‘Tis the season for returning stuff

Retailers have realized that people are more likely to buy something if they can return it later if they are not satisfied. When it comes on online purchases, they are even more likely to do so if the company offers to pay for the return mailing costs. This has resulted in some people taken advantage of this to essentially get free short-term loans of products that they use for a specific occasion or period and then return.

I had thought that retailers simply put the retuned items on the shelves to be resold. But according to Samantha Bee, much of this stuff is just thrown away and ends up in landfills, a tremendous waste.


  1. JM says

    I already heard about this problem but I didn’t realize just how much junk is getting returned. For electronics it’s designed into the system. To resell a product the company has to figure out what is actually wrong with it and repair it. Returns are often unclear and/or untrustworthy about what is actually wrong so the company has to hook the item up to testing gear. Even if they do that and determine what the problem is, many modern products are designed to frustrate attempts to fix them. Your flat screen TV was designed so that any significant problem would require you to buy a new TV, not replace a circuit board. The manufacturer can’t get around that any more then you can. So even if they went to the trouble of diagnosing the error, a lot of real problems simply can’t be fixed.

  2. anat says

    Costco also has a very permissive return policy. As a result they have things like many customers returning new TV screens the day(s) after the super-bowl or similar events. (Also, customers returning half-used milk jugs that went bad.)

  3. xohjoh2n says

    I keep hearing about this amazon/ebay wheeze where you can buy cheap job lots of amazon returns with no choice about what is in there -- because it simply costs them too much money to sort and return it for sale -- then sift through it and put up anything which looks resellable on ebay.

    I read that it’s a thing, but I’ve never seen the bit of amazon where you can actually do that…

  4. says

    anat (#2) --

    I bought a laptop from costco (returned it the next day) that turned out to be refurbished or repackaged and put on the shelf. I knew because windows already had someone’s password on it. It wasn’t being run the first time when I turned it on.

  5. TGAP Dad says

    We bought a buffet cabinet earlier this Spring, and one of the short wooden legs broke when I was repositioning it. I searched the manufacturer’s, importer’s, and retailer’s sites to find a replacement, as well as searching the web for anything which might suffice. I even briefly considered trying to fabricate one myself. In order to get a new leg, which I was willing to pay for, I had to order a completely new buffet cabinet swap the broken leg for the new one, and return the entire cabinet, and refund my money. I guarantee you that the old cabinet is now sitting in Home Depot’s dumpster.

  6. M. Currie says

    ONe can get lucky with this stuff too, though, if you deal with a reputable retailer. I think a lot of people use the liberal return policy for comparison shopping, since it’s so hard to try things in a store these days. An outfit like Dell or Nikon will not toss returns, but they’re not allowed to sell them as new, so they get checked out and then sold as refurbs, with a shorter warranty. If you’re lucky you get an essentially new item at a discount, with an added layer of quality control, but you still get enough warranty to make sure the thing isn’t broken.

    I don’t think I’d take the chance with Harbor Freight or Wal Mart, but some places really do have refurb deals worth a look.

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