Buying With Intention of Returning

Ask the Rov: I need an air conditioner for the next few weeks, but won’t need it afterward. May I buy one and plan to return it when I am done with it?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin, Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah

According to halacha, there is usually only a small window to retract from a sale once it was finalized—by most methods of acquisition within a few seconds, and by a kinyan sudar (“lifting a handkerchief”) as long as the sides are discussing the sale. After this, there is no going back.

If the buyer was overcharged more than 16% above the market value, he can invalidate the sale and receive a refund within the time frame it takes to find this out. After that time it is too late, unless circumstances beyond his control prevented him from finding out right away.

If he discovers a defect in the article, he can demand a refund since he received something different than what he purchased. If, however, he continues to use it after finding the defect, or the problem was easily discernable and he neglected to notice, he may no longer return it (even if he didn’t know the repercussions of continuing to use it). If there is a compelling reason for his continued usage, he often will still be able to return it (e.g. if he found a fault in his new car on the way home, he can continue his trip).

In many countries, there are federal and state laws that govern consumer transactions. These laws definitely have the halachic status of minhag hamedina and one who purchases an item does so according to the local terms and conditions. The details of these terms differ from country to country and even between different states of the same country. Many countries have special policies for online or over-the-phone purchases as well.

In most states in America, there is no right to cancel contracts or purchase agreements; a refund option depends on the specific retailer’s policy, and in absence of one we follow the halachic return policy outlined above. In certain states, like New York, a store is legally required to post its refund policy. If they don’t, the store is required by law to accept returns within 30 days of purchase.

Buying with plans to return the item would clearly not be permitted under the “halachic” return policy, yet the specific store’s policy is what is binding in this case. If their terms for return require the purchaser to be “unsatisfied,” one needs to ask oneself honestly if that is the case. Some major retail stores, however, clearly allow purchases and returns with no questions asked even after the item was used short term, since they concluded that such a policy is worth it for them. In such a case, it would be permissible to buy the item with the intent to return.

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  1. With all due respect to the Rov, I suspect that the he doesn’t correctly understand the store policy.

    Just because the store policy is “with no questions asked” doesn’t mean they allow you to buy with the intent to return.

    It just means they won’t ask and hope you will be honest. Their policy is definitely not that you can buy things just to use short term and then return. Just because they won’t ask and therefore you can get away with it doesn’t mean it’s their policy to allow it.

  2. Take a moment to google ‘walmart return policy’ or ‘costco return policy’ and read their official policies.

    Both websites clearly say that they want you to be 100% satisfied.

    Costco says “guarantee your satisfaction”
    Walmart says “Not 100% satisfied with your item? We will make it right”.

    Clearly their policy is to allow returns if you are not 100% satisfied, but not because you don’t need it any longer.

  3. A manager from Wal-Mart has said that they do explicitly allow buying with the intent to return as it builds trust and loyalty with the store.

    He also explained that often customers will choose to keep it despite buying it to return.

    Additionally, if it gets damaged the store won’t accept the return. So that’s another reason for them to allow such a sale.

  4. Dear “The Rov is correct” Please note, the local managers do not write policy for the chain. In addition it cost stores money to restock etc, and sometimes cannot even sell it again even if it is not damaged. This is Hezik B’Yadayim. Mendel Nemanov is correct!

  5. BH

    With all due respect to Rabbi Raskin, I question the final linesof this piece.

    While this “may” possibly be true, accrdoing to the strict letter of the law, this is highly problomatic according to the spirit of the law, and it may not be something which we want to be announced from the rooftops for all to do.

    In addition, there is the known aspect of Chilul Hashem. If that does not bother you, then at least the issue of creating and fermenting Anti Semitism should give all of us a pause.

    I would like to conclude with the following words of Chazal in the end of Meseches Yuma:

    אביי אמר כדתניא (דברים ו, ה) וואהבת את ה’ אלהיך שיהא שם שמים מתאהב על ידך שיהא קורא ושונה ומשמש ת”ח ויהא משאו ומתנו בנחת עם הבריות מה הבריות אומרות עליו אשרי אביו שלמדו תורה אשרי רבו שלמדו תורה אוי להם לבריות שלא למדו תורה פלוני שלמדו תורה ראו כמה נאים דרכיו כמה מתוקנים מעשיו עליו הכתוב אומר (ישעיהו מט, ג) ויאמר לי עבדי אתה ישראל אשר בך אתפאר אבל מי שקורא ושונה ומשמש ת”ח ואין משאו ומתנו באמונה ואין דבורו בנחת עם הבריות מה הבריות אומרות עליו אוי לו לפלוני שלמד תורה אוי לו לאביו שלמדו תורה אוי לו לרבו שלמדו תורה פלוני שלמד תורה ראו כמה מקולקלין מעשיו וכמה מכוערין דרכיו ועליו הכתוב אומר (יחזקאל לו, כ) באמור להם עם ה’ אלה ומארצו יצאו

  6. When year-round residents are not allowed to make returns during the summer months, as many stores don’t accept any returns then, because of the large influx of bungalow colony goers who buy and return, it’s an awful Chillul Hashem.
    Why don’t you go rent an air conditioner instead?
    Why buy a new one when you know you don’t want to keep it, and cause the store owners and the suppliers financial damage?
    Oh yeah, think also about the other shoppers who will have to pay higher prices because of your greed!
    Hello, it’s Elul.

  7. IMHO, one who purchases in order to return (so that they can get free access to an item they should really pay for) may be potur, but they’re a Naval Birshus HaTorah.

    There is a concept of Yosher in Torah, straightforwardness, forthrightness, honesty, and this is not it.

  8. We are in the month of Elul, and I am doing everything in my power to be respectful.

    If Goyim knew this is HALACHA, they would close stores to every Jew.
    In all my life, I always heard the Yetzer Horo in me saying, Go to Costco, and just return it later, everyone else does it.
    But I refrained, because it is purely a Yetser Horo, Gnayvishe Shtick.
    Who am I to make Costco lose money because they have a honest policy. If there was a Honest Lubavitcher on Kingston Ave who allowed people to return after weeks of using it? He would lose his parnosso in 2 months!!! you have a responsibility to censure such statements.

    I pray that Goyim do not see this.

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