How to Obtain a Full Refund in Department Stores and Other High-Pressure Environments, by Jay Goodman

So you made an impulse purchase, realized you can’t actually afford it, or maybe got it in a color that seemed alright at the time but in retrospect no, it’s just not the right shade of you. Whatever the reason, you’ve got something in the corner of the room, still in its bag with the receipt curled up next to it, as unwanted and intrusive as a garbage bag. You don’t have as firm a grasp on economics as you’d like, but you do know this: the item in the bag is still worth the money you paid for it, and you want that money back.

But there’s a problem; in situations like these, there’s always a problem. Maybe it’s reduced to clear and therefore outside normal returns policy. Maybe it’s a shirt that, in your haste to convince yourself it suited you, already has the tags removed and shows tentative evidence of a day’s wear. Or maybe it’s that stupid iPad you picked up on Black Friday that you’d never have even thought of picking up before, only it seemed like such a good deal at the time, and when you got home you ripped off the cellophane and broke the seal, just to see it, just to hold it in your hands before making your final and now voided decision.

Or maybe, God forbid, you’ve somehow lost your receipt.

Under such circumstances, your success or failure in obtaining a full refund is determined by a complex chain of events, starting from the moment you realize you’re going to take it back. Only an amateur assumes that it’s as simple as going up to the checkout with item and (God willing) receipt. Only the naïve assume that the department store or clothing store or Apple store will be very happy to hand you back your hard-earned cash which, at this moment in time, is their hard-earned cash. The reality is that these outlets are your enemies, their employees base minions, and that even the journey to and from is fraught with peril: informers on the bus, roadworks, the distraction of sidewalk bums, and maybe even your own children, laughing at you from afar.

This guide is intended to give you the best possible chance of obtaining a full refund for all manner of purchases, taking you in detail through the three key steps: Realization, Execution and Actualization. By the end you will have gained new insight into an old art, will be able to impress friends and family with your refund know-how, and presumably also have your money back.

1. Realization

It’s a common mistake to believe that you know whether or not you want something just after leaving the store, or on the journey back home. The consumer only truly finds out when the front door is locked and chained, when the bag is dumped (or in the case of an iPad, delicately positioned) on the table and the usual homecoming rituals have commenced. This process of decision can seem at first entirely simple and natural: want, or want not. While this is basically true, the method underpinning the process cannot be overstated.

What we’re looking for isn’t a simple answer of yes or no: in the pursuit of a full refund, we want Hell no! and God what was I thinking? We want the commercial equivalent to a declaration of independence or war, a crystal clear understanding that these circumstances will not be tolerated. From this we move on to a quietly rising indignation, the supposition that it was they, not you, who made a costly error of judgement.

This is the golden rule for any refund: it is they (the corporation) who must right your (the consumer’s) wrong. It’s not just about the money: it’s about the principle of the thing.

In ensuring that this mindset sustains you through the Execution phase of the process, it’s important to clear your thoughts and schedule of all other distractions. If the partner’s late or early, file it away to be brought up at a more opportune time. The children may be spoken to (or if you have no children, the cat) but distantly, without meaning or consequence. Netflix is permitted, but only in short, angry bursts. Remember that you are now on a mission, that it’s not just your money on the line but your pride.

It can be tempting, especially for those new to the game, to consider adopting a persona that elicits sympathy. While it is certainly possible to go up to the checkout, calmly explain your predicament like a normal human being and hope for a favourable outcome, this method can’t be recommended because it leaves too much to chance. What if something goes wrong? What if whoever’s serving you offers only weak smiles and weaker excuses? What if you leave the store with an abundance of pity but not your money? The very possibility of these things happening should guide you to the appropriate persona, the persona of a relative sociopath.

The final step of the Realization phase is to decide when to revisit the offending store: same day is never recommended, partly because it suggests you have too much time on your hands but also because you may, after all, decide you want to keep your purchase when you wake up in the morning. If the latter doesn’t happen, you should pounce on the moment, grab your buyer’s remorse by the horns and dedicate the entire day, or as much of it as reasonably possible, to obtaining a full refund. This day-after approach also carries the intimidating advantage of implying that you’ve been building furiously up to this all night; as indeed you have.

2. Execution

If Realization is the theory, Execution is the practice, but make no mistake: the two go hand-in-hand. Like a stage actor rehearsing tirelessly for the opening night, there is no way to make one part of the process work without the other working harmoniously alongside it. This must be remembered from the moment you climb into your car or step on the bus, if not from the very second you rise from fitful slumber.

Carry yourself with confidence. Many books have been written on the subject, their overall message too complex to be condensed here, but for the purposes of this guide, it’s enough to simply say: pretend you know what you’re doing. The strong eat the weak, and in the dog-eat-dog world of retail, you must ensure that it is you with the bloodied teeth. You are King of the Road, Queen of Mass Transit, and let no slow driver or peasant commuter think differently. Don’t let their right of way and silly haircuts and condescending headphones patronise you: you’re a cut above, and you will get your refund.

If you’re a smoker or a drinker, consider a quick cigarette or swig from the hip flask before heading inside, but only one. Reeking of tobacco or whiskey isn’t liable to help your cause. Once the ritual is complete (or if you don’t smoke or drink, whatever garbage you were listening to) it’s time, finally, to return to the scene of the crime. You should hold your bag of goods like a severed head, slightly away from your legs and not on obvious display, but clear and offensive enough for anyone who happens to be looking. Remember that these people are not your friends, including the customers, who may be exchanging whispers of mutiny even as you pass.

Choosing which poor bastard to serve you can be difficult, and in the case of long queues impossible, but it’s generally agreed that the gangly, pimply-faced young man is the best target, followed closely by the spaced-out, makeup-covered young woman, both being targets of least resistance. You may exude confidence, but why create work for yourself? Yet still more important is understanding that in the end, it doesn’t matter who you go to: you can take them all on if you have to.

The best opener is simply “Hi, I’ve got something to bring back for a refund,” although this apparent simplicity can be misleading. In reality you’re issuing a command, sprinkled with the usual pleasantries expected in normal conversation but with clear undertones of the man or woman on edge. Shrewd observers will note that the opener referenced is not “Hi, I’ve got something I’d like to bring back,” which puts the speaker at an obvious disadvantage, nor “something to bring back for a full refund,” which is a little too blatant even for your purposes.

At this point you’ll ideally produce your purchase alongside its receipt. If you’re among those unfortunate enough to have somehow lost your receipt, always remember the maxim of mind over matter (if you’ve actually forgotten to bring along the purchase itself, it may be time to return home and move on to the optional stage of the process, Acceptance). Take a deep breath and a good look at the clerk in front of you: a mere lackey, a cog in a machine that you, not they, helped to build. Keep reminding yourself that receipt or no, you’ll get your money back, every damn cent of it.

If your target (or to keep within the predator/prey dynamic, your victim) knows how to do their job, he or she may check the goods to ensure they can be resold. This is where the tentative evidence of a day’s wear or the lack of cellophane and broken seal can destroy you, but have faith: it’s not over yet. Bark at them something like “there’s nothing wrong with it” or “I’ve got five minutes to get back to my car” or “I’ve had a really long day and do you know I’d rather not make it any longer” and measure their response. If fate is smiling on you, the shook-up worker will give up with the inspection, tap on their screen with trembling fingers and process your refund before anyone has time to understand what hit them.

The alternative outcome is that the spineless little traitor will call a manager, but this, too, is but another bump in the refund road. The simple fact is that managers, more than anyone else in the whole store apart from the customers waiting in line behind you, want you to vanish, like a puff of smoke, within the next sixty seconds after being forced to acknowledge your existence. What said manager will probably do is ask you the exact same questions the spineless one did, perform the same rudimentary inspection of the purchase and then, provided you’re giving off a strong enough aura of hate and intolerance, tell their subordinate to “ring it through, just ring it through.”

3. Actualization

That’s it. You’re done. The Actualization part of the process is simply coming to terms with what a smart cookie you are, what a glorious specimen, elegant as you are in the art of obtaining a full refund. Upon your return home you can inhibit the same space as your loved ones proud and beaming, safe in the knowledge that you’re deserving of them, and them of you. But why rush to get back? You’ve run the gauntlet of customer rights, and have finally earned your peace. Treat yourself to an expensive meal out, and don’t forget to keep a copy of the bill.


Jay Goodman most certainly does not work in retail.