Return Policy Abuse at Costco

September 1st, 2009 · 231 Comments

One of the things everyone really likes about Costco is their very generous return policy: basically, we’ll take back anything from partially eaten food to a year old DVD that you aren’t satisfied with for any reason.  And while they are less generous now on electronics items, just 90 days, that’s still far better (like probably 3x as long) than most retailers.  In any case, I’m sure we’ve all taken advantage of their return policy by taking back things we tried and didn’t like or didn’t actually want when we got home, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, I don’t think you should abuse the very nice Costco policies by taking back things in a totally ridiculous and unintended way.

I have a story that will probably make you go ‘what?  that can’t be right!’ because I know both my husband and I did that and we were standing right there witnessing it.  We were taking advantage of the nice return policy at Costco this weekend to return the SDHC cards that I had purchased that were so overpriced, as well as a DVD that we had bought and never opened quite some time ago.  I felt bad about returning the DVD because even though it had never been opened and still had the Costco price tag on it, I think it was probably purchased 6 – 10 months ago.  But you know, the Costco guy just took it back like it was no big deal.  So, I felt a little less shame.

However, the customer standing next to me returning his items should never get over the shame that I hope he felt; though honestly, it didn’t seem like he had an ounce of shame or guilt about him.  He was returning a violin that I’m guessing he had purchased online at Costco.com (I know that is where I got mine) because they don’t usually have them in the stores.  So far, so good.  But then he said he had purchased it sometime in spring 2008; he didn’t have his receipt.  That’s a long, long time ago, I was thinking, but maybe it had a problem or maybe he had never used it.  But then the story got even more horrible.  He wasn’t returning it because the violin was defective, had a serious issue, the case wasn’t even damaged, or even because his daughter (the violin recipient) had never played it.  Nope, he was returning this year and some months old violin because his daughter was no longer interested in playing the violin in school and wouldn’t be needing this one anymore.  Seriously, I know you’re saying ‘What?’ right now because I am and I was there!  So, let me just spell this out very plainly:  the girl had been playing this violin for over a year, had decided she no longer wanted to play the violin, so this guy wanted Costco to take it back and give him a full refund on it.  And he actually stood there acting like this was the most normal return in the world.  To Costco’s credit, the service representative that was processing his return only asked him once if there was anything wrong with it and didn’t say anything snarky or even get too pushy about his reason for making the return after all this time.  I was thinking, doesn’t he know that you can rent musical instruments.  But hey, why rent and have to actually pay, when you can essentially put a deposit on an instrument with Costco and get a full refund back when your kid doesn’t want to play it anymore; full use for over a year for free!  So, in the end the guy got his full refund on the violin and one would assume, walked away a happy Costco customer.

But isn’t this a really dreadful abuse of the Costco return policy?  I just have to feel that this was never, ever the Costco intent when coming up with their total satisfaction guarantee.  I mean, he was satisfied, or should have been since there was nothing wrong with the violin, the only problem was typical childhood apathy to being in band after a year.  Should Costco have to pay for that?  Personally, I would never take something back in that situation.  I’d sell it, wouldn’t you?  Or more likely, it would sit around my house gathering dust.  But the last thing I would consider, is that Costco should take it back and give me a refund.  I still feel all wound up about this and I’m not even Costco and it happened 3 days ago.

But I can’t let it go.  Luckily, I have this blog where I can rant about this kind of Costco stuff.  I just find this so appalling and I think it is because I worry that ridiculousness like this guy and his old violin, will ruin it for all of us.  I’m sure we all feel that repeated things like this explain what happened with the electronics return policy, since it previously had no time period stipulation either.  I don’t want everyone to get stuck with things that they aren’t satisfied with or bought two of by mistake (yes, I do it all the time with books and movies) because of someone totally taking advantage of the system; it’s not fair to the rest of us.   And it certainly isn’t fair to Costco.

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231 Responses so far ↓

  1. 1 anthony // 2016.03.16 at 8:50 pm

    Well mainly just Costco takes a loss initially, but if a manufacturers products are being bought, returned, and put back on shelf there’s no reason for Costco to buy more product from manufacturer and both companies suffer.

  2. 2 Carla // 2015.12.11 at 3:01 pm

    Just wondering if you also give Sam’s Club the same price as Costco?

    And how much have your annual sales increased by dealing with Costco?

  3. 3 CDJ // 2015.12.10 at 7:25 am

    This is an old posting on a rather biased website. The last comment is really quite interesting. “And it certainly isn’t fair to Costco.” Costco is a multibillion dollar corporation that is quite capable to taking care of itself and does not need caretaking by its customers. This so called abuse of the return policy is inherently a contradiction. If I fall within a policy how can I be abusing it? If the speed limit is 35 miles per hour and I always drive at 35 miles per hour I never get a speeding ticket. But the writer would take the view that by driving at 35 I am abusing the policy. This sounds ridiculous because it is. Either I am allowed to return something or I am not. Period. Costco has the ability to change, modify or amend the policy at its sole discretion at any time simply by advising the members. The fact of the matter is that the management at Costco is perfectly happy with the policy, otherwise they would amend it. Period. As to Joe, well what can I say. The 5% tacked on is to protect him, not Costco. He could change his policy and simply refuse to take anything back. that would in turn spin back to the customer because Costco would then be forced to either replace Joe or not accept returns on his product lines. Come on Joe, put your money where your mouth is. You can single handedly stop the so called abuse. But something tells me that Joe won’t step up to the plate.

    Costco is a profit seeking enterprise. It does what it needs to do to make a profit. It has evolved a business model that works for it. If it is unhappy with the results it can amend the model. This nonsense about policy abuse is just that, nonsense.

  4. 4 joe // 2015.11.14 at 9:35 am

    If returns ae abused you will all pay for it in the end. I am a manufacturer and we sell to Costco. We add 5% to the price we charge Costco due to expected returns of good product. It is good to have a good return policy but we saw that certain people were abusing it and using us as a rental and we now charge Costco (and ultimately you) for this. There is o free lunch.

    • 5 Shannon // 2015.12.26 at 6:11 pm

      Joe,
      When something gets returned to Costco, does Costco charge the manufacturer ?
      Who takes the loss?

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