Many Happy Returns

Unlike 2021, the due date for U.S. tax returns was back to mid-April this year.  Most of us sweated under the ticking clock as we combed through statements and receipts in search of last-minute tax breaks. I have this recurring pipe dream where the IRS tells me to just keep what I owe (followed by the dream of how I would spend the money). Sadly, I’m a taxpayer who rarely sees a refund, and keeping what I owe certainly won’t happen. On the other hand, retailers could soon be asking me to keep what I want to return.  Now there’s something to ponder.

Picture this.  You place an Amazon order for a brand new Playstation 5.  You plunk down the $500 it costs and a few days later your purchase shows up on your doorstep.  But while you were waiting for your gaming console the IRS sent you a reminder about the balance due on your 2021 taxes. Whoops. You owe that $500 to the federal government, young taxpayer.  Hello, buyer’s remorse.  Full of regret, you contact Amazon to arrange the return, and their carefully worded response goes like this:

Dear Amazon Prime Member.  Thank you for your inquiry into the return of your Playstation 5 gaming console.  After reviewing our current stock we have determined it is not necessary for you to return this product.  Accordingly, nothing further is required at this time.  You can expect a full refund applied to the credit card used to make this purchase.  Thank you for shopping with Amazon.

Wait… keep the product AND get a refund, you say? Crazy, I know. Or maybe not, at least if you shop at Target or Wal*Mart.  Both retailers are considering this no-return approach with clothes, garden furniture, and “bulky” kids’ toys among other products they currently overstock.  It’s the result of consecutive worldwide events.  First, the pandemic, which allowed consumers to build up their savings accounts while mostly staying at home.  Second, record-setting inflation, which dragged a knife through what was supposed to be a post-pandemic spending frenzy.  Retailers stocked up early in anticipation of the purchase party, but then the lights and music were abruptly cut off.  The result: overstocked with a capital “O”.

This version of keep-the-product-keep-the-cash kinda-sorta happened to me years ago.  My sister-in-law ordered a ping-pong table for her family and when it came, they discovered a bit of damage in one corner.  So she contacted the company, who told her, “Keep it.  We’ll just send you another one.”  Thus, in a moment labeled “Christmas not on Christmas”, my family got a free ping-pong table (Thanks, Sis!) Sure, the bounce of the ball was a little off on that one corner, but my kids didn’t care.  Besides, before I knew it they were old enough (or not) to drink and pretty much destroyed the table when they shifted to beer pong.

But I digress. With a ping-pong table I’m almost sure the cost of shipping back to the manufacturer was more than the profit after fixing and reselling it.  So my sister-in-law got two tables for the price of one.  Hey, what if she’d bought ten ping-pong tables and all of them were defective?  She’d go up and down her street handing out free tables.  She’d gain a bunch of new best friends and her neighborhood would hold massive ping-pong tournaments.  All for the cost of one table.

The problem at Target and Wal*Mart is more than just the cost of returns and overstocked items.  It’s also, they can’t charge the same price they charged you.  For one, the item may be offered at a discounted price by the time you return it.  For two, certain items have to be classified as “used” and can’t be offered at full price after the first purchase, or even offered at all.

“Un-resellable”

Which brings me to orange juice.  Orange juice, you ask?  Yep.  Try to return a jug of juice to the market some time.  We bought five jugs a couple of months ago for our daughter’s bridal shower, assuming the mimosas would flow like Niagara Falls. Wrong. Only a few of the guests opted for the bubbly since the shower was mid-day.  So I called my local market to confirm the return of four unopened jugs of juice, and was horrified to hear, “Sure, you can return them for a full refund.  But we’ll just throw out the juice.” Throw out the juice?  Yes, it’s the world we live in these days.  Many food items cannot be resold for fear of tainting.  So I’m drinking a lot of orange juice right now.

Let’s wrap this public service announcement with a caveat.  One of these days you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you end up with a purchased product AND a full refund.  Lucky you – it’s “Christmas not on Christmas”!  If it’s through Amazon, however, be wary of the following purchases: hazardous materials, gift cards, jewelry, groceries, and live insects (uh, live insects?) None of those can ever be returned, nor will you get your money back.  In other words, the sea monkeys you adopted in a moment of nostalgia (remember those, Boomers?) should be considered bought and paid for.  No refunds.

Some content sourced from the CNN Business article, “Just keep your returns…”, and the Clark.com article, “12 Items That Can’t Be Returned to Amazon”.

21 thoughts on “Many Happy Returns

  1. Hi Dave,
    I am one of those that never got a single dollar back from the IRS. Every April I dread the call from accountant.
    I will be looking for that that Christmas not on Christmas – it could happen! I just need to keep buying stuff.
    Blessings to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read this about Target. I imagined people in droves buying stuff, to return it, told to keep it, and get their refund. I don’t know, it seems like an insane strategy. Can’t they take the returns and donate them?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Makes no sense to me either, Monica. Once people find out what items qualify for no-return-full-refund, you’ll see those items show up on the black market instead.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. We’ve only ever had one item that Amazon said we should just keep. It was a piece of clothing worth about $10 and it was too small for me. I took it to Goodwill. I think it was a win-win-win for me, Amazon and Goodwill!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I, too, have taken an item to goodwill when told by Amazon they would issue a refund, but would not need the product back. I don’t know what constitutes the return/don’t return policy, but I swear I have ordered things that had been “returned” by others. By the way, I would have had one or two of those mimosas!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you on purchasing “returns”. Sometimes the box looks like it’s been hastily retaped and resent, making you wonder if you bought something “used”. And yes, as nice as the “mimosa bar” looked in our kitchen I’m surprised there wasn’t more partaking by my daughter’s guests. I think they were too busy with shower games and gifts.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I once had an Amazon order sent to the wrong city. Amazon discovered that it went wrong, sent me a note saying so and also say that they had shipped me a replacement because no one could find the original shipment. The first item was sent via the USPS and the second by UPS. Someone at the post office finally figured out that they’d miss directed the first shipment, fix the address label and sent it to me. UPS managed to get me the second shipment without a problem so I ended up with two gifts for my Grandson. I logged into Amazon and sent them a message about this and asked how to return one of the things. The reply I got was, “Sorry we lost the first shipment but we’re happy you received the second shipment.” I’m guessing the cost to restock would cost more than sending a second one.

    Another time we came home from the grocery store with some cookies from the baker department that my grandson picked out. When we opened them, we found mold on some of them. We went back to the store, received many apologies and where told to go back to the bakery and pick out anything we wanted to replace it. My grandson found some nice cupcakes that cost more than the cookies and contained no mold. Figuring I’d have to pay the difference in price (I mean like twice the price – it was a lot of cupcakes), I took them to the manager who said to my grandson, “Find something you liked? Good! Thanks for coming in!” and refused to discuss anything further with me while wishing me a good day. I figure the paper work and embarrassment in reporting the problem to the regional manager would be than just losing a large box of cupcakes.

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    1. Your Amazon experience sounds better than ours with airlines when they’ve lost our baggage (several times). They don’t have a good explanation for what happens nor do they suggest any effort to make amends. You just have to hope your bag shows up eventually. Proactive efforts like Amazon’s impress me, even if there was little human involvement. And I wonder if my local grocery store would make the same gesture to retain my business. Right now it seems they’re fully focused on simply keeping employees.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m guessing Target’s profit margin remains healthy whether you choose the refund or to ship the product again. Not sure I ever want to know how much Target,Wal*Mart, and Amazon make off us constant consumers. One of the Wal*Mart heirs just bought our Denver Broncos so I’d say the company’s doing just fine 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes my family helps keep Tar-jay (or however you spell the fancy way of saying it) in business, Target is my favorite of the three. Jon loves his Amazon prime and we get a discount at Whole Foods with it. Can’t beat Walmart’s low prices. Would be nice to be one of those heirs!

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  6. Hmm – well Dave, I guess Jeff Bezos can do that since Amazon is so profitable – after all his current net worth is 135.3 billion with a “B”, so, if Amazon does it, then the same for Target and Walmart to keep up with the Joneses. I think it’s a nice gesture on all their parts, but I fear that people will order bulky items knowing full well they will not be returning them, just because … well … you now how people are.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I ordered a planter for our deck rail; the company sent the wrong size brackets. When my husband called, a very nice PR person told us they didn’t have the size we needed, to keep the planter AND they’d refund our money. Perhaps that’s the way a lot of companies are rolling in this economy–not just the big ones. / Nobody’s commented on the orange juice, so I’ll take that as my cue. Are you keeping the leftover jugs in the freezer? OJ will keep up to a year when frozen, so I’ve read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Everyone I talk to seems to have a similar story to yours, Nancy, so maybe this no-return/full-refund tactic has been going on longer than I thought. As for too much orange juice, good to know if/when it happens again! We gave two of the jugs to other family members and polished off the rest ourselves 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I wonder if I could try this at the Honda dealer? “Excuse me, but I asked for the silver one but got red by mistake and didn’t notice right away.”

    I will return things that are damaged or defective, but my upbringing tells me that if I just don’t like it, too bad I didn’t choose more carefully. My Mrs, on the other hand, has probably returned more items of clothing than I have ever bought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same, J.P, and I can still hear my dad saying, “You bought it, so now it’s yours” after buyer’s remorse. And clothing returns definitely tip the scales towards the ladies. Doesn’t seem to matter whether bought in-store or on-line, my wife has a pretty good track record of taking items back days after she buys them. Guess her purchases looks different at home than tried on in the store.

      Liked by 1 person

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