What Happens to Returned Goods (retail)

I was wondering about this.

In this day of global supply chain, what happens when you return a defective item to the store? It seems hard to imagine that it is worth while for (say) Walmart to send a broken Barbie back to the vendor. On the other hand, one would think that the vendor would want to look at the issue, possibly for failure analysis or verification of the defect. And while Barbies are obviously of nominal value, what about something like an air conditioner that could cost several hundred dollars, but nonetheless be a cheaply made commodity item from someplace in China.

Is there a general answer? Are the stores just credited for the bad item and the item discarded? If so, it would seem to create opportunity for abuse.

This was brought about in part when I purchased two air conditioners. The store scanned the serial numbers, but I noticed that neither unit had a SN on the actual device, only the box (admittedly there may have been one somewhere inside, but there was not one where the consumer could see it). I returned one as defective, but realized later that I had put it in the wrong box, and the store scanned the box, thus crediting me for the non-defective one. For me it was of no consequence, but strictly speaking their records now show that they received a different unit than the one they actually did.

I realized it later because the boxes for each were left in their respective rooms, and when I got home the room with the good one was the room without a box still there; I had carried it downstairs and sent someone else up to get the box for me.

It varies greatly depending on the vendor contract. Some items the retail store will eat the cost of the item completely. some items the retailer only needs to notify the supplier of the defect and they will get credit, others the supplier will send to a rep to inspect the item, others may require the item be shipped back to them with some paying for shipment and others pay the shipping.

It’s complicated and requires someone keeping up on what the latest terms for the product are. Most big box stores will have someone whose sole job is handling these items.

In the case of Fry’s they repackage the item and try to sell it to some other unsuspecting sap.

(Fry’s is infamous for placing “reconditioned” items back on the shelves alongside the actual never-opened boxes. One always has to look carefully for the “refurbished” sticker when one grabs a box off their shelves.)

I used to work for a Circuit City Service Center. Some larger stores had a QC bench to check out anything that was returned before repacking it and putting in on the shelf as an open box item. Even if the consumer was returning what appeared to be an unopened box (buyer’s remorse, unwanted gift, etc.) we still had to open it and check to make sure we weren’t receiving a box full of newspaper.

Of course it gets discounted if it goes back on the shelf for resale, and it’s still supposed to carry the original warranty and all store guarantees as if it were a new, unopened item. All consumer protections are still supposed to apply.

If you return something as defective, it either (1) goes to a regional service center if the store has their own authorized ones, where it’s repaired/written-off/RTV*, or (2) back to the manufacturer or (3) into the garbage, depending on the terms for that particular item at the time of sale to the retailer.

*return to vendor

Many decades ago in our foolish youth my husband and I made the mistake of buying some furniture from a department store. Every single item was defective on delivery. There were returns, redelivery, broken delivery promises, for months. For one particular item, the first replacement also had defects. So did the second replacement. And the third. The fourth was our original reject back. So they were very obviously recycling them through various customers. Eventually we told them to come and take everything back, no replacements, just take them off the bill. A year later, one of the items was still sitting in our apartment despite several promises to come and get it. Finally we told them, look, we are moving to a new place in two weeks (which was true.). We don’t want this chair and are not taking it with us and we will not pay you for it. They came and got it.

I know when I have returned clothing to Sears (Land’s End), they slap a half-off sticker on it and put it on the sale rack within seconds.

There’s a store in my area that sells refurbished power tools. They apparently take tools that have been returned as defective, repair them, and them sell them at a significant discount. The nice thing is they’re sold with the same warranty as if they were new - if they didn’t fix them properly, you can return them for a full refund.

I’ve worked at a few different hardware stores and dealt with a lot of defective items. It depends not only on the store, but the item itself. Ace Hardware in particular had a three-tiered return policy towards its stores. Most items sourced through Ace were “Policy A” which meant that the store could simply claim a credit online and discard the product. IIRC, Policy B items had to be sent back to the Ace warehouse for credit, and Policy C items Ace would not credit us on and we had to deal with the manufacturer. I know Do It Best and True Value are similar. Most Ace stores (and DIB/TV) also carry some products that they get from outside of Ace. Depending on the vendor, sometimes we just ate the cost, and other times we would call the company rep for a credit. I don’t recall ever being told no by a rep; we just knew when not to bother.

In the store I worked at, most departments worked the same way: if an item was returned and in good shape, it was reticketed and put back on the rack for the same price. If it was damaged by the customer (this chain has a horrendously liberal return policy) it was usually marked out of stock and thrown away except for a few vendors who wanted their damaged merchandise returned. Vendor defects were either marked way down, discarded (for the cheapo junk) or sent back to the company.

The buying offices worked with the vendors to figure that out, though, so we just did what they said.

Appliances and electronics had a lot stricter policies, but I didn’t work much in those departments.

One thing to remember is that for most retail items, the shipping cost to return the product is much more expensive than the initial shipping cost. Pretty much everything from China is sent via boat at a steeply discounted bulk rate, but they wouldn’t get this for air shipping a return. Some manufacturers have local repair facilities, but not all.

As far as being repaired and restocked, what do you think happens to products which fail tests on the line? A lot of electronic devices fail on a bathtub curve, so many manufacturers do burn-in testing (at least in the higher end, professional products where I have experience) but that doesn’t catch all the failures.

Home Depot is the world’s worst ‘put it back on the shelf and someone will buy it’ retailer I know of.
Probably hoping that the next person won’t notice or won’t bother returning it

I know Target sets some of their returns aside and donates them- my wife’s agency has an arrangement with Target where they will donate a pallet of stuff, which is then distributed among the social workers to give to clients in need. Some of the stuff is pretty nice (consoles, vacuums, etc) which often becomes xmas gifts to the kids of poor families.

Or they are “sold” to outlets such as Goodwill, which then resells them. I used to work at a Goodwill store that received items from Target.

Agencies like Goodwill often acquire much more merchandise than they can sell. These get loaded onto pallets and exported to third world countries. In Latin America, it is sold as “Ropa Americana” (American clothes). It is always sold in the third world by for-profit vendors, who buy pallets of Ropa from American sources.

The third world also gets a lot of stuff that is produced and can’t be sold. If the Chicago Cubs make the playoffs, thousands of T-shirts are manufactured that say “Cubs – World Champions”. But the Cubs lose, and somebody else is the Champs. Those T-shirts wind up on a pallet headed for Tanzania, where an entrepreneur sells them for profit, and there are guys walking around in Mombassa wearing T-shirts that honor the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs.

I worked at a Best Buy at Christmas and they will return some items to the manufacturer. Other items get sent to the computer techs for rechecking and then repackaged, usually at a discount.

For instance if they have two cable modems, one had a bad cord and one had a bad port, they could take the part from one and stick it in the other. They’d then drop the price a bit and sell them.

Also it depends on how them buy them. Some items are purchased cheaper as they don’t get a return discount. Others cost more but the store can return it from their vendor.

I think I have a cunning plan… :stuck_out_tongue:

Lowes is the same. On occasion I have seen five of the same product on the shelf, all opened and resealed with crappy packing tape. I have a suspicion that they deliberately pull all the unopened items until the returns have sold.

When I was building my computer, I got all the components at Fry’s. I insisted on getting everything new, but the hard drive I wanted they only had in stock used. I was really leery of buying the “refurbished” drive, but the sales rep assured me it was “probably fine - most people return hard drives because they bought a SATA when they needed an IDE” :rolleyes:. But I was eager to start building my computer so I took a chance and got the drive.

Of course, it started failing almost immediately. When I took it back I explained how it was a bad drive and I’d done several tests to confirm that the drive was FUBAR. The guy at the counter just nods and goes about processing the return. A minute later, much to my horror, I see them putting a new price sticker on it (discounted $5 more than it was discounted when I bought it) as it went back to the shelves. Fucking con artists.

Ah yes, Fry’s and the sticker of death. You’ll always get Fry’d at Fry’s :smiley:

Yeah, I learned this the hard way when I was the unsuspecting sap. I bought a video game there a few weeks ago, and it was a repackaged, returned one, selling for quite a bit less than a new one. I saw that it was, but assumed they at least gave it a cursory examination when it was returned.

When I got home and opened it up, there was no disc in it. They’d sold me an empty box.

When I went to return it, the woman started to tell me she wasn’t sure they could take it back, since they generally don’t take returns on video games. My response was, a) then how did I end up with an obviously returned video game, and b) Are you fucking shitting me? You sold me an empty box. I don’t want my money back, I just want the game I paid for.

They gave me a brand new copy.