Most of us might be put off to learn the new clothes we just bought had been used by someone else then returned to the store. So you can imagine how a local mother feels knowing the same thing happened with toothbrushes she bought for her kids, especially since her children actually used the toothbrushes before she and her husband discovered the ugly truth.
The kids, aged 7 and 9, wanted to use their new electronic toothbrushes as soon as they got home from the store. Megan Duvall says nothing about the box looked out of the ordinary. "
Our perception was we were opening a brand new product," she said.
She paid $150 for a double set of Sonicare electronic toothbrushes, purchased at the Puyallup Costco. Duvall says when the kids brushed their teeth they noticed one unit was quiet like it should be but the other unit was unusually loud with a strong, vibrating buzz. Duvall's husband took a closer look at the noisy unit and noticed the brush head connection was loose and wobbly.
"And he opened it up, took the head off, and looked at it and said, 'This is a used toothbrush!" Duvall said.
Turns out, they got one new base, one used base, and two very used brush heads. Instead of the "Diamond Clean" whitening brush heads indicated on the box, the brush heads they got were "Pro Results," an older model. The brush heads were so used, there's barely a trace of the blue stripe that loses color as the brushes wear down.
Duvall is convinced someone took out the new devices, replaced them with old, sealed the box, and returned it as an unopened return. It's a blatant case of retail return fraud that has been reported at any number of retailers across the country.
"We were absolutely disgusted!" said Duvall. "We couldn't believe it!"
Costco, praised for it's generous return policy, is also surprised. The man in charge of northwest operations tells me the returned toothbrushes should never have been put back on the shelf. Ron Vachris says the company has strong return procedures in place and is reinforcing those procedures to make sure everyone is aware. According to Vachris, returned, defective merchandise is supposed to be clearly labeled and either destroyed or sent back to the manufacturer.
Vachris says he's interested in examining the units the Duvalls purchased- to help get to the bottom of how the box ended up on the store shelf. Costco stresses this type of return theft with toothbrushes is very rare at Costco stores. Costco gave Duvall a new replacement Sonicare set and refunded her money. Duvall says there was never a question about how Costco handled her complaint, but she wants her brush with deception to remind all retailers to take a closer look at how returned products are handled, especially when the product might pass on someone else's nasty germs.
It's important to emphasize that Costco is far from the only target of product swapping. According to the National Retail Federation, replacing new merchandise with old is one of several reasons retailers everywhere are cracking down on returns - often requiring photo identification and maintaining profiles of customer return activity. It's also a good reason for all of to closely examine pricey, packaged products before we buy them- and alert the store if something's not quite right.
Return fraud overall is a driving force behind increased return fees, and limiting refunds to merchandise, rather than cash. The NRF says in 2013 the cost of refund fraud nationwide totalled nearly $9 billion a year.