Costco Limits Return Policy for Electronics: It Was Only A Matter of Time

Looks like your friend and mine, the amazing Costco return policy, is on its way out. Apparently, it did enough damage to the already razor thin profit margins of the company for management to take action. For those unfamiliar, it used to be that you could return anything whenever you wanted for a full refund (with the exception of desktop computers, which had a limit of six months). The policy was one of the reasons why I was an avid Costco electronics shopper (if the wanted gizmo was carried there).

But I always knew it would only be a matter of time before the too-good-to-be-true shopping scenario changed. Though even with the change, Costco likely still has the best return policy out there. Here’s what to expect:

So today Costco introduced its new 90-day return limit for TVs, computers, cameras, camcorders, MP3 players, and cellphones. The policy is live in the 109 California stores and will roll out to all 504 stores within the next few weeks (old policy will stay in effect for any purchases made before today).

Perhaps to ease the blow, Costco will begin extending the manufacturer’s warranties on these items (except cellphones) to two years from one year. And the unlimited timeframe on returns will continue for all other non-electronics Costco items.

You can’t say the retailer didn’t try to avoid making the change. In recent months, it introduced an 800 number for customers to call to get technical questions answered. It also started offering limited third-party service for HDTV home installation.

All in all, it’s still a great place to shop for great deals on certain electronics. And the new double warranty doesn’t hurt.

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  • Vince Freeman

    I read your article, and like many others, it glossed over the true reason for the change, and concentrated on the usual fluff “Costco stops scammers” headline.

    I am a longtime Costco member, and while I applaud the 90-day RETURN period change, I am appalled by the switch to a 90-day REPLACEMENT policy. It used to be a member had one year to bring back a faulty or defective item for replacement.

    Scammers may abuse the return policy, but it’s only honest consumers whose TV, laptop, PC, or DVD player craps 3+ months later, who will be hurt by this restrictive change to the replacement policy. Please tell me how this is “stopping the rip-off artists who want free hardware” when all honest customers want is the SAME working piece of electronics with no money changing hands.

    Scammers are not where the true cost savings are, as very few rampantly abuse the system. Costco has highlighted its replacement policy as the prime target, but would never come out and admit such a consumer-unfriendly stance. So they use the “stop the scammers” mantra instead, then quietly slide in the 90-day replacement policy change.

    This is the gist of the policy change, to limit Costco’s financial exposure to the low-quality, high defect, grey market electronics it sells, and basically turn their back on loyal and honest consumers after 90 days – all while hiding behind a media-driven “stop the scammers” smoke screen – and hoping no one would notice.

    So rather than take back a defective Vizio LCD for the consumer, Costco will supposedly save millions by kicking their loyal and membership-paying customer base to the curb, pointing them instead to a toll Vizio number at their head office in Peru. And yes, Costco has ensured you now get 2 full years to wait for them to reply to your warranty request. What a deal – LOL.

    It just amazes me that few media outlets saw through this obvious ruse.

  • Bob Caswell

    Vince,

    Your comments make an excellent point, if accurate. Do you mind providing a credible source that mentions the distinction between “Return Period” and “Replacement Policy?”

    Like you said, no one seems to be mentioning it in covering this update from Costco. And I’d like to verify that it’s true.

  • Vince Freeman

    Thanks for the reply Bob, and I didn’t realize the new 90-day replacement warranty was a big secret.

    Trust me, after reading the below document I asked a manager and he told me, in no uncertain terms, that Costco will NOT replace a defective TV or other electronics after the 90-day warranty is up.

    Now, you are required to go through the manufacturer for all service (many of which do not have a US presence and require you pay $$$ shipping charges) for all warranty work, and Costco only “facilitates” the process.

    Just go here:

    http://www.costco.com/Images/Content/Misc/PDF/concierge.PDF

    And you can read up on the new policies, such as:

    “Costco extends the manufacturer’s warranty on televisions and Computers to 2 years from the date of purchase. See the manufacturer’s warranty for specific coverage terms.”

    “For warranty service, contact Costco Concierge Services at 1-866-861-0450.”

    “Receive in-home service when in-home service is covered under manufacturer’s warranty”

    “Obtain warranty information and assistance”

  • Steve Anthony

    I’m a little late to this discussion, but here’s what I’ve observed.

    Several years ago while waiting my turn to return a pair of pants to my local Costco I saw a young man returning a laptop that he’d had, according to him, for at least a year. He had no reciept or any other documentation, no power cord, cables, mouse, etc… just the laptop. He was treated with courtesy and received a full refund in less than five minutes.

    Two years ago I purchased a nice little digital camera at the Costco in Roseville, California. It was a one-time only item and supposedly came with a memory card. There was no card in the box, no mail-in offer or any other clue as to how I’d get my memory card. I went to one of the front end managers, explained my situation. He spent about five minutes trying to figure out how I’d get my card, and finally took me to their display of storage devices and said, “Pick out whatever you’d like – it’s on us.”

    Finally, in February of this year I found myself again in Costco’s merchandise return line. Two mid-twenties men were returning their mom’s recently purchased jumbo screen LCD TV (may have even been a Vizio). They were quietly speaking and commenting to one another that this was absolutely the last time that they were bringing any of their mother’s purchases back. One was particularly indignant that Mom had purchased the TV for her Super Bowl party, never intending to keep the set.

    I mentioned this to the customer service person and they quietly explained that this is fairly routine. In my words, these theives use Costco’s generosity to serve their short-term needs – sort of like a free equipment rental store. For one, I’m quite happy to see that Costco is finally ready to admit that paying for a membership doesn’t necessarily give someone permission to abuse their good nature.

    Steve Anthony
    Benicia, CA

  • Steve Anthony

    I’m a little late to this discussion, but here’s what I’ve observed.

    Several years ago while waiting my turn to return a pair of pants to my local Costco I saw a young man returning a laptop that he’d had, according to him, for at least a year. He had no reciept or any other documentation, no power cord, cables, mouse, etc… just the laptop. He was treated with courtesy and received a full refund in less than five minutes.

    Two years ago I purchased a nice little digital camera at the Costco in Roseville, California. It was a one-time only item and supposedly came with a memory card. There was no card in the box, no mail-in offer or any other clue as to how I’d get my memory card. I went to one of the front end managers, explained my situation. He spent about five minutes trying to figure out how I’d get my card, and finally took me to their display of storage devices and said, “Pick out whatever you’d like – it’s on us.”

    Finally, in February of this year I found myself again in Costco’s merchandise return line. Two mid-twenties men were returning their mom’s recently purchased jumbo screen LCD TV (may have even been a Vizio). They were quietly speaking and commenting to one another that this was absolutely the last time that they were bringing any of their mother’s purchases back. One was particularly indignant that Mom had purchased the TV for her Super Bowl party, never intending to keep the set.

    I mentioned this to the customer service person and they quietly explained that this is fairly routine. In my words, these theives use Costco’s generosity to serve their short-term needs – sort of like a free equipment rental store. For one, I’m quite happy to see that Costco is finally ready to admit that paying for a membership doesn’t necessarily give someone permission to abuse their good nature.

    Steve Anthony
    Benicia, CA