There are all sorts of reasons we return items. Sometimes a piece of clothing we bought doesn’t look nearly as good at home as it did in the store. Other times we feel guilty about spending money and decide to take an item back. One expert said as many as 20 to 30 percent of goods get returned to stores.
Once we return an item, we probably don’t think about what happens next. But it’s worth thinking about, because the process can vary a lot depending on a few different factors. Here’s a basic look at what happens after someone returns merchandise.
Option 1: It Becomes B-Stock
You may not know this, but when you buy something new off the shelves, it’s not just referred to as “new merchandise”. It’s typically called “A-stock” because it’s top-of-the-line merchandise that hasn’t been bought or used by anyone else. You’re the first buyer to purchase it. Many people prefer to buy A-stock, but not everyone does.
But if you return an item that’s even lightly used or completely unused, it can’t be sold as new. It doesn’t matter if all the customer did was open the box and realize, “This isn’t quite what I wanted after all.” If the box has been opened, it cannot be sold as new. That’s true of TVs, video game consoles, and many other items.
This doesn’t mean that it can’t be resold under a different category, though. It’s common for retailers to designate these products as “B-stock”. In case you can’t tell from the name, Bstock is one level down from A-stock. It’s not quite as good as brand new, but it should work just fine for most people.
The stores may not be thrilled to sell it this way, though. They can’t get as much money for these kinds of things. Sometimes they’ll sell it anyway. Other times, they’ll bundle together B-stock and sell it to a liquidator, which then sells it to other retailers.
Option 2: It Gets Destroyed
There’s also a decent chance that the product you return will never go back on the shelves. Instead, retailers might opt to destroy the product.
That happens sometimes when a product is discontinued. If you returned a type of video game controller that is no longer being sold, then the store can’t do much with it but destroy it. Sometimes, they might return it to the manufacturer, but there’s a chance the manufacturer won’t have much use for it either.
This kind of thing also happens to products that never sell at all. Brands like Nike have slashed unworn shoes with box cutters to keep people from wearing them. For some companies, slashing the merchandise is preferable to slashing the prices or even donating the goods to charity.
Option 3: The Return Isn’t What It Seems
Restocking merchandise isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Not every retailer can send it back to a warehouse that keeps a professional forklift dealer on speed dial. Other companies can’t take back items because of something the customer did to the product.
Some customers will even commit outright fraud. It goes something like this: a customer buys a new item and takes it home, let’s say it’s a video game console. A few days later, they return the item. When the clerk asks why, the customer doesn’t give much of a reason.
The clerk is tired and busy, and they don’t take time to really look inside the box before processing the return. When they do, they realize there’s an old video game console inside. The customer got a refund despite the fact that they kept the video game console.
In that case, some retailers will pursue charges. If criminal charges aren’t possible, the customer could be put on a list and prohibited from returning merchandise in the future.