Can a Person Even Have a Return Policy?
Wait, I’m a person. Not a store. Right?
But, when I say “return policy” what I mean is what is your personal policy on returning items to the store. Do you have one? I’ve met people that have told me, somewhat proudly, that they’ve never returned an item to the store. Ever! How does this even make sense? If you are like me then you’ll be able to recall more than a few realizations that you just didn’t need an item that you bought.
People impulse buy. It’s part of our DNA. When we see things that we want or think we need then our brain will come up with all sorts of rationalizations in order to make buying the item feel not only okay, but necessary. Once the impulse has worn off, however, you’ll often find that those rationalizations don’t seem to make as much sense as they did in the moment.
People also just flat out make mistakes when they purchase items. What size is my nephew? Small, medium? Rather than call my sister on the phone and ask her the size (therefore ruining the surprise) I will often just make a guess and hope for the best. Odds are that she will end up exchanging it anyway.
The important thing to remember is that it is OKAY to return an item. When you make a purchase you are exchanging money for an item that the business is selling. If you decide later that the item is wrong or not needed then it’s perfectly ethical to initiate a return on that item.
Totally legal. Zero judgement.
Let’s find out why you need a return policy for yourself.
The Psychology of a Return Policy
People have been studying the psychology of buying things for a long time. Businesses that want to sell things are extremely interested in what makes people buy those things and, in an increasingly online and return-friendly market, what makes them hang on to those purchases as well. Different stores have a staggering variety in their return policies and it’s important to note a few aspects of the policy that are most important to the buyer:
- Exchange – Will the store give you cash? Store credit? Product exchange only?
- Scope – Sometimes policies let you return any purchase, but sometimes special event items or specials cannot be returned.
- Effort required – Do you need a receipt, tags, and original packaging? What if the item shows signs of wear?
- Money – Will you get a full refund? Partial? Are there any restocking fees that could cut down your refund amount?
- Time – What is the window of time that you can return an item? Typical lengths are 30 and 90-day policies.
So, how do all of these aspects tie together?
Well, what researchers have found is that buyers respond to these conditions in different ways.
Overall, the more lenient a store return policy is the more returns they can expect, but they can also expect more purchases. What happens is that the increase in purchases will often offset the smaller increase in returns which results in more sales and profits.
Retailers have also figured out that the longer they give customers to return an item the less likely they are to return it!
What does this mean for you?
As a consumer that is interested in saving money and making smart decisions you should be well educated on the process of shopping and returns. You should know the terms of the store’s return policy and you should have a designated place to store receipts, tags, packaging, etc to ensure that you do not exempt yourself from initiating a return.
You should also remember that the earlier you return an item the better! This is probably one of the most important things to stick to when you are developing your own return policy. The longer you keep an item the more it feels like it’s part of your life and the harder it will be to let it go. Do you have clothes in your closet right now with tags still on them because you never brought them back? This is why.
My Plan for the Future
My return policy in the future will definitely include a time limit on my returns. I think that I will need to make a final decision within 3 days as to whether or not I want to keep the item. After that point I think I will be much less likely to actually want to bring the item back. So my policy will be:
- Keep all receipts and/or tags in a set location after purchase (desk drawer) – maybe Evernote backup?
- Check out the individual store’s policy on refunds (I don’t want to be stuck with exchange only)
- Be mindful of restocking fees on electronics (most common type of item to have one)
- Make the decision to keep or return within 3 days of purchase (maybe set an Evernote reminder?)
What’s your return policy?