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The Dreaded 'Return' Game After Christmas

Returning those holiday items can often be a hassle.

Now that the holiday madness is behind us, like most people, I’m sure you’ve experienced (or have yet to) returning items that didn’t fit, were the wrong color or simply forgotten under the pile of new socks and underwear on Christmas morning. In simpler terms, the kids hated it. Or maybe you’ve received the timely Visa bill, realizing some overpriced purchases should never had been made. A few returns might return that balance to more agreeable amount.

With each holiday purchase, I threw receipts into a shoe box, communing together like Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. This prevents the temporary crazed and panicked quest for the lost refund. We know all too well what happens when trying to return something without a receipt. Depending on the retailer, the returned item's value is usually half of what you originally paid for it, even if originally purchased on sale. Without the golden ticket, money is lost. 

Returning items can be a hassle. Some experiences are quick and painless, while others are dreaded. My returns to Costco were dreamy and efficient, while returns to stores such as Aeropostale and Hollister & Co. were immature.

The return line at Aeropostale was longer than the DMV. Conveniently placed taped lines stuck to the hardwood floor, guiding the cattle train through labyrinths of clearance bins and hastily folded hoodies. Looking around, I noticed mothers experiencing the familiar epidemic of waiting in line with armfuls of clothing, while their hormonal teenager scouted the retail floor. Clusters of teenagers also waited in line glued to their smartphones, not speaking. The line consisted mostly of young ladies flipping their hair and sighing with impatience in between text messages.  

With Hollister and Co. the return process was equally as inconvenient, yet more painful.  I walked into the dark cave of a store, fracturing an ear drum with the loud music. A young employee mouthed the obligatory greeting while folding sweaters. If the volume were adjusted, I may have understood her sales pitch. I never thought the familiar term of, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old” would ever apply to me. It has. I’m officially an old lady.  

Waiting. Waiting in another line, deep in the bowels of the dark torture chamber of Hollister & Co. While waiting, I fished for the proper receipt with compromised vision and the thump, thump, thump of the music. I grew increasingly anxious with each unsuccessful retrieval, bringing each piece of paper close to my face, trying to determine its origin. Frustrated and annoyed, I dumped the items at my feet while using my smartphone as a flashlight. Night vision goggles would have sufficed.

After finally discovering the appropriate receipt, I resumed the wait ... continuously tortured in the claustrophobic dungeon of teenage retail wasteland. I watched the three employees at their assigned registers, screaming at one another with price checks and random return questions. It appears their hearing was compromised as well. There was a twisted sense of satisfaction observing teenagers work under such conditions.  

Returns, after the holidays, are synchronized with the American culture of shopping.  Buy, buy, buy; return, return, return. Whether it’s a physical or online return, our hopes of experiencing simplicity along with efficient and friendly service are anticipated. When the return has been completed quickly, with no hassle, we often wonder why other retailers suffer by comparison. When the reality of the return process is less than desirable, we take note, while grunting and continuing the repetitive game. I’ve found this true with the trendy, cologne-aired retailers focused on the teenage consumer (financed via mom and dad).

I think from now on I'll sit on the benches of the mall food court, sipping a Starbucks. If my teenagers want to return unwanted items, blow a few ear drums in the process while waiting to exchange their holiday prizes, I'll gladly provide the receipt.   

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