Sunday, May 07, 2017

Is customer wrong to take overstated refund?

A reader from western Massachusetts, A.C., supported her teenage daughter's decision to find a part-time job in her junior and senior year of high school. Her daughter, J.C., worked some afternoons after school and weekends for a large department store in the area.

While the pay was minimum wage, J.C. was able to save money for college and to take advantage of an employee discount to buy clothing and other goods. J.C. chose to go to a college that was a three-hour drive from her home, so once she matriculated, she had to give up her job.

Four years later, J.C. graduated and returned home while she was job hunting. While unpacking and hanging up clothes in her room, she noticed that she had three dresses she had purchased from her old employer still hanging in her closet with all the tags in place. She had bought them when they were on sale and also took advantage of her employee discount.

"Do you think I could return these?" J.C. asked her mother. "It's worth a try," A.C. responded, knowing that J.C. could use the cash while she was looking for a job.

J.C. gathered up the dresses, went to the department store where she used to work, and walked up to the customer service desk.

"I bought these dresses a while ago on sale," she told the clerk sitting behind the desk. "I've never worn them and wondered if I could return them."

The clerk assured J.C. she could return the dresses even though she no longer had the sales receipt for each, and proceeded to look up the price for each. When she told J.C. the amounts, J.C. recognized the clerk was referring to the full price for each garment, not the sale price that J.C. had paid.

"We have no record of them having been on sale," the clerk told her, offering J.C. a full-price refund for each dress.

While J.C. was glad to receive the money, she knew she hadn't paid the amount she was being refunded.

"Should I have refused to take the full amount and insisted the clerk find a way to refund what I'd actually paid?" J.C. asks.

J.C. did the right thing by telling the clerk she had purchased the items on sale several years earlier. If the store's policy was to accept returned items without a sales receipt as long as all the original labels were still on the clothing item, then the clerk did the right thing by assuring J.C. she could return the items.

The department store should have had a better method of tracking the actual prices paid for specific items. Not doing so resulted in the store losing money when it returned the full prices to J.C.

But J.C. had no obligation to refuse to take the refund. She was honest about the purchases and how much she had paid for them.

The right thing would be for the clerk to notify a supervisor about the incident and for the department store to fix its merchandise tracking and return policy. Doing that is just good business. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


1 comment:

Azalea Annie said...

There are several things wrong here.

First, "Four years later" this woman returns three dresses to the store. Amazing - just thinking about returning something to the store after four years shows the ethical shortfalls of the young woman and her mother.

Second, I cannot imagine returning something to the store after four months, certainly not after four years.

Third, the young woman accepted a full price refund and possibly did not make it clear that she was an employee at the time, and got the employee discount.

Doing the right thing costs the individual a bit of money, certainly, but it can also give the individual the satisfaction of having done the right thing.