12 January 2021

"Here's your refund. Don't return the item"

A somewhat counterintuitive corporate retail policy: 
Retailers have a new message for consumers looking to return an item: Keep it.

Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc. and other companies are using artificial intelligence to decide whether it makes economic sense to process a return. For inexpensive items or large ones that would incur hefty shipping fees, it is often cheaper to refund the purchase price and let customers keep the products.

The relatively new approach, popularized by Amazon and a few other chains, is being adopted more broadly during the Covid-19 pandemic, as a surge in online shopping forces companies to rethink how they handle returns. “We are getting so many inquiries about this that you will see it take off in coming months,” said Amit Sharma, chief executive of Narvar Inc., which processes returns for retailers.

Lorie Anderson of Vancouver, Wash., was pleasantly surprised when she tried to return online purchases of makeup at Target and batteries from Walmart. The chains issued her a refund but told her to keep the items.

“They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” Ms. Anderson, 38 years old, said. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS . This was one less thing I had to worry about.”
Full story behind a paywall at The Wall Street Journal.

And, as an example of how walls don't keep determined people out, here is the content from behind the paywall, courtesy of an anonymous reader.


  1. Oof. That increases my worry that most retailers just throw away returns, rather than restock them, because it's too expensive. I wish there was a way to find out which companies commit to not doing that.

  2. non-pave-alled: https://archive.vn/6A8Yu

    1. Added to the body of the post. Thank you, anonymous person.

      A potentially interesting resource, btw...

  3. Many times returned items are just sold to salvage companies who sell them in bargain stores for pennies on the dollar. Sometimes they just dump hundreds of products in a giant bin and put a price of a few dollars for any item. people root through and find deals.

  4. This happened to me when we ordered a patio set and received two patio sets! It was too bulky to mail back so they just let us keep it. We gifted it to a family member. The future is weird...

  5. It has happened to me few times in Singapore also for a local e-commerce site (Lazada). Was surprised the first time, but understood their rationale. Same reason is that Starbucks never gets customer to sign the credit card charge slip (including in USA). The number of charge back claims are so few that it doesn't make sense for them to slow down their sales.

  6. I'd like to see a calculation of the environmental benefits of online shopping vs. meatspace shopping. I don't miss the days of taking hours to drive around town looking for just the right product, only to not find it. But I also wonder how that compares environmentally to having exactly what I want shipped halfway around the world.

  7. I wonder what the tax write off is for the company? - if 100% of wholesale price .. then this builds the no-return culture as well.

  8. As an Ebay seller, there have been quite a few times when I have done that for items (computer components) that the customer indicates are not working.

    About 50% of the time, the component is fine, but some of the items are just not worth paying the cost of shipping twice more and retesting (return label, then retesting the part, then a new label for a new customer).

    Amazon's policy, it would seem, goes a bit beyond that.


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