Written by 5:14 am Audiophile Music

So, You Want a Refund?

Steven Stone wonders if there should be a statute of limitations on returns…

This morning I received an email from someone who had purchased a CD from me through Amazon. It read, “The item has arrived, but it was corrupted at exactly 1:19 mins. The customer is asking if you can still send a replacement. Please research the issue and contact the customer.” As someone who values their Amazon seller rating, I immediately looked into the problem. What I found was that the order had been shipped on October 9, 2006!

AR-return1a.jpgYes, you read that correctly; this request for a replacement copy is almost EIGHT YEARS after the CD was bought and sold to the customer. Does anyone else find this request completely outrageous? Now lest you think I’m a “bad seller” I automatically give full refunds if a CD customer has any complaints about condition. After all, it’s only a heavily discounted CD, and the most I’m out $4 for shipping and the cost of the CD. Most times I let customers keep the CD. But in the case of this particular refund, I decided that I had to draw the line somewhere.

Just to make sure I wasn’t being too hardnosed I decided to do some research to find out what constitutes the most liberal return and refund policies currently offered by retailers. The “best” return policy from a department store was Kohl’s who offer a “Return any item, anytime, for any reason.” Kohl’s even gives you up to a year to return an item with a receipt for a cash refund.

Zappo’s is another firm with liberal return policies – if a shoe doesn’t fit you have one year to send it back. But the most liberal return policy is undoubtedly REI, The policy on their site says, “If you’re ever dissatisfied with an item, you may return or exchange your REI.com or REI-OUTLET.com purchases at any REI store or through mail order.” Under this policy, you could supposedly take a purchase back any time, for any reason. But according to an article in The Seattle Times this policy has changed due to customer abuse to a one year return period.

AR-returns4a.jpgI suspect that originally REI was trying to one-up their competition, L.L. Bean, who offer, the “Guaranteed to Last” policy which infers you can return anything, anytime, no matter what condition it’s in. Even if your purchase is no longer newish, L.L. Bean will allegedly take it back for a refund, repair or exchange. But even L.L. Bean would be reluctant to fork over a refund for a thirty-year-old pair of moccasins.

Do these firms return policies leave them open to being taken advantage of by dishonest customers? I think so, but obviously they consider the losses that result from these policies merely part of the cost of doing business. But are these refund polices the sort of cross-industry universal standard that all good retailers should embrace? Only, IMHO if they enjoy being taken advantage of by unscrupulous customers who feel that “the customer is always right” is their birthright.

]]>AR-returns3a.jpgNot all retailers accept returns on everything they sell – take LPs for instance. Some record stores have a “no returns” policy on vinyl because the record manufacturers do not take back returns for any reason. Now, is it fair for a retailer to pass on all the risk to the buyer? Nope. But there must be some middle ground between the “buyer beware” no-returns on vinyl and the “customer is always right” policies of Kohl’s and REI.

If you regularly buy LPs and are very picky about surface noise you might want to buy from Acoustic Sounds. Their return policy is, “within 30 days of purchase, we will accept returns of any physically or audibly defective or damaged item. We do not guarantee that you will like the music or recording quality of a LP or CD, and personal taste does not qualify as a reason for return. In lieu of a refund, we will instead ship to our customer a replacement copy of the same item that was returned. The customer is responsible for the shipping costs to return the defective item to Acoustic Sounds. Acoustic Sounds will in turn pay the shipping costs to replace the item to the customer.”

Acoustic Sounds return policies seem to be a good balance between ridiculously liberal and hardnosed reality. After all, most folks do manage to find the time to examine their purchases within 30 days of the sale. Seriously, if a buyer can legitimately return a CD eight years after purchase because of a dropout, retail is doomed.

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