Nothing to return, or: Diary of a mad consumer

Consumer angst: The urge to return something

5 minute read
Surely there's a library book on the floor of the back seat or a sweater to go back to Marshall's the next time I'm near. I can't go anywhere without stopping at the hardware store to swap a box of long screws rattling around in the trunk for longer ones.

And that smelly shrimp paper: I am going to demand my money back from the grocery store that sold it to me. I should never have believed that naÓ¯ve lad behind the counter. "Just came in today." Yeah. What does he know about fish?

Perhaps there was a time back in the mists of history when I just threw my purse into the car and drove off to run errands, as in, Buy Something. Now I drive off to Return Something.

Stores are so eager for our business, and their profit margins are so slim, that they'll take anything back. Sweaters with no tags if you've got the sales slip; pants with tags without the sales slip. Nordstrom's is famous for taking back expensive, glamorous party dresses that have been worn to gala balls and photographed in the society pages.

That can't be true, but we can almost believe it because Nordstrom sells high-end clothes; perhaps this myth serves to soften the department store chain's elitist image.

Clothes by the armload

A girlfriend told me that L'Oreal ordered its salesclerks working at department store counters to accept all returns, even when customers refilled expensive face lotion bottles with cheap hand cream. Target gives you 30 days, without tags or sales slip if you used a credit card.

When clothes are cheap, I don't bother to try anything on; I just take an armful home and do it there, then return most of them. I often leave the store with more duds than I took in. No wonder the clerks are so agreeable.

You can't shop like this unless you turn your car into a mobile closet. In the back seat: food wrappers, water bottles, maps and recycling grocery bags that I forget to use.

Only yesterday I took those three collapsible beach chairs I haven't used for three years out of the trunk. Did this weight cost me gas mileage? The empty trunk is huge now, as luxurious as having my own camel to carry my stuff.

California dreamin'

A few years back Jim and I loaded our trunk with clothes and tent and stove, ice box, grub and Scotch enough for the first night for us and two big dogs in the back seat and headed out of Spring Garden in Philadelphia across the country. By the second morning, the trunk we had so carefully arranged became one huge drawer to paw through. Seen the bug dope? Under the bread on the left, I think. If not, we'll buy another one.

I don't back the car out of our California garage without checking to my itinerary first. If I want to buy groceries, I should stop at the library, if it's open, or get a pound of special coffee at that shop way down at the edge of town, and I gotta have that brand because I'm hooked on it. Maybe I'll remember to get the floor cleaner that only the hardware store sells. Hair spray? Another stop— and remember to take the discount card along or I'll have to pay full price.

Discount cards: I suckered right into three or four of those to earn points. What a sucker! Store cards are credit cards, no matter what you call them. If you come close to maxing them out, you'll ding your FICO credit score. I'll close, them but not until the balance has settled at zero for a few months.

Mailing to Amazon

Only yesterday I taped up a return Amazon book, pleased with myself for remembering to keep the original packaging. Like Nordstrom's and every other retailer, Amazon makes returns easy. How easy? Choose which one of four return labels: Amazon Locker Drop Offs at 7-Elevens, UPS, USPS or Do It Yourself, all $3.99 with the Amazon return label except the DIY.

Wow, four bucks to send back a book— a sci-fi, not my fave. I don't know where the 7-Elevens are located, but surely the post office would be cheaper than the Amazon $3.99. Yet for some reason the post office lobby machine wouldn't recognize my package, and the inside lines were long so that I couldn't learn what the P.O. would cost.

Next stop was a pickup at Kinko/FedEx, where I have a business discount. But Kinko's wanted nine plus dollars to send the book from California to Las Vegas. (Amazon in Las Vegas?) UPS would charge $15.

I gave up and printed the $3.99 Amazon return label and dropped the package back at UPS, thoroughly tired of taking the book in and out of the trunk.

Epiphany moment

As soon as I got rid of it, I felt an epi. There was nothing more in the trunk or the back seat, nothing in my closet, nothing at all to return anywhere. I could get the car washed.

At the moment the car was clean, I was clean: Absolutely No Returns.

But when I opened my wallet to pay for that luxury, I spotted a $20 Nordstrom's coupon, getting ratty now. I must use it before it expires. (Of course it's only good with the Nordstrom's Visa card.)

When I got home, I see there's a book waiting for me at the library, and two that I have are coming due. And so the cycle resumes.

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