Recently I returned an ill-conceived purchase to a large chain store. (OK, it was Target.) The cashier was polite to me, but I still felt uncomfortable about the whole transaction. She wanted to know the reason for the return; I’m sure the store keeps records and she had to ask that. I wasn’t sure what to say: “I thought I would look OK in this, but it was horribly unflattering?” “I didn’t want to try it on in your dressing room because last time I went in there the walls collapsed and I was lucky to escape without a fractured skull?” (Yes, that actually happened. The Target fitting rooms shouldn’t actually be called rooms. The whole setup is like a house of cards. I’m not sure how the walls stay up.)

c28cd382f5579f8fbc5790606933c652At Lake Forest Book Store, we don’t ask people why they’re returning something — although they sometimes feel duty-bound to tell us. Actually, we don’t get many returns. I don’t have the data, but I’d guess that other kinds of stores get many more returns than bookstores do. People probably think they’re going to read (or regift) that copy of The Luminaries someday. We are quite generous with our return policy. We don’t even require that the book was originally purchased at our store, as long as the customer just wants to exchange it for another book. Most people are pleasantly surprised at how accommodating we are. The most common reason people bring books back is that they’re duplicates. I often encourage customers to buy actual books as  gifts, rather than gift cards. “Think of the book as a more personal version of a gift card,” I say. “They can always bring it back.”

cvr9780743227445_9780743227445_lgMaybe I shouldn’t say “always”, because over the years some people have taken me quite literally:

  • An elderly woman returned a dog-eared copy of one of Philippa Gregory’s books, saying she found it “filthy”. Apparently she needed to read it very thoroughly to determine just how offensive it was. I wondered if she also asks for refunds on restaurant meals after she has eaten them.
  • A man brought back a copy of a travel guide to London, claiming he didn’t need it because his trip was canceled. I guess this cancellation happened after he circled restaurants, hotels, and sightseeing spots he planned to visit.
  • A woman returned the hardcover copy of Team of Rivals (publication date: 2005) in 2013, wanting to exchange it for the paperback edition.cvr9780684824901_9780684824901_lg
  • A customer lugged in two large shopping bags full of old, yellowed mass market paperbacks from the previous century, claiming they were all purchased from our store. When I pointed out that the public library down the street would accept them as donations, she asked if I would drop them off there on my way home from work.
  • People often return books they received as gifts, look around the store for a while, and then ask for a credit because there’s nothing they want to buy. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as Jerry Seinfeld would say, but really? In the whole store, there isn’t ONE irresistible book? I will never understand that.
  • A mother returned a children’s paperback book ($3.99), announcing that it was much cheaper at Amazon ($3.59).
  • A very well-dressed woman brought in a pile of coffee table books (some recently published, some not so recently published), because she was “trying to reduce clutter” in her newly redecorated home.

These incidents, thank goodness, are few and far between. Now I have to head out to the local grocery store to return the strawberries I bought yesterday that are already moldy. Do you think they’ll replace them?



14 thoughts on “The Point of No Return

  1. Once again, I’m smiling! And, if u bought them at Jewel then the answer is Yes.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Are you sure we don’t work in the same bookshop? I love this. My favorite returns story involves a well-regarded and quite wealthy customer who returned a little paperback book saying he realized he’d read it before. It was in pristine condition, so we were happy to do so. A few weeks later he came in to browse, and pulled that paperback off the shelf. We told him he’d just returned it, because he’d already read it… but he insisted. And then the cycle repeated itself about every three weeks, and each time he brought it back there was another little crack in the spine. It was a very obscure mystery writer, so we just kept putting it back on the shelf…. and this went on FOR YEARS, with a number of other little mass market paperbacks! He spent so much money otherwise, we just decided he was proud of himself for getting one over on us, and since we were coming out way ahead, we played along.

    He died a few years ago, and we were so sad to pull those books off the shelves for good.

  3. I love the little anecdotes! It’s so funny what customers think they can get away with. It must be so fun working at a bookstore – one of my (many) dream jobs!

  4. Stopping by from Steadfast Reader–Your post sounds so similar to my own bookstore days! My “favorite” was the woman who was a chronic returner–she would buy armfuls of books and then return them all a week later, week after week. When questioned she emphatically told us that she had a disease that made it impossible for her to make decisions. (I suppose it’s possible . . .) The books were always in fine condition so we always let it go, even though the paperwork was time-consuming.
    I also kind of got a kick out of people who would want to receive cash back for a book being returned with no receipt (our policy was no receipt = store credit or exchange, but no cash.) They would say there was absolutely nothing in the store they wanted. When we’d tell them that we couldn’t give them cash without a receipt, they’d say that they would NEVER shop with us again. Uhhhh. . . you just said there’s nothing here you want to buy, so where is the threat here exactly???? I hope I don’t sound too “complainy” because for the most part I loved that job! 🙂

    1. Too funny! We have the same policy — no receipt, no cash. It seems pretty reasonable to me. You don’t sound “complainy” at all. The vast majority of customers are delightful. That’s why we remember the rude/crazy ones. 🙂

  5. Some of those returns are terrible. I can understand that person who was gifted a book though. Sometimes people are just not readers and I as a reader used to bombard them with books hoping they would find the right one for them.

    But that’s not really the case I find. People who like to read will find something even in a rubbish pile, people who don’t like to read will not find anything even in the hugest book store. It’s a mistake gifting books to non-readers.

    1. Nish, You are so right. I am always bewildered when people ask for a book for so-and-so who doesn’t like to read. I wouldn’t go buy knitting supplies for someone who doesn’t like to knit!

  6. I read this a few days ago when you posted it and meant to comment, but got lost somewhere else on the internet so I’m really glad you linked up! 🙂

    People are nuts in what they’ll try to get away with. (And their justifications for doing so.) Your anecdote about the Phillipa Gregory books makes me think of when I used to work guest services at a large movie theatre – do you remember the film ‘Eyes Wide Shut’? it was rather risque but every shift, without fail, I’d have someone demand their money back – after they had managed to sit through the entire movie. Most of the time I could shut them down with free passes rather than money – but I never could get an answer on why they’d sit through three hours of sexy time that made them so uncomfortable they wanted their money back.

    …I knew I could never work in a bookstore, because all of my money would just go right back into it. 🙂

    1. April, I do remember Eyes Wide Shut — definitely edgy for its time! And I actually don’t spend as much money in the store as you might think. We have gazillions of ARCs. But sometimes I just can’t wait for my turn and I have to cave in and buy the book.

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