So, you had one too many glasses of red wine last night and did a little online shopping. At the time, a hundred gallon-sized drums of cheese balls for $350 seemed like a real steal. But this morning, in the cold light of day, you read the fine print on your emailed receipt: no returns. Now that’s a major shopping mistake.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Plenty of people have weathered a bad experience with store returns, whether it’s a tearful meltdown at the cash register or trying to skirt the rules on a strict return policy to no avail. To help you avoid a nightmarish encounter at your favorite stores, GOBankingRates spoke with 10 real people to hear their return horror stories. These folks have the scars to prove that they shopped at stores with the worst return policies.
The Cam Scam
“When internet shopping was just getting started, I decided to be brave and order a new camera for $699 from some no-name website that fortunately is long gone,” said Amy White, the blogger behind Daily Successful Living. “I’m not sure what in the world I was thinking, but [I] ended up getting the wrong model of camera, the external flash had a corroded battery box, and the tripod broke the first time I used it. I had absolutely no luck returning it and fought with the company for weeks. I finally had to file a complaint with my credit card company to get my money back. I was hesitant to shop online for years after this experience.”
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The Warm Yogurt Fiasco
Online marketer, designer and growth expert Stacy Caprio of stacycaprio.com had a tricky time when traveling abroad and sampling the local fare in 2018.
“I bought five cups of rhubarb yogurt while at a grocery store in Ireland because it looked really good in the packaging,” she said. “Unfortunately, it tasted absolutely terrible. So, I set the other four cups on the counter before trying to return them. When I brought them to the help desk at the store, the grocer lady told me I could not return them because they felt warm and she assumed they were now spoiled. … In the U.S., I’m pretty sure almost any grocery store would have refunded me even if the cups were completely spoiled.”
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The Messy Breakup
“In 2017, my brother bought his girlfriend $40 worth of Victoria’s Secret lingerie she wanted for Valentine’s Day. She ended up leaving him for another guy on Feb. 12,” said Jeremy Norris, the personal finance blogger behind Wealth Wishlist. Unfortunately, the strict return policy at Victoria’s Secret dictates that items without a receipt can only be exchanged for store credit. “My brother couldn’t find the receipt but attempted telling his embarrassing story to the clerk to get his money back. In the end, he only walked out with store credit that he never used.”
The Frustrated Phoner
“I tried Adore Me once. I ordered a few things, waited over 10 days to get them and when I opened the box, it wasn’t my order. Not a single item was mine or even in my size,” said Nancy Parra, a content manager at AskNicely, on her experience shopping with the lingerie company. “I called and could not get through to customer service. After two days of calling, I returned the items and marked them as not my order. Adore Me then charged me a restocking fee. They said I had to call them if I wanted the fee to be credited to me in Adore Me credit.”
The store required a phone call but wouldn’t pick up the phone — clearly a bad return policy.
The Gift That Kept on Giving
Nate and Dana Klein’s return policy mistake started when they registered at Williams-Sonoma for some Le Creuset dishware for their wedding. Not long after they were married, a box of Le Creuset dishes arrived — only it wasn’t something on their registry. “At first, our biggest problem was that we didn’t know who to thank for the random — but very nice — gift,” said Nate Klein. “But then things got weirder. Package after the package arrived — all Le Creuset and all things we had never registered for. It seemed like we had gotten the entire catalog, everything and in every possible color.” In fact, the packages soon started to take over the newlyweds’ apartment.
They spent countless hours on the phone with Williams-Sonoma, and Le Creuset did nothing. Neither retailer seemed to know how to help. The Kleins realized that they were likely receiving other people’s registry items, but the stores said they had no record of anything amiss.
It’s been over a year, and the couple still has dozens of unopened boxes in their home. “It’s nice being able to stockpile wedding gifts for people,” joked Klein. “But we also fear our floor may implode from the weight.”
The $1,000 Store Credit Offer
“One of the worst experiences I’ve had with store returns this holiday season happened at Nordstrom of all places,” said Alex Tran, a digital marketing strategist at Hollingsworth. “I purchased a handbag for my mom and lost the receipt. I should have had it emailed to me.”
The store wouldn’t refund her credit card but offered to give her store credit instead. Unfortunately, despite Nordstrom’s annual sales, Tran doesn’t shop there enough to warrant a gift card worth over $1,000. “I will need to call my credit card company to get proof of purchase because Nordstrom was unwilling or maybe unable to. So for now, I am out $1,000 and will probably have to pay interest on that amount when my credit card statement arrives,” she said.
The ‘Used’ Device
Holly Johnson, co-creator of Club Thrifty, bought a set of DVD players from Best Buy for a road trip. But when she tested them out at home, they didn’t work. “The screen was fuzzy and I couldn’t get any of our DVDs to play,” she said.
The electronics retailer has a fairly strict return policy — including a 15-day return window and restocking fee — but Johnson was within that window when she attempted the return. Still, the salespeople said Best Buy couldn’t accept used merchandise. Johnson explained that the players weren’t “used” — they had just been plugged in as a test — but the associates wouldn’t budge.
“I was livid because the DVD players were almost $199 and we didn’t have a lot of money when our kids were really small. I wound up threatening to call the police and made a big scene and refused to leave without a refund or exchange,” Johnson said. “The Best Buy manager finally relented and let me exchange them for a new set. I haven’t shopped at Best Buy since and never will again.”
The Legal Snafu
“I saw a great deal for a Rachio sprinkler controller on Prime Day, so I pounced and bought it,” said Eric Rosenberg, the blogger behind Personal Profitability. “Shortly after, I found out I could get a free one from my city as part of a water conservation program. I wanted to hold on to it until the city one was installed just to be safe. But by the time that happened, it was past the return date.”
Rosenberg’s woes didn’t stop there. “I tried to sell it on Amazon, but Rachio threatened to sue me. So I took it down and listed it on eBay using a suggested image on the site, and Rachio threatened to sue me for using a copyrighted image. Needless to say, I still have an unopened Rachio sprinkler controller if anyone wants to buy it,” he said.
The Jacket Nobody Wanted
Stephany Debski, a human resources and recruiting specialist, said, “My sister gave me a jacket that wasn’t really working for me, so I went to Macy’s to return it.” Unfortunately, Debski’s sister left out one little detail about the item.
“It turns out she regifted that jacket because she had held on to it for so long that the item was not even in the [store’s] system. I couldn’t even get store credit because the associate said it would be like trying to return something from another store,” Debski said.
The Case of the Missing Credit Card
Mark Aselstine, the founder of Uncorked Ventures, said, “So, I bought my wife a pair of boots last-minute, with both kids in tow, at Marshalls a couple of days before Christmas.” Unfortunately, the shoes turned out to be half a size too big. Worse yet, Aselstine had lost the credit card he used to make the purchase over the holidays.
“They seemed super confused about what to do, even though I had the initial receipt [just] not the initial form of payment. Even giving us a store gift card seemed a pain. It seems that anything out of the ordinary makes things really, really difficult often for no reason,” he said.
Retail Regrets: Best and Worst Return Policies for Your Holiday Shopping
What You Can Do to Avoid a Return Horror Story
Though it’s not always possible to avoid things like inept staff or a lost credit card, there are certain precautions you can take to ensure that you have a smooth return process.
Here are a few tips on what you can do to avoid your own return policy horror story:
- Know the individual store’s return policy — including the return window, the acceptable condition of the item and any fees that might be charged.
- Don’t shop at places that aren’t reputable. If you’re shopping online, make sure the site looks legitimate.
- Hold on to receipts and gift cards you might have used until you’re certain you won’t need to make a return.
- Avoid final-sale items that aren’t returnable.
- Be patient and courteous with sales associates — a little kindness goes a long way.
More on Saving Money When Shopping
- Your Complete Price-Matching Guide: Target, Walmart, Best Buy and More
- Know Costco’s Return Policy Before You Shop
- 33 Free Things That Are Only a Click Away
- Watch: Groceries at Target vs. Walmart
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