It’s okay to return stuff

Maybe it’s because I’m a cautious shopper, or because I hate having shit I don’t need, or because I’m often curious about some random product category I barely understand, or because I have a body shape that takes some trial-and-error before I find a good fit, or because I’ll repair my bike having only an inkling of what the hell I’m doing, but I tend to return a lot of stuff throughout the year. I’ve learned that this isn’t very normal amongst my friend group. But I think we should all return more stuff.*

I don’t know exactly why everyone I know seems to hate returning stuff, but I imagine for some people it’s guilt, as though we somehow owe it to retailers to obey some unwritten rule. Or laziness, in that running errands is a pain in the ass. There’s a layer of social anxiety here as well, because returning something is admitting failure or creating an unnecessary speed bump in the day.

Some of that guilt is unwarranted, at least. In one meta-analysis, researchers found the longer the return policy, the more people bought:

Overall, a lenient return policy did indeed correlate with more returns. But, crucially, it was even more strongly correlated with an increase in purchases. In other words, retailers are generally getting a clear sales benefit from giving customers the assurance of a return.

Even stranger, researchers found that the longer the return window, the less people return. Perhaps because it’s easier to put things off without a deadline, or maybe the longer we live with something–even an item in a box–the more likely it is we’ll feel like it’s truly ours. But we don’t owe these retailers and brands anything.

For me, I also feel a bit of guilt thinking about the wastefulness of a return. As though if I take something back to the store, it’ll be rendered impossible to ever use again. This is certainly true in some cases, but most decent retailers have a system in place to deal with this, either in selling used, refurbished, or open box. I also tend to buy a lot of used/open box/etc stuff, because it’s cheaper, usually fine, and, frankly, easier to return since it’s already open. The product cycle of retail life.

Returns can certainly be a pain in the ass, especially when the retailer makes you go to a special counter in some weird part of store. I think this is also part of the reason why they’re anxiety-inducing. It’s often hard to know what the rules are for returns, or whether you’re putting someone else out by doing it. Retailers make you feel guilty about a return, whether you realize it’s happening or not. Plus, there’s always the risk of the retailers saying “no” which puts you in an awkward situation (as a note, I’ve never had a retailer say no before). In some cases, it’s also admitting that this money, no matter how much or how little, matters to you, which can feel weird and shameful.

But if a product sucks, is broken, doesn’t work for you, doesn’t fit, is expired, or whatever else, take it back. Get that refund. Find something better. Otherwise it’s just sitting in your house, wasting space, helping nobody until you eventually lug it off to the trash.

update: some rules to think about:

  1. Don’t be a dick! Don’t be entitled and act like an asshole to a clerk when you’re returning something
  2. Don’t abuse the system! There are rules, they’re on your receipt. And don’t treat it like a rental. Just return the shit that doesn’t work for you.
  3. Don’t just have a ton of stuff shipped to your house you know you’ll return! I know there’s a pandemic on and we’re all ordering more online than usual, but it’s still good to be mindful about environmental or fiscal impacts, and not order a bunch of crap just to look at it.

*not animals though, wtf is wrong with you people

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