You’re waiting to judge me…aren’t you?
Ok here it goes.
In case you aren’t aware, Costco has the most amazing return policy in the history of return policies.
They will allow you to return practically anything, for almost any reason, with no time limit on when you can make the return. There’s only a few reasonable exceptions.
Sounds insane, right? How can this be profitable?
It’s actually a genius marketing and psychological play that gives customers a huge sense of security and trust in the products Costco carries. They open their wallets without thinking about it or even checking the reviews.
Much of the time Costco can charge back any returns to the manufacturer anyway - and the sheer volume of sales they do and annual membership fees makes up for the rest of the potential losses.
In short…it’s why I shop at Costco.
I’m always pressed for time. The draw of that warm security blanket return policy and reasonable prices is just too hard to resist.
I'm not the only one who can't resist either - here's a blogger who lists her favourite Costco buys.
My $1,000 Costco Return
When I know I have forever to return something - I tend to procrastinate.
The priority level drops dramatically when there is no deadline. That suits my lifestyle perfectly.
But, it can make for some pretty embarrassing returns when I’ve let things go just a little too long...
Before our recent move, we were living in a temporary house and had accumulated plenty of things from Costco that had either broken or weren’t quite right. The fact that we were moving - with all the expense that entails - finally motivated me to dig up the receipts and make those returns.
Exercise Bike Blunder - $500
First, there’s the recumbent exercise bike that cost nearly $500. I bought it to work out from home while playing a free online game, Hearthstone, on my tablet. Two birds, one stone - am I right?
Well, within the first year I started noticing the resistance was really weak. I fooled myself into thinking I was either getting stronger or that it was always that way. Soon after though it became clear that it was just broken.
I stopped using the bike, but it was really heavy and big, so it just sat in the basement unused for 2 more years.
With our move date looming, I called my Dad and asked him if he could help me return it to Costco with his trailer. Boy was I nervous going to the return counter carting that 3 year old monster…
The result: I explained what happened truthfully along with the reason for my delay and they gave me my $500 back no questions asked - success!
Bicycle Garage Ornament - $300
Growing up my wife, Maria, never had the opportunity to learn how to ride a bicycle and it is something she’s always wanted to do.
One day, walking through Costco we spotted a nice ladies bicycle - this was her chance to finally learn. We walked out, bike in tow, and found a way to stuff it into our SUV.
What happened next?
Life with two young kids and changing careers took over of course and it basically just sat in the garage unused. It sure looked nice sitting there - but unfortunately it was way too expensive as a garage ornament.
The tags were still on this one so they didn’t bat an eyelash when I rolled it back into the store along with most of my other stuff.
Everything But The Kitchen Sink - $200
Here are the other returns they gladly took back - most of them were at least 1 year old:
- Fruit stand - we forced ourselves to try and like it for a couple of years, but really didn’t.
- Cushioned floor mats - we bought way more than we ended up needing so we returned some.
- Snorkel kit - another impulse purchase we thought would be fun but didn’t take out of the package.
- Towel holder 2-pack - never got around to installing it on our bathroom doors and no longer needed with the move.
- Frying pans - they were supposed to be professional grade but warped quickly and didn’t hold up.
They did reject a couple of things though:
- Walnuts - I had an unopened bag that I didn’t realize had expired. They said they don’t take back expired food which makes sense.
- Shoes - I used a pair of slip on hiking shoes as slippers and they basically disintegrated. I figured for strictly indoor use they should last a lot longer but they said they were too old and it was regular wear and tear.
Plus a travel bonus worth another $150.
Quantities are limited.
I could have forced the issue on these two items if I really wanted to, but I don’t want to abuse the system. In my view I’m just taking advantage of a policy that keeps me shopping there…
They get a regular customer who makes a lot of big purchases there and talks up their brand at every opportunity (this article - case in point). I get a time-efficient shopping experience that allows me to make purchasing mistakes without any consequence.
After all, I just bought a new living room set and mattress for my new house without seriously considering the competition - I think they’re doing OK.
Costco Horror Stories
You might think my big return is pretty crazy … but really it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I try to keep it reasonable. Some people will shamelessly return used and abused items and then walk out of the store with a brand new replacement.
The 10 Year Old TV
Costco finally changed their policy so old electronics can’t be returned for a full refund allowing people to simply “upgrade” to the latest technology at no cost.
That didn’t stop this guy from returning a 10 year old TV because he was technically grandfathered under the old policy.
The Outgrown Baby Stroller
This onlooker saw a parent return a battered baby stroller that was apparently no longer needed by their grown up kid:
I saw somebody returning a baby stroller, which was in a very poor shape. All tires wobbly, full of hairs, seat dirty with stains, handle acting all funky and all that. Funniest part is there was a kid along with them who was walking all over the place and was quite grownup, so don’t know how long did they used/abused this stroller before finally deciding to return it.
Here’s an example of a guy who ‘borrowed’ a GPS from Costco for his road trip. Another common one is for people to ‘borrow’ big screen TVs for the Superbowl and then return them shortly afterwards.
Some people will even buy plants, put them in the ground, dig them up later and return them to the store. Here’s an example.
And So Much More…
Where Do You Draw The Line?
Where do you draw the line when it comes to a return...
- Would you return something without the packaging?
- Would you return something more than 1 year old?
- Would you return something without a receipt?
- Would you return clothing you’ve already washed and worn?
There’s no clear line in the sand - what is clear is that Costco wants your business and they are willing to overlook some pretty crazy consumer behaviour to ensure they get it!