Posted in Life

Many (un)happy returns

“Are you going out today?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I’ve got a few errands to run.”

“Would you drop these off at the UPS store. This QR code with this (a clothing item) and the other one goes with this (a box of something).”

“Don’t I have to pack them in a box or something?”

“No, just give them this and they take care of it. It’s all prepaid, too.”

That’s it? I was dubious, but trusted her instructions. In between the gas station and Home Depot, I found the little strip mall UPS store. As I stepped through the door, a line of people were waiting their turn.

They were all holding pieces of paper just like mine and an item. A shirt. A puzzle. Some protein bars. A sauce pan. Three workers behind the desk took each item, scanned the code from the paper, tapped a touch screen, and said, “All set. Have a nice day.” Ditto for me and my two items.

In that moment, I marveled at the booming business of returns. It’s just part of life. I do a lot of online shopping. My items arrive a few days later. I like some of the items. Some don’t fit. Other times the color is off. It may be a piece of junk. It’s not a big deal. Just print a return ticket, take it to a designated place, drop it off and immediately get your money back.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would go to the store, find what I wanted, try it on, purchase it, and take it home. Today, what you want probably isn’t in the store. You have little choice but to buy online. It might fit. It might not. You might like it. You might not. Whatever. You can always easily send it back.

My wife will order three or four of the exact same item online. When they arrive, they all fit differently. She’ll keep the one that fits, and return the rest. Easy-peasy.

The business of returns is huge. Amazon resells some used merchandise, but sells to liquidators, donates some to charity, and sometimes just throws it away, generating a huge amount of waste. CNBC reports that $761 billion of merchandise was returned in 2021.

You can buy a whole pallet of returned Amazon goods. It’s a blind purchase, and it’s on you to resell it to recoup your investment. One woman paid $575 for approximately $10,000 worth of returned items. Amazing.

Food pantries deal with this. They have to swipe the bar code with a Sharpie so that recipients don’t turn around and cash in cans or boxes at a local store.

I always buy more than I need for a home project. I return all the extra unused materials for a refund. The local Home Depot has more registers for returns than for sales. Lowes had long lines of generator returns after a close call with a recent hurricane. The power hadn’t gone out long enough to even open the box, so each got a full refund. However, those generators weighed a couple of hundred pounds each, so this was no easy task.

I’ve learned the hard way to check a box at these stores before I buy something. It’s easy to tell if the box has been opened and then taped shut again. When I didn’t check, I discovered that the fan or tool still didn’t work, or pieces were still missing from an assemble-it-yourself cabinet, or the corner was still damaged from that bookshelf.

Big screen TVs are returned the week after a big game. Suits and dresses are returned after a weekend wedding. Tools are returned after a project is complete. Stores hire extra workers for returns after holidays. What an amazing business!

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