund' due to no receipt and it was a food product that was not sealed properly...they offered a credit...I didn't come in and buy with credit..I bought with cash...this is a no go with me. I want my cash back! LOL

Nobody wants somebody like me walking out-as I told the manager before he opened the drawer to hand me less than five dollars in cash back..."I am a bartender and a waitress, I have no problem telling everyone I meet, every day of the poor treatment I received here by your store..so this will cost you more than a buck two ninety-eight." I meant it. He was a smart manager to open the drawer. It was the 'right' thing to do and he eventually did it ;)

Don't even have me tell you what I did to a car ownership owner whose salesman sold me a car for $3 Grand in cash and the drive out of the lot--it concked out and died on the side of the road--transmission was bad!--over 1000.00 to pay them to fix it...do you think I paid them a cent? lol

Over the years-I am burnt out by liars,scam artists, and thieves..I now am called the 'terminator' by some friends. hahahaha


prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

very nice advices and nice image, hmm, I am forgetful at times and receipts are lost at times, whew, Thank you Mike, Maita


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Ghosty, what's that wrapped around your finger? Oh, it's Mike. I have no doubt that I would be helpless if I were a manager on duty when you came in for a refund. You would probably leave the store chuckling about what a wimp I was. For me it was learned behavior, it was too easy for me to feel I was in the wrong when I brought something back.

Thank you for commenting, your tales of assertiveness brightened my day.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Maita, I appreciate your reading. I keep track of my own receipts, but what I do is even worse--I tend to lose receipts for gifts I've purchased for others. I'm getting better, though.

Thanks again.

Mike


Ghost Whisper 77 profile image

Ghost Whisper 77 6 years ago from The U.S. Government protects Nazi War Criminals

Yes assertive but honest--never try to slick anyone with a lie about my return-if it is my bad-then I won't. Have a good-god nite and ya gotz mail.;)


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

You're one of the truly good ones, Ghosty. Have a good night also.

Mike


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

Ah, the memories your hub brought back, Mike. I once worked for a 12-store department store chain where the policy was to accept returns no matter the condition.

In one of the stores I saw a pretty women's blouse tacked to a bulletin board in the employees' lunchroom.

The blouse was in 5 separate pieces: back, right and left front, and 2 sleeves. So I asked what was the story?

Turns out a customer purchased it and returned it for a refund. When asked why it was in 5 separate pieces, she replied that it had come apart at all the seams in the washing machine.

She got her money back because that was the store policy. Why was the blouse really in 5 pieces? Because she took it apart neatly at all the seams in order to make a sewing pattern of it so she could sew one for herself.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

drbj, thanks for your comments. This hub was written to help 98% of the people cope with policies intended to weed out that other 2%--folks like the one you describe.

Your story demonstrates exactly why returns policies are implemented. They are not in place for the 98% of all shoppers that go about their business in a normal way--they are there to deal with that 2% that are always scheming, looking for an edge. They are in place to deal with folks that would rather buy a blouse, deconstruct it, make a pattern, sew a new one, and return the original blouse, armed with an unlikely story. I was and am continually amazed by what people are willing to do to save a few bucks. Wouldn't clipping coupons in the newspaper be easier?

Thanks for your comments--that was a great story!

Mike


Truth From Truth profile image

Truth From Truth 6 years ago from Michigan

Some excellent points. Thanks for the tips as returning products to a store can be very frustrating.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Truth, I appreciate your comments. It can indeed be extremely frustrating to return merchandise to stores, but that is largely because of folks like drbj described in the comment above. People like that make it much more difficult for the rest of us.

Glad you stopped by. Have a good evening.

Mike


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 6 years ago from Upstate New York

I ended up pitching a lamp in the trash that didn't work rather than hassle with our very mean Walmart folk. It wasn't worth the trouble, at least not to me. I don't know where I draw the line, what the dollar figure is. I feel so taken advantage of, it might be better to at least TRY to return the item in the future.


wavegirl22 profile image

wavegirl22 6 years ago from New York, NY

Mike - interesting read...everything here all in one Hub. Love it. So basic yet so many of these things we forget. Thanks for reminding me to keep those receipts!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Paradise7, thanks for commenting. There are many folks who decide trying to make a return isn't worth it. In some ways, that's what large stores like Wal-Mart are hoping we'll do.

I sometimes tend to blame myself for a return--it's my fault for buying the wrong thing, or whatever the rationalization is--but I still believe that if we don't try to abuse returns, we can get a store to allow almost anything.

Thanks again for commenting, and I hope you will decide to return the stuff to Wal-Mart next time you need to. The worst they can do is say no.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

wavegirl22, thanks for reading. If there is one message I hope folks will get from this hub, that is it--save the receipt. Without the proof of purchase, you are almost defeated to start with.

Thanks again.

Mike


Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

I think you touch on a good point in here when you suggest let's all be fair. There ARE a lot of abusive customers out there who buy that dress for just one night, and don't realize they are hurting commerce, and driving up prices. Those returned goods are often times harder to sell.

Shop responsibly. Return truthfully.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Springboard, thanks for your comments. This was not a hub about how to "rip off Corporate America." As you note, it is about responsibility and truth. I will not cast corporations as victims, but dealing with any retailers with honesty and integrity will yield better results than lies or scams. As you note, the abusive customers are driving up prices (and making returns policies more stringent!).

Thanks again for you insightful comments.

Mike


susanlang profile image

susanlang 6 years ago

Mike, you mastered this topic. I have no problem returning items for reasons of product defects. One time I remember having such a hard time returning an electric skillet I bought. The first day I used it my outlet sparked and the kitchen light went out. The store refused a refund even when I showed customer service the sales slip. So I left the store and came back with a tv reporter who happened to be outside on the street getting ready to do a story on the city's road work plans. I received my refund in 90 seconds. Thanks Mike, great hub!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Susan, thanks for your comments. Now THAT is a way to get a refund! Many businesses claim there's no such thing as bad publicity, but they usually aren't willing to test that when it comes to customer service issues!

Thanks for reading--I loved your story!

Mike


rml 6 years ago

I have never had much trouble returning merchandise for a refund, but I always keep my receipts. Your advice is quite sound, and clearly you have spent time in a customer service-oriented field.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

rml, you're right--I have done a lot of customer service gigs and am familiar with the returns process. I would be one of those tired managers that have "seen it all."

Thanks for your comments, they are much appreciated.

Mike


lovelypaper profile image

lovelypaper 6 years ago from Virginia

Great hub, Mike. I'm happy to say that the retail store where I work as a shift manager, has a good return policy and values our customers. We accept damaged items and will happily issue refunds.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

lovelypaper, thanks for reading. I think you're fortunate to work in a place with a good return policy. Not only is it easier on the staff to have sound guidelines to follow, it really does tell customers they are valued. It is also easier to hire staff willing to work returns--a customer-friendly policy is far less stressful.

I worked for a retail business that allowed returns based on "blame." Literally, it was about whose fault it was if a customer wanted or needed to return something. If management decided it was the customer's fault, the returns request was denied. If they thought it was the store's, the return was accepted, but management sought a scapegoat (this practice was labeled as "accountability"). By any name, it told customers and employees that $20 was worth more than any of them--a bad message.

Thanks for your comments, Lovelypaper--they are always appreciated.

Mike


6 years ago

What about personal adult responsibility?

Sure if something is defective you should be able to replace or refund. But if you just up and decide you don't want something, sorry Jack. That is a rule I follow in life and in business.

Easy way to solve this is to not buy something unless you are sure. If you aren't, that is the consumers risk.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

M, thank you for commenting. I think upon reflection you will see that I am indeed advocating adult responsibility. I suggested having sound reasons for returning merchandise and not abusing store policies. I recommended working with stores in a rational and understanding manner.

We are constantly encouraged to buy things. Television, letters and cards in the mail, radio, the Internet, social media, billboards and even signs on the street or in windows encourage us to buy and buy now. Sales and promotions exist to coerce folks into quick decisions. Frankly, sometimes those decisions are not sound. Customers make mistakes and purchase things they don't want or need, and in many cases they are encouraged to do so through advertising.

I have worked in retail for decades and believe consumers deserve options. I don't think the options should be limitless, but frankly I have not advocated that here. I have not suggested wearing a shirt for three months before returning it, for example. I have suggested that the way to approach returns is to be thoughtful and aware about what and how something is returned and follow policies put in place by the retailers themselves.

Very few retail establishments maintain "all sales final" policies. It suggests (correctly or incorrectly) a disregard for consumers and implies money is the only factor in a store's relationship with its customers that has meaning. That perception might not be justified, but that is how it will be interpreted by many customers.

You are quite correct--choosing not to buy until you are absolutely certain you want something will minimize the need to make returns. Most businesses recognize they are better served, however, by offering alternatives.

I appreciate your belief in accepting responsibility for your decisions, and your candor in advocating a cautious approach to spending. Thanks again for your comments.

Mike


jdomingo profile image

jdomingo 6 years ago from Texas

great hub Love it encompasses most everything that makes my...our jobs as managers to successfully make returns as quickly and painless as possible. We want to make the customer happy but as M stated 'personal adult responsibility' is what it is mostly about.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Jdomingo, thanks for reading. You are correct in that retail managers will always have to find the middle ground that appeases customers without giving away the store. The fewer hassles there are in the returns department, the better the store will be perceived. I agree that personal adult responsibility is the key ingredient, and stores will generally create policies that factor responsibility into the equation. One indicator is whether a customer is responsible enough to hang onto their receipt....

Thanks again for reading, I appreciate your insights. Take care.

Mike

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