On STUFF and Costco’s Return Policy

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Picture of how the dining room looked like before we bought the house… Our Costco set was even bigger!

Stuff expands to fill available space. You live in an apartment and yearn for a bigger place. You get a house but after a couple of years it feels cramped. You upgrade to a bigger house and find that while certainly more spacious than the apartment or the starter home, somehow every room is filled to capacity again. Our family is a good example of this paradox.

I rented a 1 bedroom 650 sq. ft apartment when my girlfriend moved in. We mostly had our college stuff so the place was plenty big for a while. However it was a rental, we wanted a place to call our own so we bought a 2 bedroom 980 sq. ft condo. It felt huge to us after years spent sharing small spaces with roommates in dorms and apartments. We bought our first real furniture and enjoyed two carefree years of condo living.

Our friends started inviting us to housewarming parties in their single family homes and we were blown away by all the space compared to our condo. With stable jobs and about to get married what better way to start a new life together than to purchase a 4 bedroom house of our own? At 2,000 sq. feet it was double the size of the condo.

We barely managed to furnish half of it. It was weird to walk through empty rooms so we improvised for a while. An air mattress set up as a bed here, a cardboard box for a nightstand there and it passed as a house for grownups. 

Check out this dining room set I put together with some 2x4s and a piece of plywood!

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It was fine until our family started hassling us about furnishing the place and “growing up”. They even pushed us in the right direction with hand-me-downs. Just try to have family over at your big half-empty house and observe how quickly stuff you didn’t know you needed materializes in every corner.

By the time we put the house on the market every room had furniture. There were boxes of stuff in the attic. Is that why they call it the accumulation phase? The house was plenty big for us but we realized that in the heat of the housing bubble when properties were selling in a day we made a mistake – we broke the first rule of real estate. The location was terrible. Constant noise from a nearby road and even a walk in the park required getting into a car. No sidewalks!

We looked for a long time and finally found a place that had everything we wanted – but it was over 3,000 sq. ft! The market inventory was tight so we decided to roll with it even though it was a 5 bedroom 3.5 McMansion.

First thing that my wife wanted to get was a dining room set. Apparently it’s a rite of passage for a girl who gets married to inherit family heirloom china and display it in a china cabinet. It was pointless to fight this urge. We ended up with a brand new dining room set from Costco bought for a little over $2,400.

Now the dining room looked like a picture from a Better Homes and Gardens magazine. One problem – we never actually used it. Every holiday party, every hangout with friends we always gathered around a big informal table that I refinished in the kitchen. It’s closer to the stove and the fridge and no one has to worry about scratching the table. The only way you could use the Costco table without damaging its glossy finish was to put a tablecloth on it. The whole set up felt staged and artificial. I guess that’s why they call it a formal dining room. Well, I guess we are not formal kind of people.

So the dining room and the Costco furniture set unused for 7 years. Of course we still had to vacuum the space because our cat sheds what looks like another cat-worth of hair every week. Vacuuming around a table with 6 heavy chairs is a pain made worse in knowing that there’s literally no point besides having a pretty (unused) room.

It took a while ( 7 years 😉 ) but my wife finally gave me a go ahead to sell the dining room set. I would be lucky to get half of what we paid for it, but I didn’t care. I just wanted this useless status badge for grownups out of the house.

Then I remembered hearing about Costco’s no hassle return policy. People returned things like used sneakers with no questions asked. Was there a chance that Costco would authorize a return after 7 years? I checked their return policy and it said that they will accept any item if you are not completely satisfied with the purchase. There is a limit of 90 days on electronics but no such limitation on other items.

We called Costco and asked for a return authorization. They asked why and we said that we are not satisfied. It’s true. We bought it online and didn’t realize how huge and heavy the chairs are. The table also scratches super easy. It got scratched right away when we tried using it without a tablecloth. It was a small scratch but unexpected nonetheless. We are not the kind to wrap our furniture in clear plastic. With kids running around we need something that can take a beating.

The Costco rep did say something like “just to confirm, you would like to return a dining room set purchased 7 years ago” but other than that she didn’t skip a bit. No supervisor approvals, no attitude. She confirmed that the furniture will be picked up in the same manner it was dropped off – white glove service.  She gave us a number to call to set up an appointment and that was all.

We called the freight company and 2 weeks later a couple of friendly delivery guys showed up. They disassembled the table, wrapped the china cabinet in packing material and were out of the door in 15 minutes.

A week later Costco credited $2,414.99 back on the card. We requested a check and it was in our mailbox another week later.dining_room

Costco refunded us the entire purchase price we paid 7 years ago without any deductions for shipping, restocking fees or anything else…. say whaaaaat?!

Granted we’ve been paying Costco’s yearly membership fees for over a decade but to me this is one of the best examples of an exceptional customer service I’ve ever experienced. I was always thinking about optimizing Costco membership out of our lives to get rid of the recurring yearly fee but they got me hooked now.

The dining room set has been gone for a couple of weeks now and we are slowly reclaiming the space as a playroom for our son. It makes so much more sense now and we are actually using the room. It’s open, easy to clean and right off the eat-in kitchen where we spend a lot of time anyway, so it’s easy to keep an eye on the kids.

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I was a little worried about how my wife would feel after the Costco truck left but it turns out that she loves the new set up as well. Just like me, she felt as if a burden was lifted off her shoulders. It felt as if a flow of energy in the house was restored. Soon after, she asked me: “What else can we get rid off?”

How about the elliptical machine that hasn’t been used in a while? My wife wanted it and I bought it but she since joined the gym. We found out now that my wife is a type of person that will go hardcore if pushed by an instructor but can not find motivation to work out on her own. I walk and bike every day so I have no use for the elliptical myself.

The elliptical is on Craigslist now and I’ll be lucky to get a third of the $800 that I paid for it… In retrospect I wish I bought it from Costco.

P.S. Good thing I bought this hot tub from Costco!

 

 

7 thoughts on “On STUFF and Costco’s Return Policy

  1. Wow… this is (almost) unbelievable! Fair play to Costco!

    I agree with the whole beaten furniture thing, even though we’ve only just had our first kid we’ve bought used furniture in the main for the last 2-3 years now and I actually prefer it. For a start it’s much cheaper, but you don’t tend to notice the few nicks and scratches that are already on it when you buy it, and then of course you can relax about making any more of your own. Likewise when people come over, having a party, or people bring their kids round you can just relax. There is nothing worse than going to someones house and feeling you can’t even move in case you break something as it all looks so prim and proper.

    I don’t think I could ever buy a new expensive car for the sheer fear of putting a ding in it for exactly the same reason!

    Much prefer the low stress lifestyle here in TFS towers 🙂

    Also I have no idea what an elliptical machine is but it sounds like you did the right thing getting rid of it 😉

    • Same with me… Between the kid and the cat I can’t even imagine buying new furniture and having to worry about it. When that Costco table got scratched we both felt really bad, which is the last thing I want to do nowadays. Luckily pretty much all of our stuff is hand-me-downs or just plain old so I don’t ever stress when we have guests/kids over.

      Same with cars. It’s easy not to worry about scratches or dings when both cars together are worth < $9,000!

  2. Planet Money had a segment on their podcast recently about return policies like this and highlighted (I think) LL beans, which is very similar to costcos. I thought it was very interesting…

  3. Similar experience with a computer back in the day. Just the monitor broke so I brought it in expecting a new monitor. They refunded the whole computer + monitor price…. excellent.

    • I think Costco changed their policy to allow electonics returns within the first 90 days only. However, I think you still have 2 years to return electronics if they stop working. Still better than other places.

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