A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Beth Underwood: When it comes to return policies, I’m taken aback by what some people… take back


There’s a WalMart bag in the back seat of my SUV. Inside the bag, there’s a brand new pair of warm and fuzzy slipper socks, reminding me of what happens when I prematurely toss a receipt.

At this point, the socks have been rendered useless. I couldn’t exchange them because apparently, they didn’t have my size, to begin with. And now that they’ve been marked clearance for the season, the value of my $6 socks has depreciated to a paltry $2 without a receipt. If for no other reason than those of vanity, the physical act of returning a pair of $2 socks and the mental anguish that would accompany it is simply not worth it.

Frankly, I’d forgotten all about those socks until earlier this week. But they came rushing back to the fore when I stumbled upon an article highlighting strange Costco returns.

Costco has an extremely lenient return policy. Most items — even mattresses — can be returned at any time for a full refund. That’s right. Not within 30 days or 60 days or 90 days. At. Any. Time. And you’d be amazed at what people will return, given the opportunity. For example…

• Christmas tree. Returned in January. Reason: tree was dead.

• Rotisserie chicken — well, what was left of the chicken after every last shred of meat had been pulled off the bones. Reason: customer didn’t like it.

• Fifteen-year-old pressure washer. Reason: no longer working.

If ever you need clear examples of giving people an inch so they can take a mile, look no further — which is to say there’s a big difference between “can” and “should” in the world of returns. But I digress.

It should come as no surprise that odd and untimely returns aren’t limited to Costco. Not by a long shot. Check out these returns at other retailers:

• Electronic cat toy that quit working after 30 minutes. Note: toy had an automatic 30-minute shut-off.

• Can of ground coffee returned. The customer had replaced coffee with potting soil.

• Empty keg of beer, returned because the beer ran out too fast.

• Peanut butter M&Ms, returned because they were made with chocolate, to which the customer’s kids were allergic.

• Bag of potato chips, left over from a party, returned by the hostess who said she no longer needed them.

While all of these returns leave me shaking my head, the one that takes the cake centers on an outdoorsman and his nine-year-old backpack that was old, dirty, and, well, no longer his favorite. Not only did the store refund his money, but they also gave him an extra $17, in keeping with the current price of said backpack.

And to think I won’t even return a pair of $2 slipper socks.

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Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.


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