For most retail purchases, any shopper seeking a refund has to return their items intact within a 28-day time limit. Hence the classic problem with the unwanted Christmas gift, where the recipient is too weighed down with Quality Street to get their gaudy knitwear back to the store in time. Before eBay came along, that meant consigning yet another item to the dark untouched recesses of the wardrobe.
The thinking behind John Lewis’s new policy is to reassure punters that it’s ok to be buying stuff, at a time when they be thinking twice before parting with their cash. And it does makes sense that they’ll be more likely to buy that new toaster if they know they won’t be lumbered with a bad purchase forever. Given the figures out today about stagnant wages and rising prices, customers could certainly do with a confidence boost.
The obvious risk here is that John Lewis could find itself facing a gang of punters eager to earn a few quid back by returning stuff they bought ages ago - especially since the unlimited refund does in fact apply to goods bought before this year. However, returned goods have to be unused, and you have to keep the receipt. ‘We are not doing this so people can clear out their wardrobes,’ said retail director Andrew Murphy (who added that many people don’t bother keeping receipts long enough these days for it to be a major problem).
Not many other retailers offer this kind of deal (Lakeland, the kitchenware retailer, is one of the few that does). But now that a heavy-hitter like John Lewis is at it, other stores may well think that they should give it a go. After all, the partnership is continuing to do everything right: it's just announced a 1.4% rise in sales to March, even as the ONS reported an across-the-board fall of 0.8%.
Of course, what works for them may not work for others; John Lewis will have lower return rates than others because of the quality of its goods. However, there's a good chance that far from having a detrimental effect on sales figures, a policy like this might actually boost them - because customers are less nervous about making the purchase in the first place. John Lewis will certainly hope so.