Take It Back: Returning Things That Don’t Work

Among other things, one quirk I inherited from my mom was my aversion to return lines. Sure, there’s really nothing to fear about going to customer service and returning a purchase that just didn’t work out, but somehow it made me uncomfortable. In most cases I’d rather just suck it up, consider it my bad for buying it, and call it a loss. Maybe I just felt wrong making the retailers deal with my poorly repackaged item or just preferred to avoid any debate over whether it met their policy.

But then I met Sherry, the self-proclaimed Queen Of Returns, and my relationship with those once dreaded lines completely changed.

Sherry has the exact opposite philosophy. If she buys something that isn’t quite right – because it doesn’t fit, doesn’t match, or doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to – she brings it back without blinking an eye. Maybe it comes from years of working retail on 34th Street in Manhattan and dutifully handing money/store credits to thousands of customers who nonchalantly returned items (even if they had no tags or receipt). Whatever its origin, Sherry’s no-fear approach to bringing things back means that our house is less cluttered with “oops purchases” and it also keeps us from settling on things that aren’t exactly what we want. It also means I’ve gotten a lot better at returning items over the last four years (like the flashcards we got from Barnes & Noble for the office clothesline– we later found cuter ones at Anthropologie so the lesser liked pack went back).

Needless to say that in the last half-decade or so I’ve gotten over my own hesitations about it. In fact, returning items has become an important part of our DIY process. After all, some things just need to be seen or tried in your space to know if they really will work. So whether it’s bringing home an armload of curtain options (like we did for our bedroom a few years ago) or bringing back a surge protector that isn’t Mac-friendly (like we did a few weeks ago) – having a “no fear” approach to returning unwanted items actually saves us a lot of time (instead of hours spent debating and guessing in the store as if whatever we buy must remain in our home forever). And on top of cutting down on unnecessary clutter, returning things that just don’t make the grade saves us money too. Yes we do spend time returning stuff, but we frequent stores like Target and Home Depot so often that we rarely have to make trips just to return things (and we figure that small amount of time spent keeping our house from filling with unnecessary, extraneous things is well worth it).

The goods news is that a lot of our favorite stores make returns easy. While we haven’t memorized every return policy out there quite yet, we can breeze through a Target or Home Depot line in no time because neither need receipts (Target can look things up on most credit cards- and Home Depot can do the same). This is also good news because it means we don’t need to hang on to those receipts, minimizing wallet clutter and all that pesky BPA that everyone from the Washington Post to MSNBC is chatting about (here’s where we first mentioned it back in April).

We can also tell you in our sleep that places like Michael’s do need receipts if you want money back (otherwise it’s a store credit for you) while places like Wal-Mart often have long lines. And Babies R’ Us won’t even look at you if you don’t have a receipt. But at least almost all places will take back items without much need for an explanation, even if they’ve been opened (assuming they’re not things like DVDs or medicine). And if any of them ask why we’re bringing something back, a “we didn’t end up needing it” usually suffices. So much for those elaborate and persuasive tales I once believed I needed to tell. Although Sherry’s a happy-to-chat-with-anyone-girl, so she often elaborates and explains things like “we bought a bunch of pillows to see which ones looked the best in the den, so now we’re returning the ones that missed the mark.” This usually brings on some banter with the cashier about how hard it is to make decorating decisions and sometimes ends in the person at the register declaring that they’re going to do the same thing so they’re sure to find the perfect pillows/lamps/fill in the blank.

So while I still feel a little bad when I see a team of red-shirted Targetians wrangling cart-fulls of returns, I now embrace the return line as an important step in our money-saving, clutter-minimizing design process.

What about you guys? Could you join Sherry on the Queen Of Returns throne? Or would you and my mom have a lot to talk about when it comes to avoiding returns at all cost? Perhaps you work in retail and that makes you hate making returns even more, or reminds you that it’s your hard-earned right? We’d love to hear any and all return-related musings. Spill it.


  1. says

    Definitely am a return-happy girl, but I do HATE doing it because, in my case, it usually ends up being a trip literally just to return the thing. I know BB&B does returns, but if you don’t have a receipt, I’m pretty sure it’s just store credit. Anyone else experience anything different?

    I’ve also heard that at BB&B if you get those 20% coupons in the mail and don’t have it on hand the day of purchase, you can go on back and redeem the coupon after the fact. Pretty cool, huh?

  2. Elizabeth says

    I will fight Sherry for that “queen of returns” crown! Most of my purchases are premised on which store has the best return policy…just in case. This also impacts my online purchasing, I prefer to purchase from places that have brick and mortar stores as a return option (Wal Mart, Target, certain clothing stores, etc.) My mother teases me all the time about how many things I return.

  3. Meredith says

    I’m SO with you, John. I’ve gotten better with age, but I used to hate-hate-hate returns. I feel like it’s my mistake for buying it, so I should suck it up and deal. I have gotten better; a couple of weeks ago I bought some cables I wound up not needing. I took them back to Target and got my $15 back in like 2 minutes, with no hassle. Moral for me: returning is (usually) not that bad.

  4. Kate says

    FYI to people returning to Target – All the Targets (around here at least) will look up ANY credit card for returns. All you do is give them your card and they can swipe it to look up your purchase. I do it all the time!

  5. bindc says

    I’m with Sherry. We work hard for our money so we shouldn’t squander it on stuff you don’t want or need.

    I’m also the queen of online shopping returns. With two kids who don’t really care if the black pumps look better than the black flats, I tend to buy several items online (in different sizes and colors if needed), try them on at home and then return the ones I don’t like. I do that with Zappos all the time, Nordstrom, Gap, BR, etc.

    Then there’s no pressure, free returns on many sites or you can return it to the store. I love it!!

  6. JenM says

    Oh, my husband HATES to return things and like you did not believe that its usually a pretty easy process these days, especially since they can look up the transaction if you paid via credit card. He also thinks they will carefully inspect the item when all they do is make sure its something sold from their store. We returned some cabinets to IKEA and he took such care to place the item back into the box exactly as it was packed and was shocked to see how other customers were trying to return their items.

  7. says

    I’m also a big returner of pretty much anything. I did a pillow search – one year for outdoor pillows and one year for bedroom pillows – and made around 20 returns for each since it took a while to find the perfect pillow.

    I actually just bought a gorgeous rug that I thought would work in my house but I think I’m going to return it, sadly.

    Hey – you were in Peoria, IL last year! I used to live there but slowly went mad from being bored. ;)

  8. Loriana says

    My husband calls me the exact same thing The Queen of Returns, because everything I buy I realize I didn’t need it in the end and back to the store it went. I even do the same for my two year old clothes, I buy stuff I like and rather try it on at home, because its a war zone between me and my daughter in the dressing room. So at home I can be more relaxed and try the outfits and return what I didn’t end up liking and what I did like but just don’t think I want to keep we would wear with the tag hidden and return later on lol. Yeah he thinks I nuts, and has told people I have an addiction to returning things, but either it sits there and never get used or get my money back.

  9. Sandra says

    Babies R Us in our area will happily give you store credit without a receipt.
    Target, on the other hand, will only give you store credit for the lowest amount that the item has ever sold for, and will require a drivers license because they only give you a total of $70 in store credit w/o receipts per year. So if you pay with your debit or cash or return gifts, Target is not very friendly about it.
    These return policies factored largely into deciding not to register at Target for my baby shower.

  10. Dana says

    I don’t mind returning things as long as I don’t stand in line too long (lines are not very efficient when people don’t have receipts and tags). Sorry, that’s the engineer in me.
    I have also been on the other side of the returns and I don’t mind taking back purchases as long as they haven’t been worn multiple times (a lady returned a pair of clearly worn shoes) and you have the receipt. Another lady was returning a pair of socks that she got as a gift and wanted a different pair, same brand. We could only give the lowest price on them because she has no receipt. Needless to say she had a few (well, many) choice words to the associate behind the counter (me) who could do nothing about what the store’s computer system spits out.

  11. Alix says

    I actually work at Bed Bath and Beyond and we will accept anything returned! Which makes me hate returns. Last week I got a 3 year old rusted out shower organizer, a piece of framed art so full of smoke we had to throw it away immediately after the return (it was turning yellow and my hands smelt like cigarettes for a day even after washing, and purelling like crazy! ) Anyways we do let you come back in with coupons and your receipt anytime after you forget coupons! Also, we now have the credit card look up for returned items, so we don’t always have to issue store credit! As long as you are returning items that you didn’t damage, I think returns are an excellent thing, but if you broke it in half yourself, please keep it at home! :)

  12. Amanda says

    Guilty as charged! I loathe returns! If I purchase something that doesn’t quite work, I will immediately repackage it, and put it in a bag along with the receipt in the backseat of my car. I’m usually pretty proud of myself for being so on top of the process at this point. Then 30 days comes and goes and the nicely packaged bag is still in my backseat.
    My husband gets on my case about this all of the time!
    When we last moved, we found a couple of items to be returned in my trunk that were a good year past their date. Oops!
    I’m also a fan of online shopping.. Don’t even ask how long it takes me to find the motivation to stop at the Post Office or UPS drop off.

  13. Miki says

    While I love Target, it scares me to know that they are always tracking my purchases and returns. I use my bank card for most transactions and it amazes me that I can go in to buy a birthday card and when I check out, I get a coupon for diapers (based on previous transactions, they know I have a young child).

  14. Mandy says

    I return everything, just had to return a whole mess of shorts for the hubs that I bought since he insists that his waist is smaller than it really is. Finally taught him, and made him go try them on in the store when we both went back to get ones that actually fit. What is it with guys and their aversion to fitting rooms??? But yes, I will buy multiples to try at home and then return what I don’t want, like I just bought 3 of the same jacket in different colors at LL Bean and will return the least favorite. I love being able to shop like that, virtually worry free that I am losing out of money

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *