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Jill Cataldo

Coupon Queen: Return scams force companies to take extreme measures

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Coupon Queen: Return scams force companies to take extreme measures
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Last week, I discussed product returns and some of the seemingly strange policies retailers have regarding items for return. My readers continue to share their often-entertaining and sometimes strange tales from the return department:

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Dear Jill: I bought a large ride-on toy for my child’s birthday, and the toy broke before it was a year old. When I contacted the toy company about getting this toy repaired or replaced, they said they would ship a new one provided I use a permanent marker to write a three-digit number all over the item! I needed to document that I did this by taking pictures of the (now defaced) toy, and once I emailed the photographs to the company, they indeed sent a new one. Isn’t this crazy?

– Holly F.

A: It does sound crazy, but the “deface it with a marker” strategy is actually something I’ve heard about before. Before sending out a new, large, big-ticket item to replace a broken one, think about all of the information the toy manufacturer was able to secure from you. First, they knew you actually owned the toy and weren’t calling and trying to get them to send a large replacement item to someone who didn’t actually have a broken one. Second, by asking you to write a specific number all over the toy, they knew that you had followed their directions and not simply attached a photograph of a similar toy found online. Third, the company ensured no one else would want to pick up this toy from the curb on trash day if it were covered in graffiti. Crazy? Yes, but the company has likely put this policy in place for a reason.

I do find it sad that there are so many scammers in our society that have forced companies to embrace some of these more unusual return tactics.

Dear Jill: I returned a couple boxes of cereal to my grocery store as I just bought too much with coupons. It was not expired and nothing was wrong with it, but the lady at the service desk threw it in a large wheeled trash bin behind the counter. I told her there was nothing wrong with it. She said they had to throw it away because I could have poisoned the cereal and resealed the boxes. I said if I wanted to go to the trouble of poisoning food so someone else would buy it, why should I even bother doing that at home? Someone could do that in the store and save himself or herself a whole lot of trouble. Seriously?

– Tara S.

A: I understand what you’re saying, but there are plenty of factors in place to discourage someone from tampering with food in the store – closed-circuit security cameras, store employees and the fact that more than half of the people in the store likely have smartphones with built-in cameras, perfect for documenting anything unusual going on in the store. The cost of destroying the unwanted food may keep the other shoppers safe, and it’s certainly less than the cost of a lawsuit if something awful were to happen with tainted food.

I’ll leave you with this thought. Not long ago, I participated in a blog campaign for a brand of laundry detergent. At the end of the campaign, I received a thank-you gift shipped to me – a large, 96-load bottle of laundry detergent. When I opened the box and discovered the detergent, I called my contact at the brand and laughingly pointed out that if they wanted to say thank you, it would have cost much less to simply mail a coupon for a free bottle of detergent. The brand’s reply? They’d calculated the cost of putting a high-value free product coupon in circulation, weighing the possibility that less scrupulous bloggers could be tempted to make copies of the coupon and begin circulating them. It was deemed less expensive to package and ship large, heavy bottles of liquid detergent to each of the bloggers participating in the campaign.

It’s a strange world we live in, isn’t it?

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