Have No Shame in Your Product Return Game

There’s nothing wrong with returning a used item if you’re not happy with it.
August 24, 2018, 10:30pm
The author on a trek in Patagonia, then back at REI to return some gear after her trip.

Sometimes I feel bad about all the stuff I’ve returned to the outdoor store REI. The fancy hiking boots I realized were too heavy, the backpack I bought for a trek in Patagonia that was too bulky for day hikes, and even the cute daypack that got a small hole in the side after just a few uses. But then I think about how overpriced all that stuff was to start with—those three items alone added up to nearly $450—and I don’t feel so bad anymore.


Popular wisdom has it that you can only return something if it’s defective or you never used it. Some even call it return fraud if you try to bring something back just because you changed your mind. But there's a big difference between clearly fraudulent activities like trying to return something that you never paid for in the first place and bringing something back because you don't like it as much as you thought you would.

Not all return policies work the same

REI’s return policy clearly allows for buyer's remorse: “We stand behind everything we sell. If you're not satisfied with your REI purchase, you can return it for a replacement or refund within one year of purchase, except for outdoor electronics, which must be returned within 90 days of purchase.” And unless the item you bring back is trashed, it can be resold on the company’s used gear site for about a third less than what you paid. Not only are you saving yourself money, you're helping someone else get a good deal too.

A bunch of retailers have tightened their return policies in recent months, including L.L. Bean in February, Dr. Martens in March, and Anthropologie in July. But you can still find places that accept returns forever. These include:

Two tricks for extending return dates

You don’t need a lifetime guarantee to make a return after the printed return date, typically two weeks to a month after you bought it. Many items come with a manufacturer warranty that extends for at least a year. For example, when the spout fell off a Bonavita stovetop kettle I got from Amazon less than two months after I bought it (a problem others have reported), it was too late to ship it back to Amazon. But the manual said the kettle had a two-year warranty. So I filled out a form on Bonavita’s site and got my new kettle in the mail a few weeks later.

My broken kettle and the free replacement I got a few weeks later.

No warranty? This is where the personal approach can pay off. If you bought something in a store that just isn’t working out for whatever reason, ask to speak to a manager and explain why you want to return the item even though it’s past the return date. If you have a good reason and ask politely, you may get either a store credit or your money back altogether. Just remember to always, always keep the receipt.

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