Retail return windows are a handy bit of insurance in case you decide you don’t want something you bought. However, when you’re at the checkout counter, it’s probably better if you pretend you can’t return it.
Photo by Clemens v. Vogelsang.
As personal finance site Becoming Minimalist explains, knowing that a store will accept returns can actually make impulse buying easier. “If I don’t like it, I can just return it,” we say to ourselves. And why not? However, the longer we keep stuff at our home, the more likely we are to just keep it after all. Now you’re stuck with something you regret buying in the first place because you were relying on that long return window to make up for a bad initial decision. This happens enough that some stores with exceptionally long return windows actually have fewer returns than those with shorter windows:
In other words, the longer a time frame allowed to return an item for full refund, the less likely consumers were to return the item in question. The very characteristic that makes the return policy appear to be a major-win for the consumer is actually a major-win for the seller.
How could this be? Wouldn’t the opposite be true? Apparently not. The more time a shopper is allowed to keep an item before returning it, the more likely they are to just keep the item.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with using the returns window when you have to. However, if you’re buying something you’re not sure about because you know you can just bring it back later, you’re probably better off not buying it. The longer that thing stays in your house, the less likely you are to bother taking it back at all.
How Refund Policies Encourage Spending (and Reduce Returning ) [Becoming Minimalist via Rockstar Finance]