Consumers want it free and yesterday, but they also changed their mind.
August 5, 2022 7:02 PM   Subscribe

We’ve had people buy say a Pista pump and take [out] the leather gasket, rubber chuck seal, piston glide ring, gauge… all the internal replacement parts that you can buy separately, and then put it back together and return. The owner of a 107-year old, made-in-USA bike pump company discusses how the Amazon marketplace, blatant fraud, changing customer expectations, and social media have forced them to change their previously generous return policy. They are far from the first.
posted by meowzilla (54 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Man, some people suck so bad. This is infuriating.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:03 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]

My parents bought my brother and me sleeping bags and backpacks from L.L. Bean once.

posted by Earthtopus at 8:21 PM on August 5 [15 favorites]

I first heard about "Return Rentals" 25 years ago when it made the dead tree news that people were buying big TVs Superbowl Friday and then returning them Monday. A similar thing forced Costco to curtail it's generous return policy on electronics to just 90 days when people would bring in a year old laptop for a cash back return every year defacto evergreening their equipment at no cost to them.

And those people think they are acting ethically/sticking it to the man and will gloat and brag about their actions. Completely mind blowing.
posted by Mitheral at 8:27 PM on August 5 [11 favorites]

Once upon a time, working in the library at my university, I watched a guy go through the roto-gate, walk back into the deep stacks with his backpack, then come back out again and loudly claim he’d returned his overdue book already, it was on the shelf, and obviously the woman-majority staff was incompetent because they were weak-minded women.

…hilariously, the entire circulation staff threatened to resign if he was let off the hook, and MORE hilariously the head of circulation was (unbeknownst to him) the long-term partner of the literal head of his grad program.

That … did not go well for him. At all. One hopes that profoundly expensive experience taught him a lesson.

I will cherish that event until my dying day, because fuck that guy.

He’s probably scamming small retailers or crypto bros these days. He wasn’t the only asshole that got burned by the circ desk, but he was the most hilarious in terms of utterly fucking up his entire life.

I still hate these kinds of people, which is frankly kind of weird and inappropriate, but there it is.
posted by aramaic at 8:38 PM on August 5 [63 favorites]

People are just the worst…

There is always a scam or grift to take advantage. Capitalism sucks, but these folks, ruining everything for a pittance, feel worse.
posted by Windopaene at 8:39 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

I'm only marginally a bike person, but I really enjoyed this article, as infuriating as the fraud is.
posted by freethefeet at 8:43 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Return fraud is indeed a sticky problem but in a way, the e-commerce system and the way fees are charged for transactions created that system, and we are now all paying the price: a few bad apples ruining the market for everyone else.
posted by kschang at 9:00 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

"Rental returns" is a classic one. I think there have been hundreds to sitcom episodes featuring the dress with tags that you can't get the red wine on and...oh Rosanne! What did you do???

One part of the article that was hard to read was about having to charge for returns and only doing store credit in order to eliminate fraudsters. I'm still not shopping in person, and I have no idea what size clothing I am, so I am entirely reliant on getting a big box of clothing I can try on and send back what doesn't fit. Aside from Stitchfix, few companies offer this option, and I see why.
posted by Toddles at 9:01 PM on August 5 [8 favorites]

As a specialist reseller who does a lot of business though Amazon, I am relating so much to this.

We sell specialized, fragile electronics such as small, high-end displays that bolt onto the front of a Raspberry Pi or similar to make a very crisp intelligent display. While the manufacturer has had some QC problems, their technical support is amazing. The products aren't immediately obvious how to use, but if you read the online docs and maybe contact technical support if you're stuck, you'll get the thing working amazingly well.

With Amazon, though, the customer's first available option is instant refund and return, at our cost. We get screens back that have clearly been dropped on concrete. We get empty boxes. We get random boxes of electronics junk. We get these fragile screens returned loose with none of the original packaging. Most often, though, we get the screen back in working condition but it's missing all its mounting hardware and so is impossible to resell. The buyer clearly didn't know what it was for.

This costs us a fortune, and there's effectively no appeal mechanism. Amazon will also randomly delist stuff of ours that they think is somehow inappropriate to sell. The most annoying one is when Amazon demands you provide full manufacturer's documentation for a product or they'll delist it. You provide the upload and within two weeks, every reseller of this product (or counterfeits thereof) gets to show off the documents you provided
posted by scruss at 9:02 PM on August 5 [32 favorites]

Remember in the early covid days when new users of face shields didn't know they ship with a protective film to prevent scratches and just tanked the ratings of a lot of face shield products? And that was people not being actively malicious.
posted by Mitheral at 9:12 PM on August 5 [6 favorites]

I have a Pista pump from the early 80's that had dry-rotted. That was very sad for me because that pump was such an artisan product and I loved it. When Silca relaunched, selling replacement parts for the old pumps, I immediately bought everything I needed to get that pump working again and to keep it working. I know it's not the same company, but their dedication to previous Silca owners completely won me over forever. After reading this article, I will be buying another pump and some merch - directly from their site.
posted by jwest at 9:25 PM on August 5 [17 favorites]

It's ridiculous that Silca has to deal with fraudulent returns. Their pista pumps are the most bulletproof I've ever owned. I've had like 4-5 reasonably decent pump brands fail on me in aggravating ways. I expect my pista to last decades where most pumps last months or a few years.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:29 PM on August 5

This was a thing at the clothing/sporting goods store I worked at as a teen in the 1980s. We had a pretty decent returns policy, but nothing that had clearly been know, creases in usual places of long pants from extended wear, dirt or junk on shoes, stains, etc. People still did it. (Of course the store owner did ugly shit, too...I can still clearly remember him taking all of the batteries out of the flashlights that came from the mfg with batteries so he could be sure to sell the self-same batteries to the people buying the lights.)
posted by maxwelton at 9:38 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

I bought a pair of "refurbished" computer speakers on Amazon, supposedly guaranteed tested and working, and they arrived with the cable connecting them severed (I did not use a sharp thing to open the box). But even with photo evidence there's no way to get a refund other than physically shipping it back, and I figured that if they sold them to me in that condition they might just turn around and sell them on to someone else if I returned them. I ended up not bothering, but with the lingering doubt that I'm part of the problem, letting them get away with it...
posted by NMcCoy at 9:56 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

I'm still not shopping in person, and I have no idea what size clothing I am, so I am entirely reliant on getting a big box of clothing I can try on and send back what doesn't fit.

I buy a thing in the size I think I might be, then return it for the size up or down based on need. Someone's I go through three returns cycles on one item to get the right size, but usually it's one or less (as I learn what different sizes mean from different retailers mean, it's dropping).

I'm getting married today, and I did need a few things quickly where I had to do the order several sizes and return thing, but if you aren't in a hurry, it isn't actually something you need to do.
posted by Dysk at 10:32 PM on August 5 [22 favorites]

(Also I worked a returns desk for an online women's clothing retailer for a while, and let me just say this: do not try on clothes when you've just put deodorant on. I swear 80% of the returns we got needed washing or junking because of deo stains.)
posted by Dysk at 10:36 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]

Huh, when I get clothes and I'm not certain of the size I usually get 3 sizes at a time and return two to keep the shipping costs down.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:02 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

This is just a random list of things, not in any way based on actual people or events.

So, so so many computer parts that were heavily used, the wrong item, an older make of a similar component, or clearly missing easily recognized components. Occasionally rocks, bricks, miscellaneous junk, and once a can of soup.

Boxes of sports or collectible cards with the plastic security wrap extremely carefully cut open and resealed.

Collectibles with minor cosmetic damage that was clearly explained, often even shown.

Books from 2006 (!?!?!?!?!? And yes. The answer is yes.)

Heavily used makeup.

Heavily used underwear.

Heavily used adult toys, once a silicone torso, uh, modeled after someone famous.

A third snowglobe returned because it 'had sparkly shit' in it, when the company did not make sparkle free snowglobes.

A six foot long, two foot tall box originally used for a rug stuffed to bursting with fairly cheap placemats. At least two hundred, probably three. Sold in packs of six, none with said packaging.

Specialist tools of a different make, model, year, or extremely interesting condition

Three pounds of sulfur sticks that had shattered in a poorly secured box, getting dust everywhere

Household goods, often multipacks, where 45% of items had been used, from each individual pack

A fancy model airplane with just the controller and a note saying the plane flew off.

So, so so so many dog outfits/leashes/harnesses absolutely covered in fur

Thousands of dollars worth of top end camera equipment at once

A decently large box of someone's personal medication. Prescription medication.

So, so many used jars of vitamins, supplements, powders, etc.

Very worn out headphones or missing earpods. A ton of apples, to the point where it automatically got escalated.

Food deliveries from various places, never strongly sealed, that had made their way through various delivery systems.

A reasonably good, handwritten screenplay

A decent number of personal wallets or cellphones

A box of 100 rats intended for dissection.

Used lottery tickets.
posted by Jacen at 11:55 PM on August 5 [25 favorites]

There's my found poem for the day, Jacen.

Metafilter: A fancy model airplane with just the controller and a note saying the plane flew off
posted by Rumple at 11:58 PM on August 5 [14 favorites]

I bought several sets of too-small harem pants from Thailand for very little money before finding a supplier who made them in my size. Now my neighbours have comfy pants too.

Global e-commerce has made the whole process of buying clothes astonishingly cheap and convenient compared to how it used to be when I was a kid, and although more textile workers do have market access as a result, the textiles industries are still not in the slightest degree oriented toward paying the people who actually make the clothes anything like a fair rate for doing so. I have no desire to contribute to making that already lamentable situation any worse than it already is, so where possible I will order my clothes direct from the makers and if they don't fit then that's my problem, not theirs.

From where I sit, the deal looks like this: In 2022 I have fingertip access to an incredible range of incredibly cheap everything and if I occasionally end up spending three or four or five times a supplier's asking price before getting something that actually works for me then so be it. I have never returned an online purchase and do not intend to start.
posted by flabdablet at 12:04 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]

Sorta related, but the GamingNexus vs Newegg saga was related to returns, though the problem at Newegg's end.

TL;DR -- Back in late 2021 or early 2022, GamingNexus bought a mainboard from Newegg, then returned it unopened. When Newegg got it back, they decided mainboard was broken and refused to refund GamingNexus. GamingNexus did some detective work, and concluded that the mainboard was previously SENT by Newegg to the mainboard manufacturer for repairs, then returned as unrepairable. THEN somehow, instead of being dumped in garbage or whatever they do to scrap, it was placed back into inventory and sold to GamingNexus. And this wasn't the first component Newegg denied refund on. Public comment revealed a whole pattern of such, so much so, GamingNexus ended up sending camera crew and went to Newegg HQ to talk to execs and stuff where they promised reforms and actually did change a few things.

So there is a way to handle return fraud. But do it too rigorously and you'll end up hurting real customers.
posted by kschang at 12:49 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]

I bought a pair of lug-soled shoes from L L Bean which fell apart the second day I was wearing them around the house to break them in.

One of the layers of the welt turned out to be a toothed strip of grey cardboard ~1/2" wide.

I didn’t return them or ask for a refund, but I’ll never deal with L L Bean again.
posted by jamjam at 2:42 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]

My wife is firmly in the “order the same item in multiple sizes and return the ones that don’t fit” camp. It’s kind of frustrating for her, given that sizing has become even more meaningless in the e-tail universe. “Large” is simply a nonsense word anymore. It’s more a vague concept.

Recently, she ordered (via Amazon, of course) six versions of the same top, two each of two different colors and one in a printed pattern, in both large and medium. These were all the same model top ordered at the same time from the same Amazon seller. The fitment differences were all over the board, and seemed disconnected from the labeled size. In fact, the sizing differences seemed to be more connected to the color of the top. In one color, the large fit best. In the other color, the medium fit best. The patterned top was only barely different in fit between medium and large. She ended up keeping only two pieces out of the six.

A lot of people don’t know that, if you have one nearby, the retailer Kohl’s will take Amazon clothing returns, eliminating the headache of repackaging and shipping back your rejects. That’s become part of her standard process now...Over-order, keep what fits, return rest back to Kohl’s.

The whole system seems so wasteful. But, it’s how shopping has been forcibly evolved by Amazon.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:05 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

I'm getting married today,

Hey, congratulations and best wishes Dysk! Depending on whether you are doing a streamlined and minimal ceremony or being festive, I hope that things go off without a hitch or that lots of merriment ensues! Perhaps you are celebrating even now!
posted by Frowner at 3:50 AM on August 6 [25 favorites]

Also congratulations Dysk!
posted by foonly at 3:53 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

Yes, thanks for taking time to post on this busy day.
posted by MtDewd at 4:54 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

It wouldn't fix all of the scamming, but the credit card companies have to go. Just as the US government has the power to issue currency to facilitate trade, they could easily create a no/low fee payment processing network. It's ridiculous that Visa et al get to skim 3% of nearly all commerce at this point.
posted by explosion at 5:36 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]

I didn’t return them or ask for a refund, but I’ll never deal with L L Bean again.

Everything I have ever purchased from LL Bean, from tents and camping gear to boots, clothes, and shoes, has lasted forever.

Amazon has made returning so easy, they are encouraging all of us to buy 3 of everything and return the 2 that are not right. When I do Amazon returns, I take a QR code and the product to a UPS store and I get the refund the instant UPS scans the QR code. UPS handles the packaging and shipping too. It's hard to see how the math on that works for Amazon, but I guess they make so much on the stuff not returned, they just don't care.
posted by COD at 6:07 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

Collectibles with minor cosmetic damage that was clearly explained, often even shown.

We got dinged on this from eBay -- we had a number of pamphlets listed, printed in the 1940s or 1950s, which were reproductions of 19th century pamphlets. The materials in the photos was clearly 20th century, we literally got them from a museum deaccessioning sale so we had no question about their origin, and we said they were reproductions -- but not new reproductions -- in the listing.

The person who bought one was apparently bad at reading and looking at photos reported us to eBay as selling fakes because they thought we were selling one of the exceedingly rare original 19th century pamphlets. When eBay gets a report of a fake, there's no substantial investigation, the buyer gets a refund, but you don't get the item back.

When eBay moved essentially to "the buyer is always right" we stopped selling on eBay.

"No question returns" and "everything needs free shipping" are things the online industry has come up with as "the customer wants this so it has to be this way" but small sellers can't keep up with this. Etsy is moving towards forcing sellers to ship for free so we're backing down on Etsy too.

What this means is eBay and Etsy only have listings from sellers who can afford to eat huge fees, which means now they're both packed with cheap chinese imports and other mass produced trinkets. Both eBay and Etsy started out promoting selling unique things, now eBay is an Amazon clone with crappier stuff, and Etsy is trying to go down the same path.

(In fact, both my wife and I were early eBay adopters, but we now sell almost nothing online, just non-fragile stuff that can fit into a padded envelope. We have booths in an antique mall where customers can pick up and investigate whatever they want to know what they're buying, everything is sold as-is-no-returns, and there's no shipping to worry about, and we do quite well)
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:43 AM on August 6 [11 favorites]

They didn't even try.
posted by BWA at 6:52 AM on August 6

(Also I worked a returns desk for an online women's clothing retailer for a while, and let me just say this: do not try on clothes when you've just put deodorant on. I swear 80% of the returns we got needed washing or junking because of deo stains.)

Speaking from experience as a consumer, it’s not recently applied deodorant, it’s any deodorant. Back in the old in store dressing room days, I tried to be careful but there is only so much you can do depending on the garment. And it wasn’t uncommon to see clothes that clearly someone else had tried on in store with deodorant, but as a buyer, that seemed more acceptable than getting in the mail would be

I try to try on clothing shortly after a shower but before I’ve applied deodorant; but that just not always possible.

As for returning clothing; as someone said, woman’s clothing sizes are really just fantasy. Most clothing on Amazon uses the default size charts, so you can’t even trust the measurements. I have my sewing tape measure on hand when buying, but if the measurements aren’t accurate, can’t do anything about that.

And never mind intrasize variances… modern clothes manufacturing mostly doesn’t have quality control. I remember a few years prior to covid, picking through the “same” jeans at Kohls and trying on multiple of the SAME EXACT SIZE to find a pair that fit because there was such a big difference between each pair.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:20 AM on August 6 [3 favorites]

For a company like Zappos, it seems like the "buy four return three" dynamic needs to be baked into their business model. I don't see how you could buy shoes online otherwise. Other apparel usually isn't quite as fit-sensitive as shoes, but the same goes for there.

I know prom dresses are (or were) bought on the "rental return" basis, but I think retailers got wise to that. Funny that you can rent a tux for the prom, but AFAICT can't rent a prom dress.
posted by adamrice at 7:24 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

I can understand doing (buy X return Y) with glasses as margins on those are pretty big. Warby Parker does it, and they were considered innovators when they did it.

Return has gotten to the point that Amazon usually does NOT deal with it. Amazon mark that off as a loss, adds a point to the customer's history, and dump the item in boxes or pallets on the "Amazon Customer Return" market and let resellers clean and resell them on eBay. AND that introduces another layer of problems.
posted by kschang at 7:32 AM on August 6

'm getting married today


Probably like a lot of us, I wrestle with returns sometimes, just from knowing that things that are returned can't always be resold and may well end up in a landfill. But it's not any less wasteful to have it sitting unworn in my closet, either. But that's different from the scam/fraud return problem that the article discusses, and it sucks that they are having to deal with that.

I bought several sets of too-small harem pants from Thailand for very little money before finding a supplier who made them in my size. Now my neighbours have comfy pants too.

Just the other day I met a young fellow wearing the most voluminous harem pants I have ever seen. He was rocking the look.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:38 AM on August 6

In a small industry, word about scammers gets around fast, not least because in a small pond there aren't many of them. I remember one guy whose packages never seemed to be delivered by the courier. Didn't take long to learn he was telling other companies the same story. He'd told all the everyone that it was only the courier they were using that caused problems, all the others were fine--but we were all using different couriers. He got cut off quickly, but politely.

"I'm having trouble with a mail-order customer," I said to a colleague at another company. "Is it X?" he asked. It was.
posted by Hogshead at 7:51 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]

I just last week got a new battery for my laptop from Newegg (via eBay). I put the battery in, charge it up (it was at zero charge, which seemed a little weird, but OK), and, hm. The battery life doesn't seem any better. I run the Windows battery report on it, and it has 96 cycles and less remaining capacity than the old battery! I looked at the date code, and it was a year older than the original, too. I assume a previous customer scammed Newegg by returning their old battery.

Having seen the GamersNexus videos about Newegg, I was apprehensive about dealing with Newegg in the first place, but they had the cheapest price on an official Lenovo battery I could find. I've since found out there are different part numbers for this battery and I can buy it from Lenovo's recommended dealer for about what I paid for this one. I also found out my local Advance Auto takes pre-paid UPS packages.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:11 AM on August 6 [5 favorites]

Funny that you can rent a tux for the prom, but AFAICT can't rent a prom dress.

There are definitely rental services for prom dresses. The problem is that whereas tuxes can stay in style for decades, dresses are much more volitile in terms of fashion.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:11 AM on August 6 [9 favorites]

I bought a pair of "refurbished" computer speakers on Amazon, supposedly guaranteed tested and working, and they arrived with the cable connecting them severed (I did not use a sharp thing to open the box).


TL;DR -- Back in late 2021 or early 2022, GamingNexus bought a mainboard from Newegg, then returned it unopened. When Newegg got it back, they decided mainboard was broken and refused to refund GamingNexus.

This used to be baked into Fry's Electronics business model as far back as the early 90s. They'd just recycle returns for components like RAM, CPUs, HDDs and mainboards right back into their inventory without even testing them while very obviously making the return process about as pleasant, timely and easy as standing in line at a Greyhound Bus Lines or a state prison complaint desk, complete with a queue area that looked like it was from a century ago.

This is why most of their products were unsealed and put into their own cheap plastic anti-static bags and inventory control labels so when you bought, say, a Western Digital hard drive it didn't come in their OEM box with protective foam or cardboard but bare and naked in nothing more than Fry's cheap little pink antistatic bag.

It was so pervasive and obvious to anyone who regularly bought parts at Fry's that people would note that they would sometimes get their own returns back sold as new or new replacements.

I briefly worked for a guy who did tech work and system building and avoided Fry's like the plague and preferred to order from slower, more reputable parts dealers but sometimes we really absolutely needed something that day and they didn't have it at brick and mortar competitors like CompUSA or Microcenter.

So when he absolutely had to go to Fry's he had a strategy called the Fry's lunch break.

It worked like this: You go to Fry's and buy your part. You leave Fry's with your part and go to lunch. Then you go back to Fry's and return that part for a new one without even trying it. Then you might even go for coffee or a beer and waste another 30+ minutes and go back to Fry's and return it again, trying to increase your odds of not getting a previously returned or broken part in one trip and skipping the hassle and cost of gas of going all the way back to the shop and time required to actually install and test the part.

Which all sounds silly but I can't help but notice that the second - or more likely, the third - replacement was now sealed in a new OEM box or package instead of bare in Fry's cheap plastic bag.

Which was even more glaringly obvious if you tried to ask for a new in OEM package the first time they'd stick to their policy that all of their products and parts were decanted into their own plastic bags, but suddenly a new OEM packaged part was mysteriously available after you raised hell in the return queue the second or third time in as little as an hour or three.

It was super obvious that Fry's was trying to attrition out their returned or broken products to people who were too busy to make the return trips in Fry's 30 day return policy, and the sad thing is it was working. Almost everyone I knew who did computer building or repair in the 90s had a bin or drawer full of parts in Fry's bags that hadn't been returned within 30 days and they were left holding the non-proverbial bag.

I would love to have seen the actual numbers and margins and how much it added to Fry's income stream through these policies because it was probably significant. It wasn't just small businesses getting the shaft this way, I remember going to homes or small offices to do independent IT work for people and almost every single one of them had some random box, bin or drawer of unreturned Fry's parts or products.
posted by loquacious at 9:29 AM on August 6 [6 favorites]

I miss the good old days of going to a store, picking out what I want, trying it on if needed, and then paying for it and going home. Case closed. Maybe it took an hour or two. Now, chances are, the store doesn’t stock what I want, and I am forced to buy online. This can turn into an order, wait, get, reject, return, wait, etc loop that can last weeks. And there are loads of packages going here and there but for no ultimate reason, like customer satisfaction. Everyone talks about carbon footprint. I can imagine that the carbon footprint for retail in general has increased as well as the waste generated by the return policies that always end up in the trash. The online nature of shopping has also increased the level of retail fraud, buy X, get Y, or nothing at all. We can complain all we want, but for me, retail is broken, and complaining ain’t going to fix it. If Amazon, et. al. is now the model of retail, then we are seriously in trouble.
posted by njohnson23 at 10:20 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

To me, this is part of how we have just come to accept what should be an unacceptably high base rate of fraud in just about everything. Everyone sees it everywhere, and it becomes really easy to justify it to yourself.

It doesn't surprise me that some people look towards more rules, more enforcement, and more punishment as the solution, but it's really hard to take that seriously when those are some of the most pervasively corrupt institutions around right now.

*old man yells at clouds*
posted by jimw at 11:10 AM on August 6 [13 favorites]

This is a great nuanced read. It's really fascinating how shitty the credit card companies are about fraud reports. They don't provide useful tools other than zipcode checking but still stick the retailer with much of the cost of that fraud. It's equally fascinating that Amazon can be a good-guy here for a lot of fraud stuff because Amazon has more leverage against the CC companies and actually believes them about "Return Fraud". Lots of really smart points in here for anyone wanting to sell things online.
posted by 3j0hn at 12:09 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]

For a couple years I was a front end manager at Target. Official company policy is, literally, "attempt every return," but that was in conflict with the Asset Protection team's goals of the store losing as little money as possible. In trying to balance those two policies we would require people returning electronics to return the box and everything that was in it (manuals, cables, etc), and we would also go through and match serial numbers. These two barriers stopped a bit of return fraud, but we still ended up accepting a number of flat screen TVs that "arrived broken" in pristine boxes because we just weren't going to get into fights with people. (Also, how the hell did you smash the middle of the screen? Did you throw something at it? Head butt it? Like, what?)

One time a very angry* woman with what sounded like a Russian accent tried to return a Google Home she said didn't work. Didn't have a box at all. She had the shipping box for one she'd paid for, and she tried to argue that it had been delivered to her that way. Except it was a demo unit. They're locked into demo mode and they're physically slightly different (IIRC there's a USB recovery port and on the demo units it's physically disabled, but it's been a couple years). She was 100% trying to do return fraud with a stolen demo unit, it was super obvious, and the more we told her no the angrier she got. She eventually yelled "keep it," threw it at me, and stormed out.

* Sometimes a Karen is really a Karen, but sometimes "Karen" is consciously choosing that behavior as a technique. They start with anger first because employees are stressed and in a hurry and they may process the return just to get the nightmare out of their faces. First, you're adding to the stress level of an employee who maybe already doesn't feel safe and doesn't deserve it, and second, everybody can see what you're doing. As a manager I wasn't allowed to call it out, but I could respond to that behavior in such a way that it would be clear that the fake anger wasn't helping ("hang on, let's start over"). Then I'd ask a bunch of yes/no questions and repeat things back. Hearing their own words come back out of my mouth most people would actually calm down (especially when the anger was real, because hey, a manager is listening). Google Home woman sticks out in my memory for how much she dug in.
posted by fedward at 12:49 PM on August 6 [7 favorites]

I used to work for an online retailer where we sold perishable goods with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. We’d always ask for a picture if anyone said product had spoiled because in some cases they’d be wrong and we could help them or in other cases they were trying to just get things for free and wouldn’t be able to provide photographic proof.

That led to our favorite scam attempt where we ultimately realized the picture someone sent us was the number one search result on Google Images for “spoiled $specific_item”.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 1:15 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]

It wouldn't fix all of the scamming, but the credit card companies have to go. Just as the US government has the power to issue currency to facilitate trade, they could easily create a no/low fee payment processing network. It's ridiculous that Visa et al get to skim 3% of nearly all commerce at this point.
Surprisingly, the interview actually goes into detail on this, with the breakdown of where the money goes. Most of it goes to the issuing bank (BoA, Chase, &c) because they're taking the risk of non-payment, and also because they have to have a way to pay for the rewards they're offering. Visa, Mastercard, et al. get a much lower amount of the transaction, but then again they don't really do much other than sitting in the middle. It's very reminiscent of this bit from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
In every big transaction,” said Leech, “there is a magic moment during which a man has surrendered a treasure, and during which the man who is due to receive it has not yet done so. An alert lawyer will make that moment his own, possessing the treasure for a magic microsecond, taking a little of it, passing it on. If the man who is to receive the treasure is unused to wealth, has an inferiority complex and shapeless feelings of guilt, as most people do, the lawyer can often take as much as half the bundle, and still receive the recipient’s blubbering thanks.”
I'm not here just to well, actually your statement, but more to point out there is another way, as seen in other countries. My memory of the details is fuzzy here, but I think it's the EU as a whole that caps interest at certain levels, which means there's less competition between banks to issue cards, which means fewer-to-no rewards, which means lower fees. Or just use your debit card, because hell what's the point of riding the credit train then?

Also, in the Netherlands (and Sweden as well?), there's basically a national banking network where you can just SMS money to people.

So it's possible to do this, but in the US? I'm not hopeful. The government may have the power, but where is the will? Here we outsource infrastructure to private companies.
posted by cardioid at 1:27 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]

In high school and college I worked part time in retail at a boutique and I remember the kind of shenanigans in clothing returns that regularly went on. And this was face-to-face interactions—I can only imagine how much this extrapolates with internet purchases. I had a scrupulous manager who would carefully inspect returns for damage, stretching, stains, and would lift every garment to her face to smell it. If she could detect anything (sometimes perfume, often cigarette smoke, because the purchaser had worn a dress out clubbing), she would refuse the return. Anything that couldn't be returned to the racks was a loss. (The terms for returns and exchanges were clearly displayed at the register and on the receipts.) I remember how galled the purchaser would act about being called out on their fraud. Somehow these people were never embarrassed. But I can see how some people's minds could twist the logic, wearing a dress out for the evening is only a "little bit" different than taking it home to try on with a specific jacket or pair of shoes. At least in that scenario there was rarely a repeat offence.
posted by amusebuche at 7:32 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]

Also, in the Netherlands (and Sweden as well?), there's basically a national banking network where you can just SMS money to people.

Also Canada. One can email or SMS money to anyone with a bank account (99+% of Canadians) and either a cell or email address.
posted by Mitheral at 9:16 PM on August 6

Also, in the Netherlands (and Sweden as well?), there's basically a national banking network where you can just SMS money to people.

MobilePay in Denmark is basically this as well.

(Thank you for all the well wishes btw, I had a wonderful day and am now Mrs Dysk!)
posted by Dysk at 10:01 PM on August 6 [23 favorites]

Really good article; covers a lot of different issues with the way we do business. I can definitely sympathize with the problem of people buying a number of different things then returning the ones they don’t like. I can see that continuing to be a problem as long as online shopping is used in place of bike and mortar. There are many things I refuse to buy online simply because I won’t know if I like them until I hold them in my hand. Kitchen knives, for example. I’m not going to buy 5 different 12 inch chef’s knives and then return the 4 I don’t like, and I really can’t identify with people who do. But I am not surprised that there are people who do that out there.

A bigger issue, though, is outright fraud. It is a big problem in part because the banks/credit card companies don’t do much to discourage it. Their main concern is limiting their own exposure, and then washing their hands of it, making it a relatively low-risk crime. I have been on the receiving end of a couple of (fortunately small-time) frauds and in each case the institution involved had information they could have used to track down the perpetrator but didn’t do anything with it. And law enforcement is not much help either; when my credit card was used for fraudulent purchases some years ago I contacted the local sheriff’s department as I was told to. I was put in touch with the investigator in charge of credit card fraud and his advice avoiding fraud was to do what he does and just pay cash for everything. Apparently whatever was bought with my card was shipped to an address in Austin, Texas (I live in Augusta, Georgia) but no one would tell me any more (even though I supposedly purchased the items in question). And Deputy “Cash for Everything” certainly wasn’t going to pursue a few hundred dollar case of fraud all the way to Texas. Individually these crimes are too small to be worth pursuing. But given that their aggregate cost to the economy is pretty big it seems that someone would decide these people are worth going after more aggressively.
posted by TedW at 12:19 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this, it's super illuminating. The fact that Silca is begging customers to call them and have customer service show them the different options over Zoom to reduce the likelihood of returns is eye-opening!

Most consumers would assume that buying 3 different bags, picking your favorite and then returning the 2 you didn't like as much isn't that big of a problem for the retailer. After all, they have the other 2 bags and can sell them right? I think I assumed this for a long time until I read about companies just immediately trash-binning returns because it wasn't worth the labor cost of processing. And then because I only heard of this in the context of big companies (department stores, Amazon etc) it didn't occur to me until I read this article that small companies would also struggle with returns. (I know, I'm clueless and I even worked in bricks and mortar retail!!!)
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:27 PM on August 7

So it's possible to do this, but in the US? I'm not hopeful.

Oh, here in the US we've got a web of competing for-profit easy-cash-transfer services, many of which are tied to specific banks (i.e. your bank supports one natively but not another), so whenever you want to send money to someone from your phone you need to discuss which services the recipient participates in, in hopes of finding one you also participate in. Yay Capitalism!
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:45 AM on August 8

Freedom of choice
Is what u got
Freedom from choice
Is what u want
posted by flabdablet at 8:37 AM on August 8

Shipping isn't free. Returns aren't free. Lunch isn't free. Somebody is paying for it. It sure as heck isn't that one bald rich guy.
posted by The Half Language Plant at 10:08 AM on August 8

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