A Retailer’s Worst Nightmare

It is called buyer’s remorse, and it used to be my best friend for many years.

Are you familiar with the feeling that slowly turns from euphoria into a queasy sensation of concern, guilt and self-doubt? Do you hear a haunting voice in your head that says “Why did you buy that? You act like a selfish bitch with no consideration for your family. Return your purchases. NOW!” At this you reach a high level of anxiety that doesn’t let you sleep, and makes you toss and turn, and eat yourself alive for spending money on something you don’t need.

The next day you wake up in cold sweat and pack your new purchases in the same department store bags you brought them home in. You head for the store praying and hoping that the sales person, who earnestly helped you yesterday, is not there today.

You enter the store, you eyes are focused on the floor, avoiding any eye contact for fear that the sales people might recognize your guilty eyes, and instantly they know why you are here. You sheepishly approach the register where just yesterday you enthusiastically swiped your debit/credit card.

You take a quick glance in the mirror in front of you and jump, scared by your own repulsive gaze. And then… the horror! The sales person from yesterday approaches you. There is no smile, no greeting. Everyone in the store already knows why you dragged all these bags full of stuff back to the same counter you visited just the day before.

You hear the familiar voice but this time the tone is characteristically dry and every syllable distinct. “Can I help you?” You nod, forcing yourself to say with your usual flair “I have a return,” hoping it sounds like the declaration “I am here to buy the whole store.”

You courageously meet a physically heavy stare from the person in front of you. You feel almost deformed by the weight if this stare. Maybe the person behind the counter hopes that this will cause you to reconsider, take your bags and retreat. But you stand your ground. You wait patiently, nervously stepping from one foot to another, while the sales person is processing your return. All you want is run out of the store, screaming like a little girl.

Suddenly you hear a voice hovering on an edge between incredulity and mere bewilderment “Is there anything wrong with this merchandise?”

At this you want to cry, bury your head in the stuff that is conveniently laid out in front of you on the counter, and confess all the things that are wrong with you and only you. You want to apologize, you want to say how sorry you are for putting that person in front of you through all this unnecessary and painful experience. You want to shout that it is not their fault. But all there remains is silence. And shame.

Then you hear yourself saying in a surprisingly confident voice “Nothing is wrong. Just not what I want.”

In return you get a look that startles you for a second, and then puts you in a flight or fight mode. The look suggests that the person in front of you might leap over the counter, put their hands around your throat, and hold it really tight until they feel your life seeping out of you slowly and painfully. Just like they feel their commissions going away with every push of the button on the register – slowly and painfully.

A vague thought crosses your mind. You catch yourself hoping that this person will throw themselves on you, and put you out of your misery. Just for a fraction of a second it is exactly what you want them to do.

But you swallow these thoughts, and instead you start tapping your perfectly painted red nail on a counter to show the person in front of you that time is running out and you are busy doing… who knows what.

You finally leave the store. It was your third or fourth trip this week. After this self-humiliating experience most people would resign to a solitary life of a shopping diet. But not you.

You know that you will be back. In a week, or two, or maybe in a little while when the sales people forget the sound of your voice and the features of your face.

Disclaimer: I have not done this for a few months. I have to admit that I do not miss this experience. But in the past… I was a retailer’s worst nightmare.

26 thoughts on “A Retailer’s Worst Nightmare”

  1. Glad you’ve been able to get this monkey off your back Aloysa. I can’t really relate, but I think my wife could. She is much more careful now that we’re in Thailand because many places won’t accept returns.

    1. Back home I could not return purchases. We pretty much had to suck it up if something was wrong or didn’t fit. So being able to return your purchases that are not quite what you want can be liberating and … quite addictive.

  2. Aloysa–

    The shopping diet has been hard on both my wife and myself.. We have had dozens of “returning items” trips just like the one you mention above.. It isn’t easy, for sure.

    This new financial diet is doing weird things to my head.. Even buying things that our family absolutely needs, I find myself feeling guilty.

    1. Oh yeah! Guilt is always there. In the past I was constantly shopping and returning stuff. It was a horrible cycle that I finally managed to break.

  3. Whoa, drama. I have no qualm returning things. It’s not a big deal at all. Of course, it’s better to not buy a bunch of stuff to begin with. 🙂 Mrs. RB40 is super selective and that really helps cut down her spending. If it doesn’t fit just right, she won’t but it.

    1. Joe, returning things becomes a big thing when you do it 3-4 times a week in the same store, when people know you by name and threaten to put your name on a no return list. There are lists like this. I bet you didn’t know! 🙂

  4. Lisa @ Cents To Save

    Oh…. I still do this from time to time. In fact I have a pack of socks to return to Walgreens….Luckily it happens only once in awhile. I am jut glad they take the stuff back! Lol!

  5. This post was a horrible reminder of all the times I felt the weight of buyer’s remorse. I was stubborn, though; I hated admitting that I made a mistake, and I REALLY hated facing the store employees. So I would usually just keep the things I bought, even when I knew I wouldn’t use them. Over time, that resulted in a LOT of items (especially clothing) being donated to charity with the tags still on! It just makes me sick to think of all that wasted money.

    These days, I try to be a lot more careful about what I buy. Since I very seldom allow myself to go a store (other than the grocery store), I haven’t been too tempted. But I will never forget walking into Pier 1 and all the employees not only knowing my name, but also the colors in my home and which new items I hadn’t seen yet. Same thing at several clothing stores – I would walk in, and the clerks would run over and say things like, “We got a sweater in that coral color that looks so great on you!” So scary to think they knew more about me than some of my friends and family!

    1. One lesson I took away from my return nightmares is this: THINK about what you are buying and REALLY think how much you are spending. In fact, I think I will start setting budgets for my shopping trips. But for now, I am staying away from stores.
      Once, Beaker and I came to Banana Republic, and one of the employees cheerfully yelled my name out. Beaker looked at me and asked “How much did you leave in this store that they greet you by name?” A lot.

  6. This is why I shop at amazon, zappos and endless. No buyers remorse or guilty feeling. I’ll just return the items with no hassle and free shipping. I have 3 packages being picked up tomorrow by UPS.

    1. I love Zappos! Before they got hacked, I used to buy and return shoes all the time. 🙂 Now I am a little leery to use them.

  7. Good Cents Savings

    Wow – great description of the whole experience, I felt like I was right there going through it myself. This is a great reminder to just stay out of the store in the first place.

    I had no idea about the “no return list” – how cruel! They should put people on a “do not buy” list if they really don’t want to deal with the returns, rather than forcing the person to keep something they might not be able to afford or decided they didn’t want.

    1. Not a lot of people know about those lists for one reason only: normally people do not return stuff six or more times a month. It is one of the reasons I am staying away from certain stores, hoping they will forget me.

  8. I wouldn’t worry too much! Retailers have to know that a certain percentage of product will be returned. And if the store clerks want to get mad then seriously, what’s their problem?! They’re supposed to help the customer not make them feel guilty!

    I had no idea there was a “no return list”!

  9. I’m surprised you found stores that still allowed this. Most of the stores I know of only give credit towards future purchases which can only be redeemed one time only.

    I’m also surprised those sales people didn’t try to personae you that there wasn’t anything in their store you would like, just to avoid the hassle they knew would come later.

    1. No, no one ever tried. But they always tried to sell me more. Well, first two times at least and then it was a very different story.

  10. I have returned things I have bought on a whim too. But then I would be so ashamed of myself I wouldn’t buy anything for weeks just because I would be afraid of ending returning an item again!

    1. I was ashamed too but shopping was like a drug pulling me right back in. Just re-reading my post makes me shiver. It was just a few months ago!

  11. That kind of happens to me a lot. That’s why I try to tell myself that I don’t need it ASAP and I should go home and think about it.

    if I still am lusting for it at home, the next day, I go and get it.

    Buyer’s remorse sucks. Esp. if it’s final sale.

  12. I used to do this more than I’d care to admit, too. You know what broke me? Having kids. It is SO HARD to go to the same store multiple times in a week with a grabby-handed baby and a “I want, I want!” preschooler in tow.

  13. This is the most uncomfortable feeling ever, and, unfortunately, one that I’m all too familiar with. I can say with some conviction that I’ve kicked my spending habit, so I haven’t had to do this for a long time now, but this post brings back some terrible memories!

  14. This post cracked me up…literally!

    I love your writing style and ability to describe the experience so vividly and in great detail!

    I’m glad I’m not the only one that has felt that way. My husband hates returns so much that I’m usually stuck doing them. I recently purchased too many toys for my son and got that wtf was I thinking? He already has a lot and I just blew $400 on more toys? He’s only 15 months! More toys doesn’t mean I love him more. He has enough. So now, I decided to return some of them….arghhhh

    Wish me luck as I’m certain I will get the looks and the dreaded, “Was there anything wrong with these?”

  15. Dannielle @ Odd Cents

    I can remember the first time I ever had buyer’s remorse and felt like this. I had taken a trip to Puerto Rico with an art class and I went into a store and bought apair of Converse for my brother. I knew that I should not have bought them even before I paid for them. When I left the store I had this feeling that was telling me to return them. When I did, the girl looked at me like i was crazy. It was not even 30 minutes and I was there returning a pair of Converse. She felt bad, but I felt good knowing that I was not stuck with those shoes. At the time it was either her commission or my money. My money won!

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