The Children's Place Changed Its Return Policy: Help Me, WalletPop!

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Q. I purchased a children's vest (among other items) from The Children's Place in Pennsylvania. The vest was $13.30. Unfortunately, my daughter-in-law bought the same one and asked me to return mine. No problem, I thought. I did return the vest, only to be told that the return policy had changed and I would only get $7.49 returned. The return policy changed three days prior to my purchase and I was told (by The Children's Place supervisor) that the store posted notices stating the change. I did not notice any change of policy information posted when I was shopping at that time. I was told the return information was on the back of the receipt, end of story.I understand that the return policy was on the back of the receipt, but I was unaware of the change and thought that the 90 day policy was still in effect. It's not about the $5.70; it's about what stores will do to make a profit. I think that in today's economy, it's a disgrace. I am a retired grandmother of five and frequently shopped in The Children's Place ... I will no longer shop there.
-- Judith Cowden

A. Judith, I agree with you, and I'll tell you something else: You are not the only person who has complained to me about this change in policy at The Children's Place. I was interested in getting to the bottom of this one, so I reached out to Lorena Pino in public relations at the company. She said that the company changed this policy just one day before you made your purchase -- in response to an analysis of customer returns and the policies of other retailers. The new policy states that with the original sales receipt, you can get a full refund within 45 days of purchase. Outside of that, you'll receive the current selling price back in the form of a merchandise credit, whether you have the receipt or not.

"Our goal is to ensure that we accommodate the vast majority of our customer's needs while minimizing excessive returns in order to continue maintaining our low, value pricing. We discovered that more than 90% of customer returns occur within a 45-day period. We also found that other retailers have instituted a similar 45-day return policy," explains Pino.

I asked her how the new policy was communicated to customers, and she said that two weeks prior to the change, "store employees were instructed to advise all consumers at purchase that the change was coming and to be advised for future purchases. Once the change went into effect, store employees were instructed to circle the portion of the receipt that called out the new change in our return policy to further advise consumers."

Unfortunately, it sounds like this wasn't happening in all cases, and it certainly didn't happen in yours. But I couldn't get them to budge on this, so I'll give you my best advice for what you might do in the future:
  • Vote With Your Feet. I'm a firm believer in voting with my dollars, and if I don't like a store or company's practices, I won't shop there. So I think you have every right to stop shopping at The Children's Place based on this experience, and if you'd like, you should spread the word to your friends. If enough people complain about this change, It may just revert back to the old policy.
  • Double Check. Be sure to ask about a store's return policy every time you make a purchase, even if you think you're familiar with it. These kinds of things are subject to change at any time, and it's better to be on the safe side. If you're worried about getting incorrect information, double check what you've been told with the store's website or the back of your receipt (yes, I know the information would be more useful on the front, but it tends to land on the back in almost all cases).
  • Post-It. If you think there's a chance you might want to return something, make a note of the last day you'll be able to in your cell phone's calendar. Set a reminder for a week or a few days before, so you don't let the date slip by.
Consumer Ally problem solver Jean Chatzky is the "Today Show" financial adviser, a longtime financial journalist and best-selling author.
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