- Some customers like to take advantage of stores’ return policies by making rather unusual returns.
- Business Insider spoke to employees at Costco, Walmart, Target, and Home Depot about the oddest returns they have ever witnessed.
- Employees described encountering shoppers who returned things like dirty toilets and mostly consumed pies.
Some shoppers like to take advantage of major retailers’ return policies.
But then there are customers who take that impulse to a whole new level. The rise of “serial returners” is costing the industry a fortune and causing major logistical headaches.
To get a sense of what this looks like at the store level, Business Insider spoke to employees at Walmart,Target, Costco, and Home Depot about the strangest, grossest, and most surprising returns they have seen on the job.
Some of their responses were out there.
“We can’t say no to any members, so don’t bring anything back that’s 10 years old, such as a fake Christmas tree we got back that was sold in 2007,” a California-based Costco employee previously told Business Insider. “We want to help, but that sets a bad example for everyone to bring anything back.”
Meanwhile, a Target team member based in California told Business Insider that they admired their colleagues working in returns, describing it as “a very tough position.”
Here are some of the most ridiculous returns that retail workers said they’d seen.
Shoppers sometimes opt to return huge or costly purchases.
Buyer’s remorse has been known to strike people who’ve just purchased high-ticket items.
“Someone ordered an entire lawn set online and brought it in on a U-Haul to return it,” a Target team member told Business Insider. “We had to use around 10 carts to bring it in.”
Two other Target employees said they had suspicions about the timing of certain shoppers’ expensive returns.
One Target team member of five years told Business Insider about a guest who took advantage of the store’s 90-day return policy by “returning roughly $US400 worth of Christmas decorations in late February.”
And a different Target team member said they had seen “multiple returns of thousands of dollars’ worth of home merchandise made after the guests have staged their homes,” adding, “It is so unethical.”
Other customers attempt to bamboozle workers with downright fraudulent returns.
Not all returns are made in good faith.
The National Retail Federation estimated that Americans returned $US351 billion worth of goods last year, or 10% of all sales. Of those returns, it estimated that $US22.8 billion worth qualified as fraudulent, equal to about 6.5% of total returns.
A Home Depot employee told Business Insider about one customer who attempted to return a power tool in its case.
“They re-taped the box, kept the tool, and returned the tool case filled with cans of spaghetti and ravioli to weigh it down,” the employee said. “It was neatly packed and re-zipped to make us think it was the original purchase.”
A Target team member told Business Insider that stores have a $US200 limit on returns made without a receipt and that customers who return items without a receipt receive store credit in lieu of money.
The team member described witnessing a shopper attempt to exchange a razor without a receipt.
“She had hit her $US200 limit, meaning that she couldn’t return it,” the team member said. “She left 20 minutes later. A different woman came in with the exact same razor – in the same Walmart bag even – to return it with her licence. Not surprisingly, she had also hit her limit.”
But other shoppers successfully exploit return policies.
A different Target team member told Business Insider that one man returned several sets of bedsheets, claiming that his wife had bought too many.
“They were $US150 apiece,” the Target team member said. “He had a limit on his ID. He didn’t have the receipt. We exchanged it for a $US450 camera. He bought those sheets from a secondhand store.”
Mostly devoured food isn’t an unheard-of return in the retail business …
Costco is known for its generous return policy. According to employees, members can even get away with returning mostly eaten food.
A Costco employee of 12 years told Business Insider that they wanted customers to “stop bringing half-eaten food and saying it was bad.”
They added that they’d seen shoppers return bones picked clean and explain that the “meat was no good” but that “they had to feed their family something.”
And a different employee of the warehouse chain described seeing members bring back “all-eaten pies or baked goods” and claim that they hadn’t liked the food.
… and the same goes for old, smelly clothing.
A Walmart associate told Business Insider that they saw a shopper return “a pair of underwear that was already worn.”
A team member at Target described a similar incident in which a person returned “a shirt that had been worn, washed, and reeked of cigarettes.”
“We didn’t even carry the brand that it was,” the team member added. The store accepted the return, then tossed it in the trash.
Shoppers occasionally return items they bought long ago …
A Costco employee in California said they frequently saw members “abusing our incredible return system.”
The employee added that the most ridiculous returns they had witnessed included “smelly socks, 20-year-old refrigerators, and stained mattresses.”
“We’ve seen it all,” the employee told Business Insider.
A different Costco employee described how a woman returned two dirty five-year-old toilets to their warehouse.
“She said she didn’t need them anymore,” the employee said. “She didn’t even clean them. I’m embarrassed that we ended up taking them back, but we did make her take them outside and clean them before we did.”
Other Costco employees told Business Insider about customers who returned “a 10-year-old vacuum,” “10-year-old mattresses,” and “dead roses.”
A California-based Costco employee told Business Insider that it’s always annoying when people try to return “things that are 10 years old and ‘just stopped working.'”
These kinds of returns don’t just happen at Costco, though – a Target team member told Business Insider that they once encountered a person attempting to return an old, open box of condoms.
… or purchased at different stores.
Retail workers sometimes encounter shoppers who try to return items they clearly purchased elsewhere.
And sometimes those shoppers succeed.
A Walmart associate from Tennessee described seeing a customer return a product from Kmart.
“It was accepted with the Kmart sticker on it,” the associate told Business Insider.
A different Walmart associate said they saw someone try to get a refund on “a gallon of out-of-date milk from Kroger.”
Two Target team members described seeing shoppers attempt to return Walmart-branded clothing.
“I don’t work in customer service often, but I did have someone try to return a non-Target item,” a third Target employee told Business Insider. “She kept insisting she bought it here.”
Are you a retail worker who’s had to deal with ridiculous returns? Email [email protected]