Returns at the store

imgresThere was an article in the NY Times this week about the liberal returns policies at stores.  Not surprising to me that physical retail stores have the highest percentage of returns.  What was amazing is the number that Americans return over $284 billion a year.  Nothing like try it and if you don’t like it then return it.

I remember buying 10 pair of snow boot from Zappos.  They were all delivered, I tried them on and then returned 9 of them.  The process was seamless.  I always return the next day because I understand the value of getting that merchandise back into your inventories.  Although as someone who started their career in the business that transaction stuck with me.  If someone is on commission and I buy 10 pair of shoes and hold them for months on end then finally return the nine I don’t want what happens to the sales persons draw months later?

When I ran departments in a brick and mortar store I was always blown away by people’s returns. I started out as a hard ass about not taking stuff back but then realized it wasn’t Macy’s policy and I should just follow policy but it was the things that people returned that truly pissed me off.

There were multiple people who would buy outfits for an event and return them the next week after obviously wearing them.  There would be the women who would buy loads of cosmetics and decide that after going home and trying them that they shouldn’t have spend so much money.  There were the people who would wear something until it was falling apart and then decide to return it.  There were people who would buy a TV before a big event and then return it after the game was over.  There were people who would leave dirty diapers in the fitting rooms and others who would go to the bathroom in the fitting room.  I kid you not.

You see it all in retail.  It is hard to calculate what your revenue will be when you have no idea what will be coming back.  What looks like a good month can be returned the following month.  There is a reason some stores have adopted the policy that if you don’t return it with in 5 days then you get a store credit.  I get it and respect it.

Not sure there is any brilliant resolution I have here but living through those years of returns really made me wonder about how certain consumers operate.

Comments (Archived):

  1. johndodds

    I’ve seen similar reports over here in recent weeks. Bottom line for me is that people will exploit any system and I struggle to see how online businesses with free returns policy have a sustainable business model. Notwithstanding all the societal externalities of roads clogged with pre-drone delivery units.

    1. Gotham Gal

      drones are the future returners.

  2. Pranay Srinivasan

    One of the reasons stores probably like discounting is that all sales are final.Off price stores like Ross do not take returns since they are priced so cheap. H&M / Uniqlo do take returns in original packaging though. I think if people started giving store credit instead of cash back this trend could shift a little.

    1. Gotham Gal

      people would be more thoughtful about making that purchase.

  3. LE

    I kid you not.When my father was in the wholesale giftware business he would have customers who would return “broken” giftware to him years after buying. He knew this several ways, obviously. But one of the best was that the item would be returned with dust on it, as if it had been sitting out for a year or two.People (as you have pointed out above) are all over the map with this stuff. When I first met my wife she would get upset if I complained at all about food or drink at a restaurant. Now years later she thinks it’s great that I do that. I also am very fussy about tables as well.Your point is definitely taken about people taking advantage of the system. But somehow I suspect that there are more goods that aren’t returned than are returned “wrongly”. In the end the stores have these policies because a) their competitors have them and b) they encourage people to buy things they don’t need most of which is not returned.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I totally believe you. I saw things that were shocking.

      1. pointsnfigures

        Write a TV show script….but please make it a comedy

  4. Lauren Moores

    Great topic! Vicky Brock of Clear Returns (Scotland) is trying to solve this for online using predictive return intelligence but it won’t handle bad actors.

  5. BillMcNeely

    In the Middle East they don’t do returns after you leave the buy it you own case closed

    1. Gotham Gal