Sunday, February 19, 2012

To return or not to return?

One of my friends asked me how to deal with the sheer number of receipts that she accumulates and keeps just in case she has to return one of her purchases. I have several thoughts on this.

First, if there are a lot of things that a person plans to return, I would be inclined to stop blaming the store for bad merchandise and start honing decision-making ability to make wise purchases.

Returns happen for one of two reasons, (besides wanting one’s money back):
--The merchandise is defective
--The purchaser changed their mind and doesn’t want the merchandise because they were uninformed as to how it would fit their needs or they were misled as to how it would fit their needs.

Having a large amount of merchandise that one wants to return is a drag because it uses time and energy that could have been used on other more productive pursuits. It gets in the way of actually living life.

In an ideal world, we would not need to keep any receipts because all our purchases would be so thoughtfully made that bad purchases would be avoided. However, occasionally products are defective and sometimes we change our mind, so this isn’t quite practical. So instead, the goal is for us to hone our decision-making and information-gathering abilities so that we will learn before making a purchase that the new gizmo really is going to meet our needs. Good businesses try to make it easier for us to make good decisions by providing products for us to test ahead of time so we can see how it works. It is to our advantage to use testers so that we avoid wasting our own time and energy returning what we could have avoided buying in the first place. It is to our advantage to do some prep work before we purchase.

Purchasing prep work includes:
· Measuring dimensions to make sure there is room for our purchase to fit. (For example, before I bought a new fridge for our home, you can be sure I measured the space in the kitchen so that I would not buy something too big to fit. I was able to find a fridge that fit perfectly.)
· Scanning the internet for possibilities. (It’s no fun to buy something and then find something better later that you could have found with just a little research.)
· Calling stores ahead of time to make sure they have items in stock. (It’s no fun to go on the hunt for something specific and then have the energy sucked from your body gradually when you have to visit four more stores to find what you want because no one has it.)
· Experiment with in-store testers. Try the clothes on. Try using the computer. Use software trial periods. Sit on the furniture. If possible, play with the toys. Listen to the music.

Second, it is helpful to set an arbitrary dollar cost below which we will not bother to return a product. (If your time is worth $30/hour, it is not worth it to take 30 minutes to drive to a store, stand in the customer service line, and drive home just to return a $5 purchase. It’s like spending $15 to get back $5.)

What kind of receipts are worth keeping?
  • Furniture purchases
  • Software purchases
  • Technology purchases
  • Expensive repairs (car, house, computer)
  • Gift receipts (usually without dollar amounts)
  • Business expense receipts (These should have their own file folder)
Where should these important receipts be kept?  How about in a file folder called "Important Receipts!"   (Yes, brilliant, I know!)  You can also make it easy to remember what each receipt is for by writing what it is for clearly at the top, rather than having to decode store-receipt-ese.  (Store-receipt-ese is their abbreviated codes of what things are, which requires you to stare at it for a minute before you realize what they mean.)

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