Grandmother returns products every chance she gets...why?
July 16, 2006 5:58 AM   Subscribe

Why does my Grandmother always return products?

I know this is an odd post, but it is truly confounding. Eighty percent of all things that she buys, she returns. She even returns gifts to the store. I refuse to shop with her because it is embarrassing. Anyone else experience this?
posted by peglam to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is she returning them because she thinks they're faulty, or just because she doesn't want them anymore?

Perhaps she likes the feeling of being in charge and in control. Or perhaps she simply enjoys buying things for the pleasure of buying things (as a lot of people do), but then feels guilty at wasting the money.

Also, when you say that you refuse to shop with her because it's embarrassing, are you saying that she buys things and returns them on the same shopping trip?
posted by chrismear at 6:05 AM on July 16, 2006

Quite simply: Buyer's Remorse.

Buyer's remorse is an emotional condition whereby a person feels remorse or regret after the purchase of an item. It is frequently associated with the purchase of high value items such as property, cars, etc. The common condition is brought on by an internal sense of doubt that the correct decision has been made. With high value items such as a property, this is exacerbated by the fear that one may have acted without full and complete information, for example, the property was not fully surveyed or that (perhaps) one harbours doubts about the veracity of the surveyor. An equally common source of disquiet is a sense than one cannot actually afford the item or that it represents more of a want than a need, despite any protestations to the contrary.
posted by Fupped Duck at 6:07 AM on July 16, 2006

Is she a child of the Depression?
posted by amro at 6:14 AM on July 16, 2006

Is she a hoarder?
posted by k8t at 6:21 AM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: Hmm...great answers. yes, she is a child of the depression. She is wealthy, hates to spend money...BUT has no problem giving family thousands of dollars. She will not buy dish soap if it is not on sale for example. CHRISMEAR is right, in that she probably feels guilty "wasting the money". But, she will bring back like, laundry detergent. Or, a shirt. It does not really matter what is it. It is not due to being faulty...the product can be without fault. I say its embarrassing because most of the time, she has something in her bag to bring back, and she basically has earned a reputation. One time, she bought a rug at home depot, and because it was worn after THREE years, she took it back................they accepted it! ugh. Just one of those things. Maybe it's MY problem that it bothers me so much!
posted by peglam at 6:23 AM on July 16, 2006

I think it's a generational issue, as others have said. Older folks have lived through some very tough times and probably constantly worry that the same thing could happen again. As a result, some will scrimp and save and second guess any purchase they ever make for fear they might someday need that money.

Your post reminded me of some of the arguments between father and son in the graphic novel Maus, because the father often did similar seemingly crazy things, like trying to return half a box of cereal to the grocery store.
posted by MegoSteve at 6:33 AM on July 16, 2006

I can't answer it except to say my Grandmother did the same thing near the end. We assumed it was the control issue and/or just wanting something to fill her day.
posted by piratebowling at 6:33 AM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: "Is she a hoarder?"

No, she is not a hoarder....
posted by peglam at 6:44 AM on July 16, 2006

My husband's grandmother did some very strange things to him, and tried her best to teach him some awful things.

For example, he has scars all over his back that make him look like he's been tortured, but it's all from his grandma trying to suck out the evil from his body (when he had the flu as a child, for example) with small, heated cups applied to the skin to create suction/vaccuum. And she always told him that if he didn't eat all of his bread, huge black dogs would chase him in his dreams. I'm horrified by just about everything she ever had to do with him and his sister, but they remember her with great love.

She was just from a completely different (rural, isolated) world in which starvation was always a threat, and hospitals and clinics didn't exist. She died almost 30 years ago, but I can only imagine how she would be dealing with today's modernity. I think for people who have lived the greater/more significant part of their lives in a profoundly different reality, strangeness like this will happen more often than not.
posted by taz at 7:04 AM on July 16, 2006

We have a close family friend of the same age who does the exact same thing. She has also earned a reputation at certain stores, to the point that she asks my mother and aunt to take things back for her. Every thing from groceries to clothes to jewelry. The difference between your grandmother and our friend is that she is not well off, and lives on a fixed income.

The weird thing is that she will spend money on her house unnecessarily. She had an electrical outlet go bad, so she had them all replaced (this is not a particularly old house). Her garage door opener broke, so she had the entire door replaced.

I also think its a control issue. Her husband died three years ago, and she is depressed. The returning gives her something to keep her occupied... a sense of purpose. But damn, it's annoying. And embarrassing. She doesn't drive, so it's usually my family who schleps her around on these "shopping" trips.
posted by kimdog at 7:12 AM on July 16, 2006

It's conceivable, if your grandmother feels isolated, that shopping is a social activity for her: she's buying stuff as an excuse to go shopping, and since she doesn't need it, she takes it back.
posted by adamrice at 7:18 AM on July 16, 2006

+1 on the Maus reference. Seriously, it's something useful to read in connection with this.
posted by WCityMike at 7:18 AM on July 16, 2006

<derail> taz: you may be interested to know fire cupping is a very old practise, if you did't know already </derail>
posted by MetaMonkey at 7:29 AM on July 16, 2006

I did actually read up on it, after I found out about the source of the scars, but my imagination was having a field day the first time I saw his back. :)
posted by taz at 7:38 AM on July 16, 2006

suck out the evil with small, heated cups applied to the skin to create suction/vaccuum.

This bit of Old World weirdness can be viewed (without any accompanying explanation) in The Fearless Vampire Killers. I've heard it's a treatment for boils, whatever they are.

As for the topic at hand, my mother is a child of the Depression, and a mild hoarder, but she doesn't take stuff back. In fact, I classify those who do (even at Christmas) as People Who Like Shopping Too Much (except for the rare occasion when exchanging something defective).
posted by Rash at 7:39 AM on July 16, 2006

My grandmother is not exactly like that, but she's from the same generation and obsessed with only buying things on sale, with incredibly cheap, low-quality stuff, etc. (a typical comment: "$7 for a T-shirt? That's way too much!") but she also does give away lots of money, to my education, to church, etc., and she has a horribly expensive fur coat.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:41 AM on July 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sounds like adamrice has got it right.
posted by jayder at 8:33 AM on July 16, 2006

It's called post-purchase dissonance and it's incredibly common. Seems that your Grandmother may have developed an OCD version.
posted by alby at 8:53 AM on July 16, 2006

It could be a lot of different reasons, many of which have already been touched on. Maybe she felt the 3-year-old rug really was of deceptively shoddy quality because it wore in only 3 years. And if something is of generally resaleable condition, I personally don't see a problem returning it for arbitrary reasons, because frequently the store will resell it, and recoup their cost. It's part of doing business.

Why don't you ask her, in a non-confrontational way? Don't get into the "we're embarrassed of you" bit yet, just act genuinely curious.
posted by trevyn at 9:10 AM on July 16, 2006

It is not due to being faulty...the product can be without fault.

So you're not sure what her reasoning is, but you're sure that sometimes the product has not failed to meet her expectations? Hm... that's interesting.

This is a capitalist economy and it's every-woman-for-herself out there. If you can get three years of use out of a rug for free, then hey, go for it. I think some people are innate hagglers and they will push not for what they think is reasonable or for what they need but for as much as they can get. Any time the other party isn't saying "no," these folks feel they must be getting screwed. I mean, hey, if the car salesman accepts your first offer, it was too high, right?

I can just imagine her saying "If the store is willing to take the rug back, who are you to complain?" This sort of person is well-suited to survive in the most hectic haggle-market imaginable. Living in Retail America where you can return things no-questions-asked must be a kind of orgy for her. Her sensibilities were simply forged in an environment very different from this one. In another economy, she migh buy 80% less goods in the first place.

Perhaps when she was younger products were more expensive and more durable, so that even a lamp or a toaster was a big, long-term commitment to be tried out before a final decision, like a big screen TV might be today.
posted by scarabic at 9:46 AM on July 16, 2006

I think most of the answers here are excellent. One more thing that might also come into play: is your grandmother lonely at all?

I worked retail for years and years, and the serial returners fell into two main categories - theives (shoplifted items and returned them for money) and "talkers." They seemed sad and lonely and would hang around after the return and talk to us.

They'd tell us why they were returning the item, including a lengthy backstory. They'd ask questions, maybe about a replacement item they should buy, but they didn't usually buy anything else. They rambled and jumped from subject to subject. We saw the same people again and again, and often they were older women.
posted by peep at 9:49 AM on July 16, 2006

She is wealthy, hates to spend money...BUT has no problem giving family thousands of dollars

I think you nailed it right there. She has no problem giving money to people whom she cares about. However, spending it on herself, even for necessities, makes her feel guilty. At the time of purchase, she doesn't anticipate the guilt she will feel later, and, as a result, she buys a bunch of stuff that she later brings back.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:11 AM on July 16, 2006

Yeah, I've experienced it from the other side of the counter. It's not as rare as you might think. Your grandmother and others with her habit are (one of) a retailer's nightmares. This is especially true for independent stores that actually interact with customers. A "regular" with this problem can be quite expensive. It costs a business a significant portion of the purchase price (1-3% times two for credit card transactions, plus employee time spent selling and refunding, plus time spent reconditioning a "slightly used" item, plus inventory hassles and the probability that you'll have to sell an opened item at a discount). The very worst of the folks with this problem will be asked to find somewhere else to do their "shopping" (hopefully after an explaination of the problem and a chance to shop only for the things they actually need). The 20% of the merchandise your grandmother keeps might be enough legitimate business to put up with the hassle or she'd have heard from a manager by now (or she shops at the big boxes who might be more tolerant due to lower transaction costs or because one person gets lost in the shuffle more easily).

I know you didn't ask for help, but does she do other things? Is there a senoir center or red hat society or anything more fun and interesting you can help her get involved with? I think the comments above are right when they say most of the people who do this are looking for an excuse to get out of the house and interact with people.
posted by jaysus chris at 11:53 AM on July 16, 2006

My mother does this, but only with clothes she buys for herself. She'll already be unsure in the store, but then she buys it anyway, takes it home, really decides she doesn't want it, and brings it back. It takes her several trips back and forth over the course of at least a week to just buy a sweater.
posted by easternblot at 12:22 PM on July 16, 2006

I, too, work on the other side of the counter. I would estimate that 25% of the transactions I do every day involve a return. There's nothing uncommon about what your grandmother does.

That said, everyone should be aware that frequent returns can raise red flags with stores. Some companies use the Return Exchange to monitor frequent returners. Consumer Reports has more information on this service. Some retailers, such as the one where I work, are far more lenient than others with return policy. However, because there are so many people who game the system - and, as jaysus chris explained, there are plenty of other ways in which returns cost retailers money - this sort of thing is going to become more and more common.
posted by anjamu at 1:54 PM on July 16, 2006

My mother has done this regularly for as long as I can remember. Usually, she'll buy expensive clothing, and then about one to two weeks later, she will decide she doesn't really want or need the clothes anymore, or she will find some imperceptible problem with them that makes them unsuitable or damaged, in her eyes.

Most recently, this cycle has grown to include a multi-million dollar beachfront apartment. She gave the non-refundable down payment and signed the contract, then backed out and somehow managed to get her payment back, then wound up buying the place again. She's had a similar cycle of buy/return for its furnishings.

And to echo what other posters here have said, she has little else to fill her day with, so this is probably somewhat entertaining to her.

She is wealthy, hates to spend money...BUT has no problem giving family thousands of dollars

Bingo. Same thing here.

Perhaps she likes the feeling of being in charge and in control.

Ditto that too.

She exhibits other OCD behaviors too, but refuses to believe she has a problem. Other family members enable her behavior. When I have confronted her about her perpetual buyer's remorse, she usually says "well, I never sent you back!"
posted by Asparagirl at 2:56 PM on July 16, 2006

My mom returns a ton of stuff, and I think it's just because she's constantly unsure of her choices. She'll buy something, and then double-guess herself, and take it back. She has a real tendency to not trust her own decisions without some kind of external reassurance - she ends up keeping things that she's already seen in friends houses or in a magazine. Could it be something like that?
posted by Kololo at 6:29 PM on July 16, 2006

It might make her feel like she's earning money, in a way. Just a guess.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:05 PM on July 16, 2006

Lots of good stuff above, with regard to loneliness, Depression Era people, a chance to talk, shopping guilt, etc. However, I wonder how much stuff most people would return if they had plenty of time on their hands. Perhaps your grandmother's utility for her time is quite low, meaning that the transaction costs involved in a return are quite low and the utility of receiving her money back is quite high. Many people become more assertive consumers when they are unemployed, retired, consulting (flexible schedule), raising children full-time (flexible schedule, lower income) and so on.
posted by acoutu at 8:21 PM on July 16, 2006

Response by poster: I think all of you hit in on the head!
She is a recent widow, so she is lonely...although, she has been doing this forever. But, maybe more now..or maybe it just seems like it as she recently moved down the block from me. She is a super saver shopper, so it is the money thing, trying to save, guilty about spending, buyers remorse (cubed), just a BUNCH of stuff. I have joked about it to her "boy, you sure bring a lot of things back, Grandma". "No I don't, just some things" and I leave it at that. Its nice to know that I am not the only person that is experiencing this though! By the way, she does do a lot of things with people in the neighborhood, through the activities club, but she will NOT go out to lunch with them (guess why!), so that limits some of her social activities. Thank you to all of you! Great answers.
posted by peglam at 3:40 AM on July 19, 2006

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