Liberal Return Policies vs. "has my camera been used?": A way to Solve This

Started May 6, 2014 | Discussions thread
Marty4650 Forum Pro • Posts: 14,695
Just another nail in their coffin

ne beginner wrote:

The way it is in the USA, the big on-line retailers offer a trial by way of what had become essentially a free rental: you can buy a camera or lens, use for a week or two, in some cases up to 30 days, then return it for a full refund. That sure beats a 10 - 15 minute trial at a B&M. And, if you are so inclined, you can just buy and return a lens or camera you need for a weekend, never having intended to actually keep it in the first place.

You are absolutely right. Any store that offers a "returns accepted, for any reason, at any time" is essentially offering a free rental service. And every customer must bear this cost, because the retailer cannot absorb it. This is especially true for the B&M retailer, who is already at a huge competitive disadvantage over the online retailer. If they do this, it is just one more nail in their coffins.

Costco tried this very liberal policy, and it became so abused that they had to limit returns to within 90 days of purchase. Believe it or not, people were buying a DSLR, and using it until an upgrade was released, then returning it a full year or two later. They would do this forever, constantly swapping the camera they used for a year for a fresh one. Costco really had no choice, they had to change their policy, and there was a huge uproar about it here in the Dpreview forums from the try and buy guys who kept insisting it was their right, and "the cost is already built in."

Ultimately, the market will decide.

Costco changed their policy, and didn't suffer one bit as a result. Which simply validated their decision. They didn't even lose the try and buy customers, because no one else was allowing such a liberal policy. This new policy merely brought them in line with other retailers. Had their sales plummeted, they might have reversed, or partially reversed their decision.

The bottom line is.... there was no competitive advantage when the try and buy customers have no where else to go. And who really wants a customer that costs you money? At some point, even Amazon bans customers for too many returns . This isn't about fairness, it is about good business decisions, and fiscal responsibility to your shareholders.

With sealed boxes, on-line retailers would not be able keep recycling these returns, re-selling them as new. They would have to sell them as open box specials, and either building the cost of that into their retail prices, or charging re-stocking fees.

Right. Something has to give. I have seen tables at Best Buy for open box items, so we know this does happen. Restocking fees make sense, but they are wildly unpopular with customers. Best Buy once had a 30% restocking fee, then dropped it because it drove business to their competitors. It might make sense to have demonstrators that you could take home for a few days, for a modest fee. Not more than a rental fee. But again, the market will eventually sort this out.

I hope you realize there is nothing that special about a seal. It is extremely easy for an unscrupulous seller to reseal a box. If they are determined to do it, it can be done, and it will be virtually undetectable by most people.

In my view, the real solution is to allow returns for defects only, and not for "I changed my mind." Try buying a new car, using it for two months and returning it because you changed your mind. See what happens. This whole try and by policy is bizarre, but if the sellers feel they must do it to make a sale, then it will continue. It is all a matter of simple economics, and how much more the other customers are willing to pay. Because the retailer just never bears this cost. We do.

The EU is well known for having more consumer protection rules than the USA has, but they do not permit "buy and try" returns. This is a uniquely American policy. No one else takes goods back because you changed your mind three weeks after a purchase.

The local B&M, on the other hand, may let you try out something in the store. Even if they don't have demo units, they can make a decision to break a seal for a serious customer. Regardless of weather that customer ends up buying it or not, they can still sell if as new because it was not purchased and returned. And with the seal having been broken, potential customers will know it has been opened. They can then at least make an informed decision on weather to buy that unit, or ask for a sealed box.

However you look at this idea, so far anyway, I can't see where anyone looses .... except retailers who are abusing the returns game by reselling their used returns at full retail to unsuspecting customers.

Like I said earlier, this is simply another nail in the coffin of the B&M retailers. Their costs are already higher, and people are more likely to return something when the return is more made convenient due to geography and proximity. It is just much easier to go back to Costco than it is to pack up and ship a box to Amazon.

So the B&M seller has to deal with higher payroll costs, higher inventory costs, the sales tax disincentive, higher rent, and must still somehow try to compete with online sellers. Buy and try might be the only advantage they have left, but it will drive their costs even higher. This is a no win situation for them.

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