Ever heard of unconditional guarantees? It’s the great promise some retailers offer to buyers. Learn the real truth behind unconditional guarantees.

The Ethics Behind Unconditional Guarantees
Kathy Bernier

We have all heard of those unconditional guarantees. They promise us 100% satisfaction, a perfect fit, flawless quality, and textbook results. Most of us know that guarantees are not always what they seem to be, and sometimes collecting on those promises can be more challenging than we bargained for.

However, not everyone considers the real cost of those guarantees, whether they deliver or not. There are certain truths underlying retail guarantees which are worth thinking about before we leap to avail ourselves of those benefits.

There are certain truths underlying retail guarantees which are worth thinking about before we leap to avail ourselves of those benefits.

A big-name retailer in my region is famous for its unconditional guarantee. The word to customers is that if they are unsatisfied for any reason, they can return it without question. That attitude is definitely appealing—I buy there myself! I spend a little more, but I know that it falls apart or stops working or is otherwise inadequate, I’m not stuck with the cost for substandard goods.

Some people take it a step further, though. It is not uncommon to encounter people who buy a winter jacket for their five-year-old with the intentions of returning it for a brand new one in the next size up every year.

Other seek out the retailer’s label at yard sales and church rummage sales. They often buy old used garments for a quarter and then exchange them at the store for a brand new item or even a full cash refund.

Those activities are completely able to be done and the retailer never questions it, but I do. Is it really ethical to do that? I say it isn’t.

Sometimes the answer lies in a gray area. If you buy a pair of athletic shoes there and return them for a new pair every time they wear out for the rest of your life, is that reasonable? Maybe that guarantee says to bring stuff back no matter what, but it may not be the right thing to do. No shoe lasts forever, and once I get my money’s worth it might be time to throw them out and spring for the next pair.

How about sending for seventeen pairs of shoes on the “free shipping both ways” deal, knowing for sure you’re only going to buy one? Not just once in a while for that perfect shoe for an exceptionally hard-to-satisfy situation, but for every pair you buy, just for the fun of trying them all on?

There is always the temptation to buy an article of clothing or an accessory for a special occasion, wear it once, and return it for a full refund. Some retailers make it so easy to do that it sometimes takes willpower to avoid doing so.

But what is the real cost, deep down? It is about more that scruples. In the end, someone pays for those outgrown kid’s jackets and worn out shoes and boatloads of shipping boxes.

But what is the real cost, deep down? It is about more that scruples. In the end, someone pays for those outgrown kid’s jackets and worn out shoes and boatloads of shipping boxes.

The people who pay for them are you and me, the consumers.

Many factors go into the process of calculating the price a retailer needs to charge for their wares in order to make money. Returned merchandise represents a loss which must be recouped somewhere, and it ends up being tacked onto the final price tag. When you hand over the cash for an unconditionally guaranteed good, ask yourself what percentage of your bill is going towards paying for all the items like yours which others got for free.

Many of us want the opportunity to purchase high quality products that are made right in America and that help keep jobs open to our neighbors and family. We don’t mind paying a little more for them, but nobody can afford to pay through-the-roof prices.

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I am not a retailer, but if I were, I think I would see it like this: given the choice between pricing my goods higher than those of my competitors, offering a less liberal return policy than the others do, or quietly acquiring my inventory from offshore, I might choose the third option. Even though that one might not appeal to retailers, it seems like the least bad choice.

As consumers, we don’t like those choices either. It makes sense to take a long hard look at unconditional guarantees and make sure we do not abuse the opportunity to return substandard products. If companies are spending money to cover excessive return costs, they must either raise prices or cut corners elsewhere.

It is not that I feel sorry for big multinational conglomerations, or even for moderately-sized merchants. Savvy commercial enterprises seem to be doing all right, even in this economy.

Neither do I suggest that I am above reproach myself—we all make decisions which may or may not be the best possible choices for everyone involved. The results are not always perfect, or even always ones we are proud of.

What I am saying is that it is worth our while to look at the big picture of unconditional guarantees. Like so many things in life that appear to be free or cheap at first glance, we need to consider the real cost.

In the end, it is about the golden rule, which is that we should all treat others as we would like to be treated.

In the end, it is about the golden rule, which is that we should all treat others as we would like to be treated. Availing ourselves of a retailer’s generous return policy may not always work out perfectly for both buyers and sellers, but it behooves those on both sides of the equation to have reasonable expectations. If we all do our part, we can work together to make our options more palatable, the standard of quality excellent, and prices affordable.

What’s your take on unconditional guarantees? Enjoy them and make the most out of them, or get back to your roots and enjoy a product for it’s worth & purpose while it lasts? Let us know below in the comments!

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Originally posted on April 11, 2016 @ 7:00 AM

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