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Would you return a 10-year-old bed?

th-1My personal-finance pal J. Money started an interesting conversation over at Budgets Are Sexy. A reader asked if it were “a poor decision” to use an item for years, then return it for a refund.

(That’s even a question?)

In “Returning used stuff – cool or no?,” J. Money said he wrote back to the reader saying, among other things, that this was a question of personal ethics. The blogger added that he would not return anything unless it was broken or otherwise not delivering on its promise.

(In his wild youth he’d returned a used boombox two days before the return window expired, and was thoroughly shamed by the customer service rep before he got his refund. Lesson learned!)

The reader then shared that he’d needed to move and “just couldn’t throw out my bedroom set that was in perfect condition and 10 years old.” (Emphasis added.) So he took it back to Costco and, unbelievably, the store refunded his money.

 

“I felt weird about it,” the reader noted, “but it was one less thing I had to deal with when moving…Ethical, no, but within the rules.”

Anyone but me having a big ol’ WTF? moment right now?

 

Call a ‘return’ what it really is

One commenter mentioned the phrase “return to vendor.” Naturally my mind made the jump to hyperspace and “Return To Sender” began earwigging its way through my mind. Within 10 minutes I’d written my own comment with that Elvis hit in mind.

First, the original (to remind you of the tune):


 

Now, my (slightly rewritten) comment:

Return to vendor?

Ethics unknown!

It’s used or dirty,

Resale value blown.

A tacky practice,

Not a frugal hack,

You buy it, use it and then (you sleaze!)

You take it back.

We all find ourselves payin’ the price

For your “super deal.”

When retail costs go up,

How do you think we feel?

Return to vendor?

I don’t think so!

Adult-up and get some class

You cheap mofo!

The buying, using and returning of products is so common that there’s a neologism for it: “wardrobing.”

I wonder whether people would still want to do it if it were called “fraud,” or “stealing.”

 

Costing us all

Sometimes it’s possible to get away with this sort of thing, if you’re really careful about getting the items dirty (and if you don’t perspire much). But something that’s obviously used can’t be sold as new, so retailers take the hit – and they take it many thousands of times per year.

Wardrobing is so prevalent that many stores require at least one form of photo ID and keep detailed records. In fact, a J. Money reader noted that a friend’s mother has been banned from Bed Bath & Beyond. Apparently she was buying, using and returning sheets, towels and dishes every six months. (Keep it classy, Mom!)

Just as with credit card fraud, the cost gets passed along to consumers. You’re not sticking it to The Man, but rather to your fellow shoppers – and, maybe, to yourself. Picture this: You want to buy something stylish and it looks great in the dressing room. Then you get it home and realize it’s got sweat stains or a little cigarette burn on the sleeve.

How does it feel to wear somebody else’s fraudulent behavior? Make sure to bring your driver’s license when you take the item back to the store. And remember: You might now be on a frequent-buyer list and not allowed to return the item. Karma’s a bummer sometimes – especially if the customer service clerk were to accuse you of damaging the garment.

What say you, readers: How far should a return policy be stretched?

 

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53 Comments

  1. OK – WHOA… returning a bed 10 years later is just crazy. We bought a really expensive bed and legitimately didn’t like it (it turned into this huge soft “marshmallow” about 6 months in) and there was no way we would have ever tried to return it. And as far as the clothes and other home items go, I am glad you could be added to a “list”. People will seem to do anything to cheat the system. If only they put that much work in to their real jobs…

    • Donna Freedman

      “If only they put that much work into their real jobs…”

      Snort.

    • sciliz

      See, returning a “perfectly fine” 10 year old bed *is* just crazy.
      But I fear the environmental consequences of living in a world where a fraudulent retailer sells a “durable” consumer good like a bed, and people don’t even consider returning it if it’s toast 6 months in.

      The way I see it, the store/company owes you the cost of the bed, and the cost of your time shopping for another bed!

      In that sense, the cost of goods that last less time than expected *also* drives up costs for everyone, if there *could* be an alternate durable product people would have picked, had they but known.

  2. jestjack

    Which….only intensifies my dilemma. Over 30 years ago DW bought me an “ash bucket” for the woodstove…a very good, insulated, “special” ash bucket WITH a lifetime warranty. She paid about $85 for the bucket. It has served us well for over 30 years. BUT the paint is starting to come off and I worry about a breach and it not being safe. The company is still in business and I have the original box. I’m torn…the bucket has served me well for over 30 years…do I just suck it up? OR hey this thing was over $85 when one could buy a metal trash can with handle and lid at the time for $8. And a LIFETIME warranty is a lifetime warranty. As for “wardrobing”…not a fan.

    • Great point! I guess I see this as different than a 10 year old bed (but if Costo has that policy – I guess it is there issue too!) I had an LL Bean backpack that had a lifetime warranty too – and after 10 years it had seen it’s better days. I sent it in for them to repair and they sent me a new one.

      • LL Bean backpacks are the bomb! We bought my daughter one when she was in middle school (after returning a different well known one many times for repairs). Two years in middle school, four years in high school, 4 years in college, 2 or 3 more years in UK, and still looking good. Pick a pattern you like; it will be around for a long time.

    • Donna Freedman

      In my opinion, a lifetime warranty is a lifetime warranty. Return it!

    • I can’t believe returning a perfectly good bed or anything else after ten years…I would die of embarrassment even considering it. On the other hand “lifetime guarantee” means that to me and my husband and I have each returned LL Bean luggage when trim falls apart or the tread comes off one of the wheels (we always ask if they repair and they say no, explain that the model has changed and we figure out what we want (smaller, different size, whatever). But we would never return it after using it because we don’t like it — it’s because of a problem and the guarantee.

    • Kate Nelson

      Jestjack, why not call the company and explain your dilemma? I’ve often found that companies are more than willing to meet you halfway if you have concerns and are honest with them.

  3. Tina in NJ

    Companies like LL Bean and Land’s End (maybe not anymore) advertise their lifetime guarantees, so I assume it’s built into the price. I remember several years ago that a customer “returned” a car they’d won from Land’s End in a contest decades before, citing the guarantee. The company was tickled by the offer (?) and featured the car on the front of their catalog. My point is, companies use the lifetime warranty as a selling point. Taking them up on it is fine. Wardrobing is the opposite end of the spectrum. Btw, if my mattress had failed after 6 months, I’d have asked for a new mattress. Those things are expensive!

    • Too funny – but we called them and they actually sent someone to our house to measure the “failure indent” and it didn’t meet their “squish test” (or something silly like that!) by 1/8th of an inch. Can’t make this stuff up…

  4. I think ten years is way too long to consider returning it. Six months and I would definitely have no problem trying.

    Certain things are meant to last a lifetime or sold as if they were. Mattresses, sorry, cannot be assigned this expectation. I remember another blogger, I think Frugal Confessions, called Tupperware after something stopped working that was 30+ years old and they were more than happy to replace it. That makes sense to me. A mattress, come on.

    • Donna Freedman

      It wasn’t clear from the article but when he said “bedroom set,” I assumed he meant the bed frame and maybe a dresser or table. But maybe it was just the mattress.

      Another commenter mentioned a sofa being returned to Costco after five years. When asked why, the customer said “I don’t like the color.” Seriously?!?

      That’s where it crosses the line from being frugal to being cheap.

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  5. When I worked Macy’s as a 2nd job, we had customers we referred to as “frequent flyers,” who’d come in having used half a bottle of expensive eau de parfum (often to the tune of $100+) and say they had discovered when they got home that they didn’t like it. Really? It took using it for months on end to decide you didn’t like it?

  6. Diane C

    I worked at Nordstrom for ten years. The stories I could tell…

    Okay, here’s one. In one of the PNW stores, there is a tire mounted on the wall of the employee lunchroom. Yup, seems someone had returned it. Nordstrom took it back, even though they’d never sold tires.

    Here’s the rest of the story: The building had been a tire store before it was a Nordstrom. Yeah, the person returned the tire to the physical location where he’d purchased it, and Nordstrom took it. Geez, I can’t even say they took it back, because they never sold it to him. But they gave him some amount of money for it and got a ton of additional mileage out of that tire in the form of good PR.

    Many of the other stories, including “wardrobing” turn my stomach. I believe in kharma, I have a conscience, and a strong sense of what’s fair. Doesn’t matter if it’s a mom & pop shop or a megacorp, I still have to live with myself.

    • Donna Freedman

      Agreed. Then again, maybe they don’t have any trouble living with themselves — in fact, maybe they constantly congratulate themselves about how clever they are. The guy who wrote to J. Money tossed off a “C’est la vie” after noting that what he did wasn’t really ethical. Gah.

      J. Money, on the other hand, was so embarrassed by the dressing-down he got from the customer service clerk that he swore he’d never do something like that again. He was young and feckless, but now he’s responsible and he knows better — and I bet he’ll tell his two boys never to do stupid stuff like that.

    • When going through the bin of returns for items that go in my department (checkout area) of my store I found a product someone had accepted as a return with a K-Mart sticker on it. We’re definitely NOT a K-Mart.

  7. Diane C

    PS – Loved the improved lyrics, particularly the last line.

  8. Ro in San Diego

    If I change my mind about an item now I just post in on Yerdle and use my credits to replace the item. I wouldn’t dream of returning something after using it. I liked your lyrics also.

  9. Angela Jewby

    “You cheap mofo!” – can’t stop laughing!

  10. I work for a very large global retailer as a overnight customer service supervisor and while 98% of my customers are pleasant and cause no trouble that remaining 2% is bad enough to make me a grumpy old misanthrope.

    Our return policy is fairly liberal compared to some stores. While there are a few items with exceptions in regards to returns and exchanges, most items can be returned within 90 days. For most items you’re not required to provide a receipt. For returns without a receipt we will ask for ID and your information is stored and checked every time you do a non-receipt return. Why? Because you’re allowed only 3 non-receipt returns within a 45 day period. (You’re also required to sign for every return whether you provide a receipt or not.)

    So how do we know you bought the item within the last 90 days if you don’t have a receipt? We don’t.

    Does logging the information of people returning items without a receipt deter fraud? No. People get their friends and family members to do it for them or try to use fake or stolen IDs.

    How do we know you actually bought the item? We don’t. There are people that steal items at one store and then bring it for a refund at another. (Once I caught a woman who picked up an item off the shelf, walked up front to customer service, and tried to “return” it. I was on break at the time and was looking at something back in toys and saw her pick up the $120-ish dollar box of Legos and walk up front. Within two minutes I was called over the walkie for a return at customer service because it was a new cashier who didn’t know how to do returns. Saw the woman, saw the Lego box, called my manager, and together we escorted her out and told her to stay out of our store. That was satisfying.)

    We have even had people who get items off the clearance racks and then try to return it for full price, with a receipt showing the clearance price, and argue with us when we tell them they can only receive as a refund the amount they actually paid. One woman even said that without getting back $7 for a bowl she paid $1 for she wouldn’t “have enough money to pay for my purchase”.

    If you return an item without a receipt but within the 90 days for a legitimate reason then there’s no issue. And obviously if it’s a recalled item you should definitely bring it back for a refund regardless of date because that can be VERY dangerous and the hit to the store financially is worth saving people from injury or death. But it is highly immoral, and illegal, to use an item and return it outside of the return policy just to get money back. Especially if you’ve damaged the item from said use and most definitely if you used it for ten years!

    Besides, I don’t want to take back and possibly have to restock and resell a product someone has had sex on. Ewww.

    • Donna Freedman

      “(It) is highly immoral, and illegal, to use an item and return it outside of the return policy just to get money back.”

      This. (And I hope you write a book one day about Retail Frauds I Have Known.)

  11. Teinegurl

    Honestly I’m shocked by the question and I’m more shocked by the answers. You bought something and enjoyed it for 10 years. No ,you shouldn’t return it! You got your money’s worth and then some! Even 6 months for a matteress to me is long. After a week of sleeping on the thing it must have been uncomfortable, even if you thought oh I get used to it after a month and you didn’t ,return it! I always buy things with the intention of me NOT returning the item because most likely I don’t want to waste coming back a second time. I don’t understand people who buy something just to use it once and return it. Why buy it in the first place? Isn’t it more of a hassle to go back a second time?
    A former friend of mine ALWAYS did this with everything! If you gave her a gift with a receipt it would be returned. She returned things only to turn around and buy the thing she returned at a later time. She probably was on those frequent flyers list at a couple of stores. I refused to go shopping with her because of this for a while. I do remember she returned a vacuum that was clearly used. EWWW

    • It took me six months to realize my mattress was sagging. Now, a year later, I will return it. I have been working through cancer, hysterectomy and other things. I don’t feel a bit in the wrong since it has a ten-year guarantee.

  12. Kate Nelson

    Still SMH over some people’s behavior… Loved the “Return to Vendor” parody! Reminds me of reading the song parodies in Mad Magazine in the 1960s.

    • Donna Freedman

      I used to love those parodies. Wish I could be half as clever as that (although what I wrote wasn’t bad for a 10-minute effort).

  13. Kimberly

    My daughter-in-law works at Wal-Mart. She mentioned how people “borrow” Christmas trees. They buy them around Thanksgiving, use them, and return them after Christmas. She said the people seemed kind of proud of their cleverness- they are only out the money for a few months and don’t have to store it the rest of the year. It never would have even occurred to me to do that.

    • Donna Freedman

      If only those folks could get it through their heads that they’re ultimately making prices go up in general! Items that can’t be sold for full price mean a lower profit margin. We all pay eventually.

      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  14. I can see Costco taking back an old mattress if they have a disposal or recycling policy. Those things are not so easy to get rid of; in my neighborhood, people just leave them in the alley for the sanitation crews.

    But I CANNOT see ANY company actually issuing a refund! That’s nuts. After 10 days, maybe. 10 years … nope nope nope.

    • Where I work you can get a refund for anything without providing a receipt so long as you haven’t hit the limit for non-receipt returns in a 45 day period. If the total is under $25, you get cash. Over $25, store credit. People are still fine with the store credit since they can use it for alcohol, tobacco, gasoline, and whatever else they choose. Or sell the card for cash online.

  15. Sonya Ann

    I never would do this. But its company policy so the real question is why would the company allow this?
    I did hear of a woman that had a warranty on her mattress against sagging and she did get a new mattress. Her old one was stained and just gross. Maybe this is a pride thing more than ethics.

    • The company allows it because most people won’t use the policy, and it’s great advertising.

      When I worked at JCPenney, we had a person order a ton of stuff to throw a party – dining room table, couch, chairs, dishes, all stuff from the catalog. And then they brought it all back 2 weeks later, after the party. We were a small store with none of those departments so it was really hard for us to pack it up and ship it back.

      But that was one time in many years. In general an easy return policy makes people buy more -they’re more willing to take risks, they like the store better, it gives an impression of quality.

  16. Cathy in NJ

    Wow reading this has been an eye opener. My mind just doesn’t go to returning something I had used and worn out.
    But I am surprised I could return so many different things legitimately. I always feel wrong returning cosmetics, if its my bad color choice or perfume if I ended up allergic to it. Once I used them they can’t be resold.

  17. Back in the 60s I worked at Sears Catalogue store. I was 17 years old and a woman brought in a grocery bag and handed me a receipt for her almost 10 year old toilet seat!!! Using paper towels, the manager and I took it out of the bag. She got her full refund!! The paint had chipped!!

    • Donna Freedman

      Jay Leno had a funny story like that, concerning his very thrifty mother (a Scot) who saved the receipts for everything and who, he swears, returned a 30-year-old toilet seat because it had a lifetime guarantee.

  18. Guarantees aside, it is just wrong to return an item you’ve used. I keep receipts, in case I need to return something, but it has to be either unused or have something wrong with it (within a reasonable time limit). If it takes me two years to discover a problem, it’s mine. I can sell it, or give it away and claim it on my tax return. It is disgusting that some people allow themselves to be “clever” at another’s expense. The rest of us do pay for it.

    I wonder about the psychology of this behavior. It goes beyond cheap. It seems more hostile, like a minor little win over “them.” “They” being the ones who have more, who make money (or try to make money) off of people’s needs. It’s a kind of resentment and payback.

    I used to have to scrimp and save and every little dime I could get ahead actually made a difference to me. But I don’t recall feeling angry or resentful. I remember deciding it was up to me to get a better paying career, and then doing what I could to make it happen. And it did work out in the long run. However, I think some people are feeling trapped in some way, as though things are stacked against them in a real and almost calculating way. If I felt that way, I’d be resentful.

    For those trying to survive in a time when prices rise, rents rise, and pay stagnates, it must seem like a cynical game that they must lose, by design. They are perhaps encouraged to take whatever they can get, and likewise give no quarter.

    I wonder if I am seeing a new ghetto, not based on race or gender, but on class or at least job levels. If you’re too low on that totem pole, too bad. You’re forced to accept lower pay and somehow pay rent that is too much for your income. People don’t respond well to traps and ghettos. It is a dead-end for everyone, one way and another.

    • Donna Freedman

      “For those trying to survive in a time when prices rise, rents rise, and pay stagnates, it must seem like a cynical game that they must lose, by design. They are perhaps encouraged to take whatever they can get, and likewise give no quarter.”

      I remember seeing ethically questionable blog posts during the worst of the recession — stuff like “if you live near hotels that offer free breakfasts, pretend to be a guest and eat all you can hold.” As with the “return obviously used stuff for a refund,” the underpinning is that “it’s a big business and can afford to eat the loss (so to speak).”

      I can definitely understand feeling that the game is stacked against you. According to Liz Weston, it is:
      https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/finance/why-people-are-angry/

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      • A Reader

        How about the concept of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY? Philosophical essay question: explain why has that fallen by the wayside in today’s society. A responsible person lives below their means, minimizes risks, and follows strategies that maximize success. Oh yes, and a responsible person also follows the rules and laws for an orderly society. Weston’s article cited above recommends eliminating debt and increasing savings. Sounds like great advice to me!

        • Donna Freedman

          Anyone who knows me (or even reads me) knows that I’m all about personal responsibility. But not everyone has had the chance to learn how to live below his means, minimize risks and follow strategies to maximize success. What seems obvious to you (and to me) is a different language to people who’ve had no role models for this sort of thing.

          Put another way: I didn’t grow up in the Arctic. If I were expected to survive there I’d make all kinds of mistakes, possibly even fatal errors. Not because I’m stupid, but because no one ever taught me how to, say, notice a lead in the ice or build a shelter.

          The whole point of my writing — articles for pay, these blog posts and now my upcoming book — has been to teach people what they need to know.

          • A Reader

            …and you do a great job! I’ve always liked reading your blogs and other writing about PF. Keep up the great work!

  19. Costco will let you return all sorts of stuff! Once I returned a pair of (perfectly dreadful, useless!) progressive glasses, and to my astonishment they took them back and gave me a full refund. The fact was, their vendor had done an amazingly bad job on the lenses…but still…they’re custom made and they can’t very well resell the things.

    On the other hand, that’s the kind of thing that keeps you coming back. Considering how much I spend at Costco, you’ve gotta figure they retrieved the loss and many times that in profits on all the other stuff they’ve sold me since then.

    That said, returning a 10-year-old bedstead strikes me as a little beyond the pale. No…a whole lot beyond. What chutzpah! And how astonishing that Costco accepted it….

    Why not donate it? Or if the reader is too cheap to do that, how about selling it through a consignment store?

    I have known women who would buy a dress for a party, wear it, and then take it back a few days later saying it didn’t fit right or some such. They just had to be very careful not to spill anything on it. That’s why, presumably, some stores won’t take returns at all.

  20. Addendum: Check this out! http://www.marketwatch.com/story/is-it-wrong-to-buy-and-wear-clothes-that-you-plan-to-return-2014-12-01

    The Moneyologist reports that 2/3 of women clothes shoppers surveyed in the UK said they return items after wearing them once.

    Good grief.

  21. I bought a pair of shoes at Macy’s to wear at a conference in Atlanta, about three hours from my house. The store was an hour in the other direction from my house. The first day at the conference the shoes hurt. The next day, they hurt worse. I wore them another day later in the week. About a month later, I returned the shoes with a receipt. It took an hour to get the money back. The young man explained they had to check to see what else I had returned. He explained that some young women bought new clothes, foundation out, wore them and returned foundation, jewelry, several outfits, hats, and shoes. It seemed they went away for the weekend or attended a wedding or something and just returned it all. I was horrified! It was the first I heard of this practice. I knew people returned a dress but not jewelry, shoes and all.

  22. Sarah

    A friend, (who I thought was a good person) bragged to me about going to yard sales looking for brands with “lifetime” warranties so that she can return the items for a replacement. She thinks this is very smart. I haven’t had the courage to tell her that I think this is stealing. She is in very difficult financial circumstances, but I too believe in karma and I think she could be making her situation worse. It certainly has changed my opinion of her and I am less sympathetic to her now. What can a person say to this?

  23. Diane C

    Lol, circling around to say that used to happen at Nordstrom. People buy used things with Nordstrom labels and try to get a full “refund”. Fortunately, the men’s dress shirts have a little tag with the date of manufacture in code. I had someone try to return a shirt that was over ten years old. It wasn’t worn, he said he just didn’t like it “any more”. It also had someone else’s name written in sharpie by a dry cleaner. I was pretty sure I’d seen the same shirt at a garage sale the previous weekend. At risk of repercussion from my employer, I filled out all his information as if I was going to do the return and then looked the guy straight in the eye and refused him, due to the age of the shirt. For all I know he tried it again and got away with it at another store. Hollow victory, but it felt dangerously empowering at the time. I am eternally grateful that my life has moved on in a completely different direction. To this day, I shop as little as possible.

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