What To Do When Someone Returns a Product You No Longer Carry

By Steve Di Orio
Posted in Store Management
On January 01, 2016

For many store owners, after the holidays brings a dreaded month of returns. In 2014, 11% of returns were from holiday sales, according to the Consumer Returns in the Retail Industry report sponsored the National Retail Federation (NRF). Returns are also up more than 26% during the holidays. But what are you supposed to do when the merchandise that is being returned is something you no longer carry? Many holiday shoppers start picking up their gifts well in advance, and by the time the holidays come around you haven’t been selling that item for months. Here’s how to handle that scenario.


Set a strict return policy. If your return policy is “all returns must come back in 30 days with a receipt” then hold true to that. Make sure employees point out this policy to every single customer that checks out, even circling and initialing the policy to note that the customer was in fact informed. They will have a harder time pretending they didn’t see it when your employees are making a point to highlight it. Also, require a receipt for returns. They will not only have to show they are aware of the policy, but any merchandise that has had the price altered for promotions will show up on the receipt so you can ensure it gets returned for the right price.


Exchange only without a receipt or after the set number of days. If it’s day 40 after a 30 day return policy, require an exchange or store credit only. You still might end up with merchandise you no longer offer, but at least you will still keep some business in your store. Plus, shoppers often spend a little more in these instances.


Create a “this is the last of it!” rack. While this may not be ideal, you still want to sell the merchandise that is returned. Create a kind of mish-mosh section on clothing racks or retail displays that has pieces that you no longer carry or only have a few left of. If they are out of season you can always discount them to try and move them out the door.


Return it to the manufacturer. Some manufacturers allow you to return unsold or out-of-date merchandise. You are likely aware of this policy from the start of your relationship and will know if this is an option.


Sell items to discount stores like T.J. Maxx or Marshalls. If you are okay with a secondary retailer selling your merchandise for less money, this is always an option. Many retailers send their outdated merchandise to these stores.


Donate it. If you’ve run out of profitable solutions, donating excess merchandise is the way to go.


A good return policy should help avoid this situation in the first place. As long as it’s made clear to customers that returns need to come back within a certain time frame to be accepted, they should be respectful of your policy. Some retailers make an exception around the holidays due to gifts being purchased all throughout the year. Ultimately, it’s up to you to use your discretion.

Steve Di Orio

Steve Di Orio


Steve has been with Handy Store Fixtures for over 15 years. After becoming the Marketing Manager in 2006, he was named Director of Marketing. Steven earned his MBA from Montclair State University with a specialization in Digital Marketing in 2019. When not at work, he loves to travel, play golf, exercise, and talk all things search engine marketing and retail display tips.