A Culture of Returns

01 Jan

My wife was out yesterday morning making returns.

There were several items that were gifted this Christmas season that weren’t quite right, so she made the rounds (to 4 different stores, I believe) in order to return them.

Having lived overseas for sometime, I can definitely say that the culture of returns is one of America’s defining qualities. It was somewhat of a shock to see how, on such a regular basis (not just at Christmas time), people purchase items with a strong expectation of being able to return them if they don’t work, or if they don’t like it, or if someone else doesn’t like it, or….

I wonder what kind of impact such an expectation has on a culture.

When you can always get a refund, when you can always go back and act like a purchase never took place, what does that do to our perspective?

One of the mottoes of modern commercialism used to be “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware!). But I can’t imagine that this cliche still retains its prominence in our product purchases. More fitting is probably the saying, “Many happy returns!” With the nearly unlimited opportunity for making a return, it seems to be that there is actually very little risk involved in buying something today. There is really not much need for caution, or even doing a little research and looking into a particular product before taking the plunge and plunking down the plastic.

Even patience is no longer required. Go ahead and buy on impulse without awareness of what you’re getting yourself into, because you’re really not getting yourself very deeply involved at all: if it doesn’t work out, take it back.

Americans like our variety. We love having a ridiculous amount of options available to us; we feel like choice is a right. We like to be able to choose which one we want, and then recover without consequence if we made a poor selection. But seriously, how many different varieties of Italian salad dressing do we really need?

We buy. We don’t like. We return. (Though that does get a little tricky–but not impossible–with salad dressing.)

We buy. We change our minds. We return.

We buy. We come to our senses that we have vastly overspent for something we don’t really need. We return.

We have a desire. We have an impulse. We have a need to be fulfilled. We buy.

And then someone else (spouse, parent, wise friend) makes us return.

All better. The credit is charged back to our card. The cash is tossed at us from the till. There’s no more guilt. No more evidence. No harm done (except perhaps a restocking fee).

Where is the need for wisdom? Where is the need for patience? For careful consideration? Where is a right sense of value, an intentionality in how we use our paycheck?

All of these are rendered unnecessary, thanks to our culture of returns.

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Posted by on January 1, 2012 in Life


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