to shop / managing the vicious cycle of buy+keep+return

I’ve been shopping up a storm lately, but have also been returning up a storm. This requires tight management of credit card expenses, return shipments, and refunds. This article describes me perfectly, except immediate return reads to me as not final sale :)

Credit card expenses:

  • I love how American Express(my preferred card since they gave me my first cc many years ago) has great search and tagging capabilities. For any purchases that I may return, I tag it. Then I can easily search by tags.
    • One of the most depressing things to do is to search year-to-date transactions for <insert your favorite retailer>. Yikes!

Return shipments:

  • If I’m not generating my own UPS or USPS return label, I take a picture of the return label so I can track it. If the return address is in a neighboring state, most likely, it’s much cheaper to print your own UPS or USPS label online.
  • If I have a lot to return, I prefer to pay the return label fee ($6-8) rather than schlep to a store to avoid lines and disgruntled workers. Most retailers process returns in a jiffy, especially J.Crew.
  • If you’re returning multiple orders to different retailers (like J.Crew and Madewell) in the same box, keep track of that as well. I recently returned a bunch of Amazon orders and saw that not all orders in a box were credited, or they didn’t fully credit me for everything returned. Just because they are a reputable retailer does not mean they are perfect.
    • Sidenote: Amazon’s online return/exchange process for their shoes has plenty of bugs. Most retailers do not have world-class customer service like Amazon, which redeems their flaws.


  • Many retailers have integrated their online and in-store POS systems so if you return items bought online in-store, it’s reflected in your online history (e.g. J.Crew, Gap). Many retailers also provide return confirmations via e-mail.
  • If you’re returning in-store, keep all receipts and reconcile with your credit card activity. Most retailers give you an immediate refund, but some like Zara, I think, have to send it back to their online distribution center to process. They forgot to refund an item once, but I had the return acceptance receipt to back me up.
  • You can return crewcuts and online J.Crew Factory items at any J.Crew retail store. If you get pushback on returning online Factory items at a store, ask for a manager (since seasonal staff probably won’t know).
  • If you do not have a receipt, the store may be able to look up a purchase with your credit card (e.g. Target, Gap). If you hate carrying around receipts, and are an Anthropologie shopper, sign up for the free anthro program. It is sooo convenient.
  • When in doubt, keep all items in the plastic bags it arrives in (especially if there are no tags) and keep the original receipts. Or if you lost the original receipt, see if the retailer can send you another one.
  • Since it is the holidays, check for grace periods on return deadlines.

A recent buy that I’m definitely keeping… the J.Crew Collection luxe silk crepe blouse in sand dune. It was on sale plus additional discounts. It’s a luscious, thick silk.

A recent buy that I’m definitely returning, again… Forever 21 Leopard Faux Fur Jacket. I tried, but I remembered why I returned it last year. It’s too swingy/boxy. Plus, I just nabbed another leopard print wool coat that I’ve been stalking for a looooong time on eBay that fits perfectly for an amazing price.

In leopard news, another repeat return was the leopard sidewalk skimmers from Madewell. Calfhair flats are too delicate. I realized I didn’t like the skimmer fit so all colors are going back. I think I may be between sizes on this shoe. Money saved.

And here is something fun, a tip for tracking price fluctuations on Amazon:

Whenever I like something on Amazon (and admittedly, I like a lot ever since they ramped up their clothing and shoe departments), I add it to my cart and then click on save for later. If the price fluctuates, it pops up in the pricing updates. Example, right after the massive designer shoes price drops:

And, no, I don’t wear sizes 9-10, but they had no other sizes in stock and I wanted to track the item.

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