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Mon Sept 16 2013 17:35:21

Excuses Familiar? Retailer REI Nixes Liberal Returns Policy

By: Julia Wilkinson

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An REI customer returned a frayed blue men's rain jacket from a previous decade. The reason? "Suddenly not waterproof." According to an article in today's Wall Street Journal, the outdoor clothing company that got the nickname "Return Everything Inc." because of such a liberal return policy, which allowed customers to return items for any reason, even years after the purchase, recently cut it back to a window of a year.

One woman had returned a pair of women's hiking sandals because, according to the reason tag on the item, they were "not sexy enough." But with REI still allowing customers to return items within a year of purchase, they still have a more liberal policy than many other stores and sellers.

And while online marketplaces such as eBay may have tightened their return policy over time; it is nowhere near that of REI's, and even other similar rugged clothing and gear sellers, like L. L. Bean and Orvis. However, sellers on eBay and other such marketplaces may recognize the basic concept of abuse REI is trying to avoid with the switch: "the new policy aims to keep customers from using purchases...and then exchanging it like a dress you bought on Friday just to wear Saturday night and then return," according to the piece.

While I certainly have never had anyone try to return something that looked like it had been in a war zone since I sold it, I could relate to the "not sexy enough" excuse. Some customers just change their mind, and they can come up with any number of reasons, like the REI man's shirt that had "buttons that were too clangy on hard surfaces."

Another: "an unraveling scarf that is marked "too fuzzy.""

And then there's the purchase back-out, or the partial-refund pressure, something I've seen more of in the last year. A customer recently bought a barware item from me, and then said he'd found it cheaper elsewhere so wanted to cancel the transaction. Annoying, but doable. At least he didn't ask umpteen questions and measurements and then want to back out of the transaction because it turned out the daughter or niece or whomever it was a gift for didn't like that style. The question is begged: might you have asked them that question earlier?

The partial-refund pressure: customer receives an item and claims it has tiny flaws that are really more like part of the item's design, such as a fringy hem on a skirt or jacket. But the threat of negative feedback - the "red doughnut" - hangs over the seller's head like a sword of Damocles unless you give in and give them a partial refund, for example. And those kinds of "flaws" can be hard to disprove. But most of my customers are "good eggs," fingers crossed.

Apparently it got so bad at REI that some people were buying their branded stuff at yard sales and "broken gear scrounged from a dumpster" and taking them back to REI for cash refunds.

As some REI customers put it, "a  few bad apples ruined it for the bucket of good ones."  But even with this history, LL. Bean, Patagonia and Orvis don't plan to change their return policies. It's a miracle they don't go out of business. Fortunately for them, it seems, they are able to trust that their "customers know where the line is," Orvis Director of Corporate Marketing Bill Eyre is quoted as saying in the article.

Have you heard similar flimsy excuses from your customers? Are most of your customers "good apples," or do dubious returns take a significant chunk out of your business? Have you opted into eBay's managed returns because of problems, and if so, has that helped? Post a comment here!



Comments (21) | Permalink

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by: Massachusets Howler This user has validated their user name.

Mon Sep 16 18:45:57 2013

That's right!
Ebay- GET IT?
Even big boxes are feeling the pressure with unfair and unfounded returns.

Mass Howler

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This user has validated their user name. by: Basset

Mon Sep 16 19:38:45 2013

I read an article a couple months back that REI might go this route. Something about people using snowboards for a season then returning them for new ones.

Sorry, can't remember the exact source, but the gist of the article was that larger retailers are firming up their returns policies and they are keeping records of people's returns. Apparently, return too much & you can lose return privileges in the future.  Return windows are getting smaller, too.

As eBay rolls out managed returns to a larger extent, it should be paying attention to this trend!


On your question:  I've never have had a significant problem with my buyers on abusing returns - either when I had ''no returns'' and now that I accept returns ''any reason''.  Only a tiny percentage have ever been problem buyers.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ming the Merciless

Mon Sep 16 20:17:18 2013

This is sort of a chicken and egg discussion.

In ebafia's case, however, it's
clear to me based on an analysis of my returns that when I was able to set my own return parameters (damage or defect only within 30 days) I had fewer of them and MORE sales.

I'm seeing more returns because The Ho's sweetheart mobile, mobile, mobile buyers REFUSE now not only to read item descriptions, but item specifics as well.

Apparently their Attention Deficit Disorder precludes reading anything but making a 2 second scan of all the pretty pictures.

Encouraging bad buyer behavior is in ebafia's best financial interests so they're not likely to develop a more reasonable TRS return policy any time soon.

Mobile buying is simply cannibalism and will result in increasingly higher returns until ebay puts an end to seller abusive policies including allowing ALL sellers to set their own return policies and compelling buyers to abide by them or shop elsewhere instead continuing to encourage buyers to abuse sellers.

And therein lies the rub.

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by: LAbay This user has validated their user name.

Mon Sep 16 22:00:57 2013

I really don't know how anyone can make a profit accepting returns in any condition for for a year. If someone bought a new jacket and wanted to return it, it should be in new condition with tags on.

I started with a NO return policy but hated paying eBay more FVF, so I now accept returns. And I don't like dealing with them but I won't accept the Managed Return policies.  They are absurd to say the least.

Accepting returns allows for ''tire kickers'' which is very costly.  Even HSN, QVC and ShopNBC are getting rid of ''tire kickers''.

eBay expects sellers to describe the item meticulously so that buyers know what they are getting, BUT buyers seldom read the description especially if they know they simply can return.

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by: Xander This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 00:30:56 2013

For retail store buyers, face to face returns are much more difficult to do than online returns.

When a buyer has to fill out a form and wait for approval at a store, they have to deal with the uncertainty of being questioned about their return. Manager styles vary from store to store so a buyer can never be sure as to how ''easy'' their return attempt might be.  

On the other hand, when returning something online, there is no face to face experience. In fact, the merchant has little to no information about the buyer nor do they have a chance to inspect the product before accepting a return.

There was a time in the past number of years where a merchant could make the final decision as to why they should accept a return.

Today's venues, especially ebay, are perfectly fine with forcing their sellers into accepting returns regardless of reason.

All a buyer has to do is claim item not as described and they are guaranteed their money back and they even might get to keep said item and get the initial shipping refunded also.

I suspect, at some point, this will have to be adjusted as more and more large merchants realize their liberal return policies are leading to more unreasonable returns.

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by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 00:31:02 2013

I believe that a fair (30 days was mentioned, but I prefer 15) policy is the best way to go.

Ive seen 2 or 3 MAJOR CE chains get "killed" by being forced to take back too many returns.

However, I wont only "look" at eBay, Amazon (especially FBA) is just as bad if not worse.

Amazon FBA allows people to return anything in any condition - and Ive seen things come back missing parts, scratched, misinstalled (car stereo) and blown (amp), missing boxes, packaging and more!

As Ive said before, even manufactorers have tightened returns - even for dealers.

Pioneer as a %1 return policy - after that its repair ONLY. "Too bad, so sad" its part of the dealer contract. There are others as well who are just as bad.

In my line of sales, people use the items I sell while they are on a trip, and then retrn them minus everything, PLUS its not got thier DNA on it .... makes it tough to deal with the return of such items.

As a customer, Id like a fair return policy, and I reward vendors who have one with my purchases - after all they deserve it.

Bringing things back after youve used them 1 yr later is just wrong.

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by: Tiffee Jasso This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 00:37:13 2013

I put an large X in ink on all my Nordstroms items that I list. Why? Because there are several women on Ebay who are buying up Nordstroms items and taking them in for refunds. To me it is a form of theft for anyone to do that and I am not going to help them. I am sure they do it on more items than just Nordstroms. Until department stores demand receipts, instead, of "I got it for a gift and I don't have the receipt," some folks will make a nice tax free living off of returning Ebay items back to the store it originally came from.  

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by: blaumann2 This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 00:38:19 2013

Guys used to go the swap meets and buy broken Snap On and Craftsman tools. They would exchange them for new tools.

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by: comet This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 00:39:29 2013

I can't tell you how many times I see NEW WITH TAGS ON items at yard sales and thrift stores.  When I have asked about this the reasons in ALWAYS that they are TOO DIFFICULT to return.

Now heres the thing--Walmart will let you return most things with the receipt.  But if you DON'T have the receipt you had better have your first born AND your drivers license and a few other forms of ID and a copy of your credit report and--oh wait that last is TARGET.  Sorry.  

TARGET will also take a retinal scan to make SURE that set of $4.99 napkins are LEGIT to return.  And that you scammers are not trying to get one over on THEM.  

Not a huge Target fan coudja tell?

ORVIS on the other hand has asked if I wanted to "Return"  vintage items I HAVE gotten from yard sales and thrift stores.  I have taken a few to the flagship store (I live nearby)  and asked for info on them and have always been treated really nicely there--even tho I think I have bought one item from them at retail in my 30+ years of visits!   They also have a re-furbishment department for repairs etc.  

And LL Bean really WILL take anything back!  Anytime.  Ever.  We had two jackets that the zippers had sprung on and no receipts.  I took them to the store in a local mall and they exchanged them no questions asked--which I had not gone there for I wanted to see if the zipper design had been improved!  But the salesperson insisted on taking them back.  And they will tell you the same thing in their print ads--my kid does their print ads!--and on line and on the phone.  Talk about standing behind your product!   When it came time to buy a new school backpack for the grandkid--where do YOU think I went???  And I suspect they have a fleet of elves making these--I think the package was here before I hung up the phone.  Monogrammed and all.  

But---these places are NOT ebay!  And ebay should not demand of their sellers--that would be YOU and ME---that WE operate like Orvis and Co.

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This user has validated their user name. by: Ric

Tue Sep 17 00:53:00 2013

Many years ago, I was a sales manager for a major New Jersey retailer. The company policy was that we would take anything back.

I recall one woman who returned some of her late husbands well used clothing claiming that the items did not wear well. Despite the production codes on some of the items showing the clothes were over 5 years old, she received store credit for the junk she returned.

In a different incident, a woman returned some men's dress shirts that were several years old. Her complaint.... the collars had developed pills. She too received store credit.  

Unsurprisingly, a few weeks later, the husband came in to purchase new shirts with the store credit slips. Not surprisingly, the gentleman wore a full beard which was obviously the cause of the pilled shirt collars.

Bottom line, there will always be those that abuse liberal return policies.

To minimize abusive returns, I offer a 14 day return policy on my listings and state that buyers will pay return shipping. This has pretty much eliminated buyers auditioning product.

I have yet to have a buyer open a claim as the result of a dispute. I have had only 1 negative feedback in the past year, and my lowest 12 month DSR score is 4.98.

I need eBay to manage my returns about as much as I need an arm growing out of my neck. I continue to refuse to participate in eBay's managed returns program until eBay proactively offers sellers better protection from return abuses.

Since there is not a snowballs chance in purgatory that will happen, I will continue to prevent eBay from inserting itself any deeper into my business and will continue to manage my returns as I see fit.

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by: DonC This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 01:48:51 2013

Happily we have few returns.

The markup on motorcycle gear is fairly low. If we had a high return rate it would be time to close the doors. Companies like L.L. Bean that charge four hundred dollars for a leather jacket have a huge markup so they can handle a higher return rate.

Oddly enough the return rate from Ebay buyers is about 4 to 1 compared with our Yahoo buyers. I don't necessarily think Ebay buyers are abusing the system. It appears that Ebay / PayPal buyers have been taught that they are entitled to return an item for any reason. If Ebay forces their Managed Return System on sellers I anticipate that the return problem may become unmanageable.  

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This user has validated their user name. by: Rexford

Tue Sep 17 07:26:03 2013

How about the eBay returns where a buyer mutilates the item to force the return?  We've had more than one return where a buyer has cut a hole in a garment the size of a 50 cents piece.  eBay do nothing.

I can't really feel sorry for REI.  What they had in place was not a return policy, it was a give away.   A seasoned scammer/thief will take advantage of any company who will allow it---exhibit A, eBay.

Oh, but eBay are just a venue.  NOT!

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by: Cloud This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 08:01:50 2013

I've had customers want partial refunds for not as described in the title even while admitting it was properly described in the listing. It's not like we can give all the details in the title. I offered full refund for return, they opted for a negative because I didn't give in to their extortion. Of course, since they didn't come right out and say they would leave a negative, eBay doesn't consider it extortion.

I've had customers want partial refunds, because, according to them the weight was off by 1 gram.

The partial refund scam is in full swing.

As far as eBay's managed returns policy. Not on my life would I voluntarily opt in. I lose enough money now due to their no buyer negative policy. Why would I want to give them carte blanch.  

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by: FREDDY This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 09:32:57 2013

Sears Craftsman has changed the return policy on many items. I have seen them refuse returns for items that were extremely worn.  Policy also stated that cannot be used for commercial purpose. On some electrical tools you are allowed one exchange - no refunds. This was the policy at the store I worked at about 6-8 years ago. They were aware back then that people bought used items at sales -auctions then returned for new. Either to keep or  resell.

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by: FREDDY This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 09:49:35 2013

Taking returns back after being used has been going on since stores started the return business.
35 years ago, ex sister in law did that with dresses all the time. She was so proud of herself for having the ability of wearing a new outfit when the occasion called for that she claims was for free. Disgusting, but she didn't care what anyone else in the family thought.
Have no idea why people steal and lie when there is absolutely no reason to do so. Maybe an internal type of high they get??
ebay managed returns will be totally out of control. What stops anyone from buying something to just check it out- or use - then return for no cost to them. Just drop off at post office at sellers expense. The only winner will be ebay in the fees it collects. Of course the post office will see additional business.
Managed returns are similar to Amazon but worse. Buy something new from Amazon - expect a full refund. Sorry, they check it out, and charge you shipping both ways and restocking. They have your money, credit card info etc..  Third party sellers are treated differently. Sometimes Amazon will back the sellers and eat the return, but will count against you.
ebays SNAD is saying buyer changed mind. Period. ebay allows return without knowing and or caring if item was a snad.
Returns could be managed better by having the seller option of replacing item rather than refund. Believe some Stores are already doing that on returns. Store Credit Only.

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This user has validated their user name. by: iheartjacksparrow

Tue Sep 17 10:35:14 2013

Years ago I sold a rock concert t-shirt I'd never worn on eBay. The buyer contacted me the day she received it and stated there was cat hair inside the shirt. I've never owned a cat as I'm allergic to them, so I figured it had to be buyer's remorse. I told her I'd take it back (using wording to let her know she was a liar), but only if she'd leave me positive feedback first. She did, and paid for return shipping. Of course, there was no cat hair anywhere on the shirt when I got it back.  

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by: pace306 This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 10:43:41 2013

The problem (in general) is the inequity between small and large retailers.

Most larger sellers/retailers can by virtue of thier size (ie back end funds, co-op, MDF and other monies) can afford to have fairly liberal return policies.

Smaller sellers/retailers simply cant do that, as they dont get funds that would cover those losses.

When I was at a certain CE company in Manhattan, we sold a TON of WD hard drives (on a weekly basis). The rep would come in 1x a week, buy us lunch and take the defective returns, issue a credit for them and take them with him back to corporate. They (based on the margins) were able to do that and so the CE company was VERY easy on WD returns.

Nikon on the other hand, like Nintendo, Denon, Mitusbishi and quite a few others had a virtually NO return policy. Defectives were repaired under warranty and sent in by the actual customer NOT the store.

Most CE distributors are 30-45 days for defectives (and you'de better have your invoice and lord help you if the item was missing ANYTHING).

A sensible and fair return policy is needed all around - thats why I believe 15 days should be enough (either the item works or it does not), but everyone has thier own opinion.

BTW - again - not to beat up SOLEY on eBay ... as Amazon is just as bad if not worse on returns.

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by: Moonwishes This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 11:26:07 2013

I rarely return anything, but back in my, just out of college phase, I had a hair blow dryer that died right before it's 1 year warranty was up (yeah one year that was the 70's) so I took it to Sears and asked for a new one. They argued with me and only wanted to give me my money back which meant I wouldn't have enough for a new dryer. The warranty stated refund OR replacement. Ended up having to wait for a manager to get done with his lunch break who saw my point exactly, got me a new hair blow dryer and I was on my way over an hour later. That return in a way changed my whole destiny! Perhaps that is why I don't like doing returns especially for silly reasons. I maintain a no return policy. Who would have thought that your whole life pivoted on a broken hair blow dryer.

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by: Will This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 11:54:59 2013

What's funny, is eBay with their statements, "the trend is to do xyz, so we follow that" as an excuse to do the dumb things they do.

So far, they're doing the opposite, and it will probably get worse. And maybe that is on purpose, since they see everyone else tightening their belts.

eBay is so desperate for money, it may be the only card they have left to play.

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by: Santini This user has validated their user name.

Tue Sep 17 13:30:32 2013

Liberal return and refund policies are nice, but at some point they become a moral hazard, as the retailers are finding out to their regret. There's only so much "the customer is always right" nonsense they can take all the way to bankruptcy court. Unfortunately the scam buyers will always have a friend with the online "venues"...

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