The Art of Returns


Embracing returns is going to save you money.  And if you are as indecisive as I am, it is going to save you A LOT of money.

I spend a lot of time in stores staring, reading labels, hemming and hawing.  I narrow things down.  I think about an item’s use.  I think about whether I really need it or not.  I think about if it’s the best product for the job, and if it is good value for the money.  I google to see if there are coupons for it, or if it will come on sale.

I buy it.

I get home.

It looks different in natural lighting.  Or it’s the wrong one/brand/color.  Or it comes on sale next week.  Or I find it cheaper, or a coupon for it, online.

Instead of shelving it…

take a deep breath…

…breathe with me – we are going to return it / get price protection.

Most stores have SOME sort of return policy.  It is a good idea to become familiar with their return policy BEFORE purchasing an item in some cases; such as if you are not sure a clothing article will fit and you can’t try it on, or if you are uncertain about the product in any way.  Return policies vary from:

  • Strict.  No returns, or very limited returns (new with original tags and packaging, within 7 days, defective product).
  • Moderate.  Returns limited to new with original tags and packaging, or defective product, but a longer time-frame (14-30 days generally).
  • Super Great For Indecisive People.  Returns accepted for changing your mind, product not as expected, tags possibly removed or packaging mangled, and a great time-frame (30-90 days).  Receipts are almost always required, except for possibly defective items.

Now, I’m not great at keeping my receipts, unless I am not sure if I will keep an item or not (which does happen rather frequently).  But it’s a good idea to keep ALL receipts for about a 30-day window, because you never know when that new $15 LED lightbulb will burn out on the second day of use.  To keep the clutter down, have a current-month envelope, and when it switches to a new month, start a new envelope.  Each month, throw away the receipts that are over a month old and re-use the envelope (saving trees and $) for the next month.  If you never have to root through and find a receipt, great.  But there have been a number of occasions when I’ve wished I kept the receipt.

(I used to keep all receipts.  And semi-organized them in grocery bags under my bed.  Until I had 3 year’s worth of receipts and dust bunnies under there and my hubby said ENOUGH!)

Here are my Return Tips:

  1. Shop at stores with generous return policies (Costco, Walmart, London Drugs, Shopper’s Drug Mart, Superstore, Sears, The Bay, Home Depot, Chapters-Indigo, Amazon, Old Navy, Gap).  These are generally large chain stores, that also often have good pricing and bargains.  These aren’t always the most environmentally friendly options, but hey, my priorities align with my indecisiveness and thriftiness.  By all means, shop local/specialty if you don’t have my challenges in decision-making!
  2. Keep the tags on things until you are SURE you NEED and LOVE the product.
  3. Try not to mangle packaging, and keep it until you are SURE you NEED and LOVE the product.
  4. Return things that you don’t NEED or LOVE
  5. Here’s a tip, most of the above stores will take back things you opened, tried, and just didn’t like.  Like make-up.  Ask me how I know.
  6. The more you do it, the easier it gets 😉  I don’t particularly enjoy returning things, but generally I have at least one return to do a month.
  7. Have a pre-determined price limit on your time/effort.  For me, it’s $5.  I don’t return anything worth under $5, nor do I point out cashier or price errors under $5 that I notice after the fact – whether it’s in the store or my favor.  I do try to pay attention as things are ringing up that the prices are reasonably correct, but I don’t have everything memorized and written down (nor do I have the headspace to do that at this point in my life).
  8. Return things when you already have to go back to the store or are in the area.  
  9. If you would have to make a special trip or a far trip to return something, consider the value versus your effort.  Perhaps you could sell it at a loss on a swap site or kijiji and save yourself the drive, chalking it up as a learning experience.
  10. If something is faulty, return it.  If you don’t have the receipt, contact the manufacturer/company with a description of the problem, and ask them if they would consider replacing it or sending a coupon towards a new one.  Be polite.  Most reputable companies will do so, even without a receipt.  Be prepared to take and send a picture if that helps build your case.

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