Last week I had the misfortune of witnessing a messy exchange in the return line at a local department store. The woman ahead of me was trying to return some items that she bought and had apparently decided that she didn’t like or want. The clerk told her that they could not take them back. (I finally surmised from the argument that this was some old stock, so the clerk knew that the purchase hadn’t been made recently. Even if the returner had the receipt, she would have been beyond the allowed return time and the store wouldn’t take the return, regardless.)
The woman didn’t like being told no and she proceeded to blame the store and its employees for selling her things she didn’t need and couldn’t afford.
“I need the money back. I can’t pay my credit card bills and I have to return these,” she said.
When the clerk told her that she couldn’t help her, the woman demanded a manager. The manager told the woman the same thing, that the items could not be returned.
“Well, you should take them back because your employees talked me into them, just so they could earn the commission. I didn’t really want them, and now I’m stuck with this crap that I can’t use. I need the money more.”
The argument went on for a while longer. Finally, the woman stormed out of the store, purchases still in hand, swearing a blue streak out the door. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this sort of thing before. Sometimes it’s over items that the person simply doesn’t want, sometimes it’s over things they couldn’t really afford, and sometimes it’s over things that simply aren’t what the customer expected them to be. I used to work retail and there is nothing worse than a customer who wants to return something but cannot, for whatever reason.
Sometimes I understand the upset. Many financial websites suggest returning things in order to get the money so you can pay off debt or generate some spare cash. It’s not bad advice (and I’ve given it myself), but it should probably come with the caveat that you should only attempt to return things that are realistically eligible for return. Stuff you’ve had for a year, even if it still has the tags on, is probably not eligible for return. It’s one thing to return something that doesn’t work, that you get home and decide you really don’t like, or that you’ve only had for a couple of weeks before buyer’s remorse sets in. Those are legitimate return scenarios. It’s quite another to try to return something that you’ve used, opened, worn, or kept stuffed in a closet for so long that the store no longer carries it and has removed it from their system.
Sometimes you, as the customer, have to simply take responsibility for your buying decisions. We all make mistakes and buy things we later wish we hadn’t. It’s not uncommon to go on a spending binge and then regret it two months later when the water heater fails or the dog has to go to the vet. You wish you had that money. It’s not uncommon to buy something, thinking it’ll be just what you want, only to get it home and realize that it’s not all that you thought it would be and have buyer’s remorse set in. But the failure to control your spending, to do basic research on the product you’re buying, or to make a legitimate return within a reasonable time frame is your problem. It’s not the fault of the store. What does it mean to take responsibility for your buying choices? Here are some thoughts.
Research the Product
Before you buy anything, research it thoroughly. Don’t just grab stuff off the shelf and hope for the best. Read consumer reviews about the product. Go home and read through the detailed product description on the manufacturer’s website. Call the manufacturer and ask questions if you need clarification. Download spec sheets or any other information that might be helpful. If you can try the product for free, do it. Do everything you can to learn whether the product is right for you before you buy it.
Sometimes you just have to admit that you made a mistake and that it’s too late or wrong to return an item. Acknowledge that you goofed, say goodbye to the money, and vow to do better the next time. That’s the grown up thing to do. The immature thing to do is to try to return the item against store policies, to lie about when or where you bought it, or blame the store or the employees for your mistake.
Don’t Blame Others
Don’t blame the store or the salesperson. Neither the store nor the sales person held a gun to your head and made you buy the item. Even high pressure tactics can be resisted. Accusing employees of forcing you to buy something just makes you look silly. You forked over the money; no one took it from you.
Know Your Budget
Know what you can and cannot afford. It’s not up to the store to know that this purchase means you can’t pay your electric bill, or that it will increase your debt load. They are simply there to sell things. It’s up to you to know what you can and cannot afford before you make the purchase. And that includes knowing that you’ll still be able to afford it even if something big breaks down next week. If you buy it but can’t afford it, that isn’t the store’s fault.
Don’t be afraid to say, “No.” When you’re not sure about an item, never be afraid to say no before you’ve bought it. Don’t let a salesperson talk you into anything or pressure you. You aren’t obligated to buy anything so if you aren’t sure, walk away.
Sleep on It
Before you buy anything that you aren’t sure about, put it down, go home and think about it. Chances are it will still be there later, or you’ll be able to get it somewhere else. Very few things are so rare that you must buy them then or lose them forever. After you’ve thought about it and the fever has died down you can go back for it if you still really want it. But at least you’ll know that it’s a worthwhile purchase at that point.
Stash & Think
Use the stash and think method. If you must buy something right now, take it home and put it away without opening it. Think about the purchase for a few days and decide if you really want or need it, or if you can get it cheaper elsewhere. The trick is to make sure you keep your receipts organized and visible so you don’t miss your return window. Also make sure before you leave the store or click the order button that returns are even allowed (sometimes clearance items aren’t returnable). This doesn’t work well for disorganized people or serious procrastinators, though.
When you’ve bought something and it’s too late to return the item, don’t try, particularly if you’re going to take your frustration out on the employees at the store. It isn’t their fault that you bought something you can’t afford, or that isn’t what you thought it would be. Threatening and screaming at the clerks won’t change that fact. Sometimes the right thing to do is to admit that you screwed up and vow not to do it again. It’s called taking responsibility for your actions.
(Photo courtesy of karlaredor)