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Returning Items To Grocery Stores! What Should You Do If You Are Not Satisfied?

Updated on March 5, 2011

Can You Return Items To A Grocery Store? Yes!

Ever bought expired products, dairy products or meats that have spoiled, produce that looked okay but was inedible, or any number of other products that were unsatisfactory in some way? Return them and get your money back! Grocery shopping takes a huge chunk of time from your weekly schedule. It should not take a huge chunk of your budget when you have to throw away products purchased that you determine are substandard. Grocery stores will take those products back and they will return your money. You do not have to do this immediately. Save every single receipt until you are sure that the products you have purchased are what you intended them to be. The biggest culprits are usually expired items and spoiled meats, dairy and produce.

A few days ago, I made an unscheduled stop to one of my favorite grocery stores. I shop there once a week, but had forgotten an item that I needed. When I walked into the store, I was amazed to see a display of fresh strawberries in one pound containers for 99 cents. Since it is early March, that price is a bargain! I picked up 4 containers, planning to freeze half of them. Next to the strawberries, were what looked to be beautiful pineapples for 50 cents a pound. Again, a great price! I purchased 2 of them, planning to mix the pineapples and strawberries for fresh fruit salad that would last several days in my fridge. One cost $1.75 and the other cost $1.98. When I got home, I cut up the strawberries and they were perfect; they were sweet and juicy. I then proceeded to clean and cut up the first pineapple. Lo and behold, the inside was dry and white in color. I tasted a small piece and it had no taste. It appeared to have been frozen at some point and was not edible. I threw most of it away, but put a small piece of it into a baggie to return to the store the next time I go. I thought I might have better luck with the second pineapple, but once cleaned and cut up, the same white color and so dry. I also put a piece of that one into the baggie. I refuse to throw away $3.73 and just forget about it. I fully expect to have my money returned and will not have a problem.

How do I know that? Because I return substandard items all the time. Everyone should!

When A Sale Is Not A Bargain!

Major grocery stores and often their smaller counterparts have weekly sales that they advertise through the mail or in newspapers. Every Monday, when I go to the mailbox, I have ads from almost every grocery store in town. The sale prices almost always go into effect on Wednesday. The front page of those colorful advertisements show what is called "loss leaders". They are the items that are priced so low that they get you into the store with the expectation that you will not only purchase those items, but you will bring your entire grocery list with you. These items can often be priced at well below 50% of their normal cost and that is almost always a great deal. The downside to sales is that like the pineapple, which was on sale, many sale items can become the very items that need to be returned.

When is that sale NOT a bargain? When it is based on expiration dates or sell buy dates. Stores buy products and then, for one reason or another, the product does not sell. For example, you see eggs advertised for 99 cents a dozen. If the sell buy date is the day that the advertised price becomes effective, that sale is not a bargain. The grocer will usually put the soon to be expired dates towards the front. They think that you will just grab the item that is closest to you, and most of the time, they are right. Look behind the first or second row. Try to find the eggs with a sell by date that is further in the future. Eggs are just used as an example. This practice happens with all products! Take the extra time to insure that you are getting the bargain you are expecting, instead of getting food that becomes a throwaway, or a return.

A sale is NOT a bargain if you go into a store, purchase the sale items and then buy the rest of your groceries at a price higher than you would normally pay. Just buy the sale items and get out! Don't negate your savings by spending more.

A sale is NOT a bargain if the grocery store runs out of the item that is advertised. Check the ad itself. If it says 'while supplies last', you will not be able to get a rain check. If that disclaimer does not accompany the advertised price, you are entitled to a rain check. For example, if chicken breasts are advertised at 99 cents a pound and the store has none left (likely story), ask for a rain check. If you were planning to buy three or four packages, and there is no limit specified in the ad, make sure that your rain check specifies the number of packages that you want. Rain checks are valid anywhere from 30 to 60 days. Before I make another trip to the store from which I have obtained a rain check, I call the store and make sure that the product is available. Why waste your time and gas on another unsuccessful effort?

A sale is NOT a bargain if the store has neglected to program the sale price into their computer registers. The best time to find a pricing error is while you are at the checkout. Many stores will give you the items for free if they ring up at the wrong price, provided you catch the error at the time of purchase. When that happens, and believe me, it happens all the time, the sale becomes more than a bargain. It becomes free food! If you get home and find the error, you are entitled to the difference in the amount charged versus the amount advertised.

A sale is NOT a bargain if the items are things that you don't know how to prepare or that your family may refuse to eat. Don't waste your money on groceries that you know your family will not enjoy. Conversely, and I add this to inject a little bit of humor, a sale is NOT a bargain if the item is something to which your family becomes addicted! Several months ago, Lea & Perrins came out with Thick, Classic Worcestershire Sauce. The sale price, when combined with the manufacturer's coupon I had received, meant that the 10 ounce bottle cost me 25 cents. However, my family fell in love with this sauce and if I let them, they might just drink it plain. Now, I have no coupons and the price is $4.00 for that same bottle that I originally purchased for just 25 cents. NOT a bargain! I have to buy it all the time...

Getting A Refund And How To Make It Easier!

For some, it is difficult to even think of bringing grocery store items back to the store and asking for a refund. Consider how much money you throw into the trashcan because you cannot serve it to your family. Every dollar counts when your family is on a budget! The retail grocery industry is aware that food goes bad, goes beyond its expiration date, is inedible for one reason or another because they throw food away every single day. The Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration publish annual statistics for food loss at the retail level. The most commonly discarded foods at the retail level are dairy, meats, and fresh produce.

There are times that I have purchased cuts of beef on sale and when I open the package, I see that the packaging has camouflaged that most of the meat is fat or grizzle. The meat packers at the store have done this, so I feel no guilt about returning the item. I put the meat into a baggie and put it into my freezer, keeping the tag with it. Because I have saved the receipt, my money will be back in my pocket.

The same has happened with fresh fish. Ever get that beautiful salmon fillet home, open it up and smell an overpowering aroma that you know indicates that this piece of fish cannot be saved, much less eaten by your family? Again, pack it up and put it into your freezer. Bring it with you when you return to the store.

Before helping you with the return process, let me offer some some shopping advice that I have learned the hard way. Do these simple things and you might not need to return anything:

  • Check the sell by date or the expiration date on every single packaged or canned item that you buy. This includes cereal, cookies, crackers, soup, sauces, canned meats and fish, plus any number of other grocery items.
  • Check the sell by or expiration date on all dairy products and packaged deli products, which include eggs, milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt, butter, packaged lunch meats, hot dogs, and bacon. Do not buy a carton of eggs that is missing an expiration date.
  • Look closely at the already packaged meats in your butcher's department. Most of the time there are two or three steaks in that family pack that is on sale. If the meat is hidden from view by stacking, put it back and find one where each piece of meat is clearly visible. If all of the packages have meat that is not visible, ring the bell for the butcher and tell him of your concerns. Believe it or not, they do not get angry and they will open the package that you have chosen to let you examine the meat. If all of those steaks are fine, purchase the package. The butcher will simply reseal it for you. If, after you examine those steaks and find that they are full of fat and grizzle, it will be the butcher who is embarrassed.
  • THIS MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT TIP I OFFER! If you use reading glasses (for those of you over 40), wear them in the grocery store! If you don't, you will be unable to see sell by dates. The sell by dates and expiration dates are written in text that is very small. Even people with 20/20 vision have a difficult time seeing the dates clearly. I cannot count the number of times that I have been shopping minus my glasses and when I get home realize that what I thought was a window of two weeks was actually only two days. Worse yet, there have been many times that I have purchased items that were already expired.

Here are some tips to making the return process easier:

  • Keep your receipts until you are sure that the items you have purchased are able to be used for their intended purposes.
  • Clean and store your fresh produce immediately. Cut up that fresh pineapple right away. Clean the strawberries, and cut them up for use, otherwise they will get moldy in your refrigerator after a day or two. By cleaning your produce, you will find out immediately if the produce is edible.
  • Prior to freezing any of your fresh meats or fish, open the original packaging to check for quality and then repackage it in plastic for freezing. If this seems like a waste of time, look at how much you have paid for the item and decide if you can afford to throw that much money into the trashcan.
  • Bring your receipt to the store with you, along with either a sample of the product purchased or in the case of dry or canned foods, the entire product.
  • Speak to the manager. He or she is committed to retaining your loyalty as a customer. The manager will almost always accommodate you. Always begin your conversation in a positive way. Tell the manager that you shop in his store every week and that you enjoy the store. Smile and be friendly! They are in business to meet your needs and to satisfy you, the customer.
  • If you have not received a refund or are still dissatisfied, contact the corporate office via email. That is the most effective and most rewarding method of complaining. Again, start on a positive note. Explain your problem, give the receipt number, the date of the transaction and any and all pertinent information. End the email on a positive note. Say something like, "I know that this is an isolated incident because I have always been happy when shopping at your store. Thank you for helping me to resolve this issue." For me, this method of complaining has resulted in gift cards. The amounts have varied from as little as $25.00 to as high as $50.00. Those gift cards, when used for the purchase of sale items, has added up to great savings and continued customer loyalty.


Saving Your Budget Is Your Responsibility! Take It Seriously!

You work hard for your money! We all do! The little things can add up to significant money. Do not be afraid or hesitate to ask for your money. When someone sells you something, that item comes with either an implied or stated warranty. The implied warranty simply means that a product purchased will be fit for the purpose for which it is sold. Food products are covered by this implied warranty.


Submit a Comment

  • Jillian Barclay profile imageAUTHOR

    Jillian Barclay 

    4 years ago from California, USA

    I completely agree! There are also stores that I shop quite often-they know me--I just save the receipt for the next visit-sometimes do not even bring in the product (like sour milk, bad fruit)--and these stores always give me my money back. In the case of overcharges, I just show my receipt and they give me the refund- It pays to make relationships. The stores that I have found that do this are Stater Brothers, Sprout's, and even Albertson's...

  • Millionaire Tips profile image

    Shasta Matova 

    4 years ago from USA

    Excellent information on saving money at the grocery store. There have been times I didn't return something, because it would cost me extra time to wait in line to get a refund, and grocery prices individually are pretty low, but I have been getting better about that. I think it helps them know when they are slipping up.

  • Jillian Barclay profile imageAUTHOR

    Jillian Barclay 

    6 years ago from California, USA

    Dear Joanna,

    I have returned items without a receipt-most stores know their products and if it is a store that you shop in regularly, they will probably be more interested in keeping your business than in getting that receipt. I say, Go for it!

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Can i return items without a reciept? I dont save my reciepts but i just bought some really bad tasting lunch meat.

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    It seens like you might be returning perfectly good itens to the store just because you are picky. All the food you return will be thrown away. Think all the work, people and material needed to produce the food all to end up in a trash can...

  • Jillian Barclay profile imageAUTHOR

    Jillian Barclay 

    7 years ago from California, USA

    Dear Rory,

    So happy to hear that! I think a lot of people wonder about this; most are afraid to bring items back to the grocery store. For years, if I got a gallon of milk home and it was curdled, I threw it away. If I bought a piece of meat and it was full of fat and grizzle, threw that away, too! Not any more! I need my money!

  • rorymullen profile image


    7 years ago from Maine

    O have always wondered about food. Thanks for the info and I will be implementing some off the ideas

  • Jillian Barclay profile imageAUTHOR

    Jillian Barclay 

    7 years ago from California, USA

    Dear Lilibees,

    Thank you for reading and for your comment. I appreciate it!

    Dear MikeNV,

    COSTCO does seem to have the most liberal return policy, however, all grocery stores will refund money if an item is spoiled, outdated, or in some way substandard. Many people feel intimidated by the prospect of returning food to grocery stores and end up just throwing it away.

    Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • MikeNV profile image


    7 years ago from Henderson, NV







    No return hassles at all.

    Good hub though.

  • lilibees profile image


    7 years ago

    Great information and yo are so right, people should always get what they pay for, exspecially the food we will be putting into our mouths!


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