"No returns or exchanges" -- a legal question

I bought something at the Halloween store the other day. It’s defective. The store has signs posted at regular intervals which read to the effect of “Because of the seasonal nature of our business, we are unable to accept returns or exchange items. Please be sure about your purchase before making it.” Does this release them from the obnligation of replacing defective merchandise? I haven’t gone in yet to try to exchange it because I wanted to hear some opinions first. I’m in Wisconsin but would be interested in “rule of thumb” stuff as well.

IANAL but if an item is defective I think you should be able to return it, if you can demonstrate it was defective when you bought it (vs. you broke it). You don’t say what you bought or what’s defective about it. I would definitely try to return or exchange it, ask for the manager on duty as soon as you go in, don’t waste time.

However, in general, retail stores are free to set whatever return policies they want, including no returns at all, receipt required for return, time limit, etc. Some states may require stores to post or otherwise notify customers of the return policy (print it on receipts, etc.).

I guess my first question would be, could you reasonably tell the item was defective before you left? If the item was in a closed container, and it wasn’t reasonably obvious that the item is broken, I would be very surprised if local law didn’t have something else to say about it.

Generally, those no refunds or exchanges signs have small print at the end to the effect of “to the extent permitted by applicable law”.

In most states, retailers must make refunds or exchanges for defective products regardless of any signage or contract to the contrary. Generally, state law prohibits retailers from making any policy that restricts a consumer’s rights in this regard.

The Uniform Commercial Code, which has been adopted in every state except for Louisiana, contains two kinds of implied warranties – merchantability and for a particular purpose – that can’t be dislcaimed by saying “no refunds, no exchanges.” At the very least, they have to replace it with a non-defective item.

In my general experience, even stores that post these signs will exchange merchandise that was damaged before you purchased it. However, even if the store won’t take it back, before you start hassling with local laws, etc., you could try writing the manufacturer of the product (or calling. Often there’s a toll-free number on the package), and seeing what they will do for you.

I’ve worked for a seasonal Halloween store that had the same policy. One thing I might suggest that you do is open the bag the costume’s stuffed in before you purchase it. At the end of the year, the employees gather together all the loose bits they’ve accumulated (it fills a room, no kidding) and try to assemble complete, undamaged, clean costumes from it. You wouldn’t believe how often people will open costume bags and take little pieces of it, then someone buys the costume, notes it isn’t complete…sigh. But they get sloppy sometimes (comes from hiring high school students, really) and sometimes they’ll put something slightly damaged in there.

I suggest you go back, explain calmly, and ask for an exchange. If the counter person says no, ask to talk to their manager. Demand if the counterhop is nasty about it. If the manager says no, ask to be put on the phone to their regional manager. If it’s the company I think it is (hmm, seasonal Halloween store, puts up its storefront in September and takes it down on Nov. 2) they’ve got one. If Joe Manager is just following company policy, he won’t get in trouble from his manager for bringing your question up. If he won’t contact the regional manager for you, write a letter to the company. Believe me, those get noticed.

A co-worker recently tried to return an item to Target. Since she got it as a gift, she didn’t have a receipt. The Target worker said that she could only exchange the item for something in Housewares, since the item was from Housewares. Huh?

  1. If a store generally accepts returns and exchanges, can they limit a person to an exchange in a particular department?

  2. Is there any general law in the state of California, or in other states, that prohibits a company from refusing to accept the return of unopened merchandise?

Not only can they do that, but they can also limit it to an even exchange. Especially as someone doesn’t have a receipt-a lot of stores won’t even return it then-no matter what.

No, there is no law. As acsenray mentioned, there is a protocol in place called the Uniform Commercial Code. One element of the UCC says that all sales are final. Merchants take merchandise back because it’s good business; not because it is the law.

Otto, spend some time checking out Wisconsin consumer protection laws. They are some of the best in the country. However, in this specific case, see http://datcp.state.wi.us/cp/consumerinfo/cp/factsheets/return_refund.html