What do you do when you buy a bag of oranges and get them home to discover several areas of rot that you couldn’t see when the oranges were in the bag? If you find an item has a broken safety seal, do you throw it away or return it to the store? One woman I know NEVER returns anything, regardless of how expensive the defective item is. I asked her why once, and she said she doesn’t like to complain.

I think there are times when you SHOULD complain, and with prices so high these days, it doesn’t make sense to just absorb the cost of items you buy and then can’t use. Just be sure you have a fair and valid complaint and that you present your complaint and the item in question to the service desk in a calm, polite manner. Have your sales slip handy, return the item in its original packaging, and make the return as soon as possible (but not before your usual next shopping trip). If there is a reason why you can’t return the item for a longer period of time, call the store, explain the problem, and ask them how you should handle it… they will usually give you a name of the person to talk to when you do bring the item back to the store. If the item is perishable, they may tell you to freeze it… and sometimes they will tell you to throw the perishable items away and just bring in the packaging and receipt. Different stores handle things differently, though, so it makes sense to call.

I had quite an interesting collecton of items to take back to the store yesterday, starting with an absolutely disgusting box of six twenty-eight ounce cans of crushed tomatoes. My husband had bought these tomatoes last week, and from the outside this box looked perfect. Even the colorful plastic skin encasing the cans in their cardboard tray was undisturbed, but inside the plastic skin was a mass of green and yellow slimy mold, crushed and broken cans, and oozing, rotting tomatoes. The stench once the plastic was broken was incredible.

Not quite as disgusting but possibly equally dangerous was the container of grated cheese that was missing the safety seal that should have been covering the top of the container inside the cover. The woman at the service desk was more concerned with the missing safety seal than the probably botulism-covered tomato cans!

The third item was a heavy duty can opener, the type that breaks the seal on the outside of the can instead of cutting around the top. This can opener is sold with a lifetime guarantee, which was the reason I bought it in the first place nearly two years ago. The can opener worked well until recently, when it suddenly completely stopped breaking the seal and opening the can. But because I had kept the receipt and the packaging, I was able to return the can opener to the store for a free replacement. And the replacement was an upgrade to a more expensive model because the can opener I had originally bought is no longer being made.

If it seems like too much trouble to return an item, think of the money you are wasting. The combined total cost of those three items exchanged yesterday was just under thirty-five dollars… well worth, I think, the five minutes spent in line at the service desk.

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I wouldn’t think twice about returning any of the examples you mentioned. Not only is it a waste of money not to do so (I wouldn’t make a special trip though; I’d combine it with something else) but I believe returns provide useful feedback to the store and the manufacturer.

It’s also a great opportunity for them to make good the broken trust from the damaged product. It might sound like a petty thing, but the flip side is that if a customer doesn’t return a defective product, he or she is much more likely to be put off buying that brand again and might tell their friends and family about it too. When you relay the story of the can opener upgrade, it puts all the focus on the upgrade and you tend to forget the annoyance of having bought something that didn’t live up to its original expectations.

I tend to keep most of my receipts and almost always return broken or damaged goods. I have only once had a negative experience in doing so. Needless to say I will never go to that store again and have told all my friends why they should avoid them too.

choi from South Korea

it’s just annoying to return them.

after reading it , i felt that i need to change my mind and next time when i find some problems , i am trying to complain and return them.

it probably helps for everyone to get good goods.


I have to already be going to the store if I’m going to return something, otherwise, the waste in gas (+ my time) is not worth the refund in goods. This makes for Very.Careful.Shopping.


This happened to me recently with a container of raspberries. I noticed they were moldy when I opened the container, and when I returned them later that day, the entire display of raspberries had been tossed! I guess I wasn’t the only one!


Apart from that…. if you complain about something from a store or service.. and it’s a name store/brand, chances are high you’ll get more out of it too.. ;)

I’ve been given flowers by the phone company, because one of their workers was rude.. and we’ve been given a huge box of baby food (cookies, vegetables, milk, etc.) because I complained about a toy they gave, which had the paint coming off..

Just something to think about ;)
greetings from the netherlands!


I agree! I return things too.
I like your blog!


My 9 month old, $1400 water heater quit last night due to the motherboard failing. Of course im returning it! That screw driver in the 50 cent bin broke? Ain’t worth the time. Being frugal means spending your time and money appropriately to minimize losses. Time is money and 20 minutes (local average time for a return) at $9/hr just doesn’t add up sometimes, even if im already in the store.

Ps love your blog. Full of good ideas and I wish I could get my fiancee tounderstand some of your concepts! And yes returning defective products let’s the manufacture investigate failures and improve product designs. And in many cases where failure is common I’ve gotten free upgrades or great deals on upgrades reguardless of warranty status.


I totally agree. Well said! Although, I must admit, I’m not a fan of saving packaging only because my space is very limited, still it makes great sense.

Linda 2

I work at the service desk. By all means return bad products. We can often return them to the supplier and get credit, too (and the supplier needs to know if they have a problem), but even if we can’t, we want you to know you won’t be stuck paying for something that isn’t good. We had to draw the line–once–with a guy who bought the same bread every week, and every week returned half a loaf. But most returns are reasonable, and you don’t need to hesitate.