America’s wasteful return policy

Return policy

In America, consumer is king. Don’t like something? Wrong fit? Changed your mind? Return or exchange within 90 days. Some retailers even accept returns without receipts and refund the consumers via gift cards.

Too much of a good thing allows room for abuse.

According to retail monitoring firm The Retail Equation, retailers in 2017 suffered an estimated US$22.8 billion in retail losses from merchandise return fraud/abuse.

This is when the “customer” returns or exchanges stolen merchandise for refunds or gift cards. Merchandise fraud has coincided with the spike in opioid abuse in America, as more drug addicts turn to shoplifting to fund their habit.

I return items sparingly, mostly because I have better things to do with my time.

But return policies are insanely sophisticated here. Part of it has to do with America being a first world, civilised society based on mutual trust, etc. But part of it is American consumerism designed to encourage shoppers to buy, buy, buy and buy some more.

While most retailers still impose the standard unworn, unwashed, all tags intact, original receipt requirements, Amazon takes the cake when it comes to “its return policy”.

I bought a cake pan from them last year for US$5.69. Nothing fancy, just a standard 9×13 inch cake pan with a plastic lid. Purchases above US$25 came with free shipping so naturally, I added extra items into my cart.

Everything showed up at my doorstep about three business days later. When I was inspecting the goods, I noticed the cake pan had a slight dent. Back in Malaysia, I would’ve gone, “Meh, I guess I should’ve bought this in a store”.

However, in America, I wanted my money back. So I proceeded with the refund request on the Amazon website. After a few clicks describing my problem and what remedy I was seeking, I got a message that a refund would be processed and I would not have to return the cake pan.

Excuse me, what?

I read it again and true enough, the message read “Your refund will be processed in three business days. Keep the item, it’s on us”. I had to do a quick Google check to see if this is common and turns out, it usually applies to “cheaper” items because it costs Amazon more to send me a shipping label than to just let me keep the item.

Cake pan
The writer got to keep the cake pan as it costs Amazon more to send a shipping label than for the buyer to keep the item.

This was too good to last as Amazon in March, started banning accounts due to too many returns, exchanges and refunds.

Earlier this month, a couple from Indiana pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering charges.

They had opened hundreds of accounts with fake identities, ordered electronic goods and then claimed the items were damaged.

Amazon has an electronics return policy that does not always require the damaged item be sent back before a replacement is issued. So the couple never sent any back and sold them at other marketplaces.

How much did the couple con Amazon out of? US$1.2 million in merchandise. Whoa!

The craziest thing I’ve returned was a wrong flavour ice-cream that I bought erroneously.

The grocery store refunded my money and had to trash the ice-cream just in case it was tampered with.

All I could think of was that this madness and extreme waste can only happen in America. And I will just leave it at that.

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