Return Policy Abuse at Costco

September 1st, 2009 · 240 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 (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.


Tags: Household Items · services Share

240 Responses so far ↓

  1. 1 Rob // 2015.11.10 at 1:44 pm

    Curious what people think about my situation. I have a treadmill that was purchased about 12 years ago. Cost about $1500. I’ve used it off and on but now the electronics are bad. The manufacturer is no help. I don’t expect things to last forever, but it was relatively expensive and if someone would fix it, I’d be glad to pay for it but no one wants to mess with it. They all say it’s not a high quality machine. Considering returning it. Should I ?

    • 2 Chicov1 // 2015.11.10 at 2:31 pm

      Where do I start, like really! 12 plus years! Really! Costco has a great return policy do you think that Costco should eat the cost of a 12yr old product which will be thrown out. I understand your issue but no company should ever accept something like this. Morally your wrong even to ask. Costco is not a rental company. Products have a life span there not meant to last for ever. You bring it back but they may take and may not. That’s really up to manager on duty. You can expect everyone to look at you like are kidding me! That said good luck.

      • 3 rob // 2015.11.14 at 8:01 pm

        I think you need to go back and reread what I wrote. I don’t expect things to last forever but I do expect something like a relatively expensive treadmill to be fixable.
        Another point, here is costco’s return policy, copied directly from their website.

        On Merchandise: We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell, and will refund your purchase price, with the following exceptions:
        Electronics: Costco will accept returns within 90 days from the date of purchase for Televisions and Projectors, Computers, Touchscreen Tablets, Cameras, Camcorders, MP3 players and Cellular Phones.
        Diamonds: 1.00ct or larger: Members returning a diamond over 1.00ct must also present all original paperwork (IGI and/or GIA certificates) at which time they will receive a Jewelry Credit Memo. Within 48 hours, our Costco Graduate Gemologist will inspect for authenticity.
        Cigarettes and alcohol: Costco does not accept returns on cigarettes or alcohol where prohibited by law.
        Products with a limited useful life expectancy, such as tires and batteries, may be sold with a product-specific limited warranty.
        Special Order Kiosk and Custom Installed Programs: Custom product(s) manufactured to our member’s personal and unique specifications cannot be returned or refunded, except for warranty repair/replacement due to failure to meet specifications.

        Seems pretty clear to me and it doesn’t mention anything about “managers judgement”.

        • 4 Chicov1 // 2015.11.15 at 1:23 am

          In my eyes your just trying take advantage of system which you can but the ones pays at the is you and public. The continued abuse only lead Costco to change there policy as they did with tv and computers. You can justfie it any way you like but what you have said only points to the person you are. Be glad I’m not the one having to make this decision. I’m a moral person and be leave what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong and don’t try to get over on a system or policy that not meant to be use the way you speak of. I have a car which I don’t think is meant to last 20 yrs but if it last 12 yr Do I bring it back? As said before bring it back if it makes feel good. Just ask your self did you get the enjoyment out of it and why it took over 12 yrs to realize you didn’t. Did your use of it contribute to the brake down of the product. Have contacted the company to see how long was the product suppose to last. Then bring it back. Let know how it turns out. It’s up to the manger in a case like this not the person at the return counter generally.

    • 5 Sammi // 2015.11.16 at 10:29 pm

      It lasted 12 YEARS! I’d say you got a great deal because that computes to $125/year. What more do you want? Besides, you should be extra pleased because your crappy treadmill lasted 12 YEARS!!! Who would have thought it would last that long?!!!

      Please don’t return it. Costco isn’t meant to be a rental business.

      Plus, if you have to ask that question, you already know the answer! Seriously!

  2. 6 Sam // 2015.10.05 at 5:30 pm

    People abuse return policy so much in US that the actual price of the product itself is jacked up!

  3. 7 Fred // 2015.09.17 at 2:12 am

    I worked at Costco part-time at Christmas time back in 1996 and this guy brought in a TV that was about 6 years old and had cigarette burns all over the top of it. They gave him a full refund. After getting his full refund, he went over and bought a brand new bigger TV for less money than he had gotten back. I couldn’t believe it.

  4. 8 cathy // 2015.09.07 at 7:07 pm

    Um. So, here in Utah the items Costco has from returns end up bought by the pallet to a liquidator. I can go to this liquidator store and buy tons of stuff from Costco, and sometimes they even charge more for it than Costco did. Not everything is sent back or just trashed. I have seen chairs, clothes, coffee makers, juice, dog toys, partial bags of dog food, etc there. Of course this stuff supposedly works. Some of it is just the overstock they didn’t sell. Just saying they do get a return on it in different ways.

  5. 9 Shopper // 2015.08.20 at 9:02 am

    There is no unethical return as such exist. If return is accepted , it is absolutely ethical . if it is not beneficial to company (even indirectly) , a return wouldn’t be accepted. Get over it !

    • 10 Cleve // 2015.08.24 at 5:08 pm

      You are right Shopper, and coming from someone who has had some experience with trying to get a product into costco, most of the returns go back to the manufacturer for a return from costco. Costco NEVER loses money on returns. The manufacturer of the product is TOTALLY fine with receiving a palette or two of returns per year just to get their product into one of the best retail outlets in the world. Their returns get back to RND (some returns are manufacturer defects and this helps them improve on their product) and other returns get filled as loss. Everyone is content, specially they customer who needs to pay $50+ per year to be able to buy stuff in bulk. So Really GET OVER IT, next time mind your business.

  6. 11 Ryzen // 2015.08.08 at 3:28 am

    If you knew how Costco makes it’s profits, anything returned isn’t a loss to Costco in the shortrun, it is moreso a loss to the company that manufactured the product. There’s a reason why Costco is so generous.

    I won’t be commenting anything more after this, but Costco is an amazing company. Think of it like this: With how many people already abuse Costco, Costco is clearly still doing beyond well, and are still growing- So if you feel shame about ripping off a company that’s worth billions because of what is considered scrap money to them, well, then you’re quite the saint aren’t you? LoL

  7. 12 Ironhorse // 2015.08.07 at 12:19 am

    In December 2013, my wife purchased an electronic neon-looking ‘O P E N’ sign to hang in my shop (a Christmas gift). Cool looking sign by the way. I didn’t even hang it and start using it until April 2015. I’ve rarely turned it on, maybe a half dozen times. I recently turned it on for an event we hosted and I noticed the outer border portion that is supposed to illuminate a bright blue color no longer works, just the red ‘O P E N’ lettering portion is working.

    A couple of years ago, somebody told me that COSTCO had a really great return policy, but never investigated it. In the 7 0r 8 years that we’ve been members, we’ve never had to return a single item, so I didn’t know how the policy worked. I thought about returning the sign and exchanging it for a new working unit, so in searching for more information regarding their return policy, ended up on this page.

    Hopefully the ‘whatever’ return policy is still in effect because I like the sign and hope they still stock them. After reading the comments, I now don’t consider returning this sign ‘abuse’ of their return policy, because we haven’t abused the sign and it effectively only has several hours of use, even though we’ve had it in our possession for a little more that 1.5 years.

  8. 13 Big Dave // 2015.06.30 at 5:04 pm

    I returned a 5 year old hot tub to Costco it was awesome.

  9. 14 Tabitha // 2015.06.26 at 6:21 am

    The GRAFTON WI COSTCO manager recently changed the return policy…. No items over 1 year old will now be accepted as a return, for any reason. Time for me to rethink our executive membership..because.its one of the main reasons so many of us “pay” for the privilege to shop there. Now, I understand people abuse it…but as I told the people at the counter…after being a member at this store for over 8 years, I have only returned something like 3 items. We literally spend hundreds of dollars here a month, not counting big ticket items like mattresses and appliances that we have made. Had the manager even looked up my account and then said that I had abused the return policy (which I haven’t) I would understand this. But no, it was a flat out refusal on an item that was 13 months old–telling me to attempt a return directly with the manufacturer! I thought that that is what we trust COSTCO to do when an item is defective or fails after only a year!!!

    • 15 Praveen // 2015.06.26 at 9:22 am

      Hi Tabitha,
      Did you end up either downgrading or cancelling your costco membership? I am just curious. You could have argued with the manager and said how you have been a loyal costco customer for so many years and your purchase history and i am pretty sure they would have accepted your return. They really dont want to lose a customer. Did you even try to plead your case?

      • 16 Tabitha // 2015.06.29 at 7:39 am

        Well, when I asked for a manager, they sent the “front end” one…who was a little more than out of puberty…and could only relate that the manager had started this policy when she herself changed it a few months back. But a the time, she was not in the store. And as for cancelling or downgrading…the problem with THAT concept is that I then loose all of the cash back on my executive card, and maybe even on the AMEX card. But, once the agreement ends between AMEX card, and VISA goes into effect, I may just do that. In any case, we drove to another…and may I add–much nicer–COSTCO a few miles away a few days later, and they accepted the return. Of course–they also got a new sale(s), because we purchased a replacement for the same item that had failed. That’s how stupid this manager is for having such a policy in effect Her location now lost a sale. Remember though, that this is also the same location that doesn’t think twice about 15 people waiting in checkout lines backed up all the way into the isles because they only open 4 or 5 of them, with what ….12 empty check outs…on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

  10. 17 Anonymous // 2015.06.21 at 10:51 pm

    I work in refunds at Costco. So you all know, we do keep track of all your purchases and returns. A manager does have the ability to refuse giving a refund back on an item depending on the circumstances. This could be the length of time the member has had the item, or also how much that member has spent vs returned in that items department. For example if a member returns an excessive amount of jewelry a manager can refuse anymore returns from that department by that member. We usually notate members account about certain returns to. So be wary of this next time you have a questinonable return.

    • 18 karimr // 2015.09.23 at 5:28 pm

      hi, I have a HP LAPTOP I bought in 2011 or 2012, it is in good condition, working well etc, am I still able to return it?

      • 19 Sammi // 2015.09.23 at 5:42 pm

        Are you serious? You really shouldn’t use Costco as a rental place.

  11. 20 Joe // 2015.06.19 at 7:50 am

    Question: can I return unopened Keureg K-cups without Costco telling me they r going to have to throw them away? …I hate the waste aspect n return abuse – but they should be able resell them if box is sealed, etc. So if they r going to waste them then I most likely will suck it up and keep them even though I am not a fanboy that brand/flavor.

    • 21 Jordan R. Reghetti // 2015.06.19 at 12:15 pm

      Joe // 2015.06.19 at 7:50 am – You are so thoughtful. I say YES return the Keureg K-cups. An animal did not die and you are not being wasteful. I am pretty sure that Costco can re-stock then and or return them to the distributor. This is what the amazing return policy is for. For ethical people to return something they are not happy with. Now had you bought 12 packages and a lot of employees did not show up for the so called annual meeting, not Costco’s problem. LOL :)

  12. 22 Dave // 2015.06.12 at 9:56 am

    One of the biggest things that gets returned at COSTCO is the KEURIG coffee pots. I would be curious as to what the failure/return rate is on these things, but as a past employee, I used to see these things come in by the dozens. Even I returned 2 already, because they fail. Its usually been a pump issue, or a touch screen/timer problem (and not a mineral deposit or cleaning issue as some people have suggested).

    I’m sorry, but if I spend over $150 for a coffee pot, it should last a lot longer than one or two years! I mean, seriously…if you can buy a $25 MR COFFEE at another big box store and it lasts 10-15 years, certainly a coffee maker at $150 should last AT LEAST that long!!!

  13. 23 Jordan R. Reghetti // 2015.06.09 at 4:22 pm

    100% Agree with you. The one that realllllllly gets to me is when I see someone returning tons of Hot Dogs, Burgers etc. As if to say “Hey Costco” you realize it’s your fault that only 50% of the guest showed up to the picnic/party REALLY!!! And then they have to by law throw all those animals that died for consumption in the trash! I feel that this should be illegal in some way. It is the most unethical practice. Its heartbreaking to see this type of abuse.

  14. 24 mike // 2015.03.24 at 7:03 pm

    i heard costco flags people who return frequent items and electronics. I am not sure. Is it true? may be someone from inside can answer this.
    thanks. May be that should keep all abuser away?

  15. 25 Brooks // 2015.03.20 at 8:37 pm

    I read that costco makes its money on memberships rather than product. They just want you to renew. That’s where the money is. That’s why they sale many items at cost.

  16. 26 big joe // 2015.02.08 at 10:28 pm

    Its Costco’s policy, not ours. If they say 100% satisfaction that’s what it means. I was told by a costco employee that costco gets a full credit from the companies they work with; so if u return something after a year, Costco just returns it like we do.

  17. 27 Simon // 2015.01.27 at 5:20 pm

    LLBean has the same policy and most people do not abuse it. I can’t believe that anyone would bring back something after even a year’s use (depending on the circumstance) in my humble opinion. I was concerned that I would not be able to return a bed pillow after only two days, because it is a horrible pillow. I have neck pain from using it for only two days. My head never touched it, because I use pillow cases, but still I was concerned. I was happy to see that I could return it, but if I had the thing for a year, I would not return it. I hope the commenter called Abuse will stop being a jerk about the return policy. He or she will ruin it for everyone else.

  18. 28 ds // 2015.01.06 at 1:02 pm

    I bought surveillance cameras 12 months back for roughly $1000. They stopped working and I called the manufacturer who told me that they had only 12 months warranty. Called Costco to get the concierge number and they asked me to mail back the equipment. Very happy being a Costco member and will buy a replacement system from them. However I understand that some people abuse their return policy. That really sucks, but I would say 99% of the people realize what could constitute an abuse.

    Anyway, I am a Costco executive member for life due to their exception service.

  19. 29 BOBBIE // 2015.01.05 at 3:14 pm


  20. 30 Adam // 2015.01.03 at 10:19 pm

    So i had a Office chair i got In March 2011, These chairs typically have a lifetime or 5 or 10 year warranty on the actual Chair not the fabric or the Lift but the Plastic Chair portion and i had a Leg Literally Snap off on boxing day under normal use, Called Costco to find Out the mfg since they failed to List it on there website nor any info about the warranty – And got told by The Costco Rep at Online CS to return it to a club for a full refund and just Reorder it from the site.

    So is it abuse or is this what costco wants?

    • 31 Simon // 2015.02.09 at 11:15 pm

      If something has a lifetime warranty, I see no problem in returning it. A lifetime warranty is a lifetime warranty.

  21. 32 Debbie // 2015.01.02 at 9:31 pm

    Okay, so I’m reading the posts on this site and would like to know your opinion on the following…I purchased a pre-lit Christmas tree at Costco in December 2007. Last year the lights started going off in the middle section of the tree. We replaced the fuses and made it last through Christmas. This year, same problem only it was both the middle and top section and we weren’t able to fix it. Should I trash the tree or take it back for a refund?

    • 33 Adam // 2015.01.03 at 10:23 pm

      based on my recent Experience I am torn its very Old, 7 years is well past what one would consider a fair warranty for a Tree I think? if so i would just replace it my cost if it would be under a typical MFG warranty for this item then Returning it to me feels okay. since costco does not list the warranty’s on items it seems just their own 100% Satisfaction promise.

    • 34 John // 2015.01.05 at 3:54 am

      Nothing lasts forever and a 7 year old Christmas tree is a pretty decent length of time for something of this nature to last. You got your moneys worth as far as I, and most others, are concerned. Costco has the best return policy by far in the industry, it is based on providing their Members with the insurance that the products purchased from them will not only be of a high quality, but last for the products expected length of time. The return policy is not a lifetime warranty on everything they sell and the fact that some think it is, is simply disgusting, but not everyone has morals. If your Christmas tree was 3 years old and was doing this, I’d say return it as Costco would expect that to work beyond 3 years, but 7….it’s time to buy a new tree, and honestly Debbie, I’m shaking my head that you are even considering returning it!

      • 35 Debbie // 2015.01.05 at 8:27 am

        I’m shaking my head too John. It’s going to the curb tonight. Thanks for responding.

    • 36 Cindy // 2015.01.05 at 1:09 pm

      Why don’t you just take the lights off the tree and replace all of the lights? We also have a Costco tree that is a few years old, and I have spent a lot of time trying to troubleshoot why some of the lights went out. This year I just strung lights on the area of the tree that had the problem lights. Problem fixed. The tree itself is still usable.

      When the lights first started going, I thought of returning it to Costco, but my husband thought I was crazy.

      I was actually checking out some videos yesterday on how to troubleshoot lights going out, and one mentioned how a lot of the lights on the pre-lit trees have a tendency to go out, because of all the pushing down on the tree to pack it up every year.

      • 37 Debbie // 2015.01.05 at 1:12 pm

        Thanks. I didn’t think of that.

    • 38 Blanca // 2015.06.18 at 4:41 pm

      I suggest you trash the tree. It has lasted for 8 years! I won’t last forever. Certainly, eight years of Xmas use is enough to warrant you buy a new one. Why should Costco return you the money?

  22. 39 Abuse // 2014.12.28 at 10:19 pm

    I use the return policy to the max, i have returned dining room tables after 7 years, barstools. Tv after 10 years, countless printers ( why buy ink when the printer is cheaper). Why would you buy an appliancd anywhere else, when i can just keep upgrading…. Love it

    • 40 josh // 2014.12.28 at 11:15 pm

      This is not what Costco’s return policy is for. Costco wants you(the member) to be happy with your purchase but within its limitations. Every product has a shelf life and if that shelf life has been met then it is time to either replace or upgrade that item, not time to return it so you can abuse a policy. These are the type of actions that will eventually build and cause Costco to re-think their return policies, it has already been done with electronics. Because at the end of the day this is not about Costco providing great Member Service, it’s about the responsibility of the consumer doing the right and ethical thing, and judging by the boasting of how one returns everything really shows the lack of respect to not only Costco but to everyone involved. I get returning things that do not work properly, or that don’t last for an extended period of time. But please show a little class and know when it is time to purchase a new item instead of having Costco replace it for you. Why ruin a great program by taking advantage of it. Look at the return policies of Costco’s competitors and they won’t even come close to Costco’s.

    • 41 Gross // 2015.01.01 at 11:49 pm

      Wow, you are trash.

  23. 42 costco mgr // 2014.12.17 at 11:14 pm

    After working as a Costco membership manager for over 2 years, I can safely say absolutely nothing suprises me anymore about returns, people have absolutely no shame!! I have witnessed people returning 10 year old used mattresses all stained and nasty, used underwear with body fluids, over 500 worth of perishable meat and produce that they simply didn’t use in their party etc etc… people get away with incredible things that you simply wouldn’t believe at costco…

  24. 43 Kate // 2014.11.02 at 12:14 pm

    Shouldn’t Costco recycle and do the right thing? Costco gives vendors huge exposure and I would hope profits. When food is moldy the day after you buy it, it’s hardly donate material…just sayin….two sides to every story.

  25. 44 James // 2014.10.04 at 9:54 pm

    The vendors and members are the ones that suffer from unethical returns. Costco takes a loss in many scenarios but that cost gets passed along to everyone else. When you see someone being a scumbag you should call it like you see it cause that’s nickel and dime’n you too! 1 in 8 people are malnourished so donate the extra food don’t return it because it’s just thrown in the trash. Bicycles/instruments tossed in the compacter when it could be someone else’s lifeline. Learn to maintain and fix your possessions rather then be a lazy scumbag and contribute the the landfills.

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