Jason B. Ladd

Author | Apologist | Entrepreneur

Understanding Compulsive Return Policy Utilization Syndrome

return policy

Every good leaders studies human behavior.  I’ve learned that some people use store return policies more than others.  Do you:

  • make sure you fully understand a store’s return policy before you buy a product?
  • buy things knowing there’s a good chance you’ll return them?
  • feel as good returning products as when you bought them?

I have a theory about why.

This is symptomatic of what I call Compulsive Return Policy Utilization Syndrome, or CoRPUS.

CoRPUSreturn policy

There are some tell-tale signs of CoRPUS:

  • Multiple purchases of similar products in the same day
  • Revoked return privileges at Wal-Mart
  • Purchases of luxury items or products over the expected monthly budget
  • Purchases of unnecessary products
  • Purchases of products for no particular reason
  • Purchases of products for therapeutic effects

Any of these conditions could indicate a desire to use the store’s return policy in the future.

But why would anyone purchase anything knowing they will most likely return it?

People with CoRPUS have to deal with several hassles:

  • keeping receipts
  • carefully opening packaging materials
  • keeping the item in returnable condition
  • finding time to make the return
  • driving all the way out to make the return (or sending a package back to the company)
  • dealing with customer service at the return counter

I have a guess, and like most things which drive behavior, it comes back to a little drug called dopamine.

return policyA Little Bit of Chemistry

What causes the “shopper’s high” people describe after they make a purchase?

Answering this questions drives us toward what’s called the “reward center” of the human brain.  Whenever certain chemicals are released in the brain (such as dopamine or oxytocin), the result is a feeling of desire or pleasure.

Dopamine is released when you play video games, eat fatty foods, and give to charity.  David J. Linden explains this process in-depth in The Compass of Pleasure.  He explains why things like fatty foods, generosity, exercise, and learning “feel so good.”

Oxytocin is released during breast-feeding and other bonding activities.

When we perceive things as pleasurable, it drives us to repeat the behavior.  Just thinking about a pleasurable activity can activate the brain’s “pleasure circuitry” and create strong desires.

It is Better To Give (Back) Than to Receive (Only)

So here’s my theory:

People with CoRPUS have learned how to turn one pleasurable experience into two.

We all know about the shopper’s high.

But what about the “returner’s high?”

Think of all the benefits of returning a product:

  • You make money (not really, but it feels like it).
  • You are released from buyer’s remorse.
  • You feel empowered by exercising your rights as a consumer.
  • You can now re-purchase a similar product in the future.
  • And you STILL received all the pleasure from buying the product in the first place.

It can feel good to make returns.  

But it’s a vicious cycle.

What does this say about people with CoRPUS?  Are they enslaved to a chemical dependence?  Are they the unlucky victims of chronic manufacturing ineptitude?

Or are they just smart shoppers who know exactly what they want?

If someone you love has CoRPUS, you don’t have to be afraid.

Just be there for them.

(They probably need a ride to the mall).


Photo Credit: Travis Swan / CC 2.0 BY SA

Photo credit: jerine / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan / Foter.com / CC BY

 Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”



About Jason B. Ladd

Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.

2 Replies

  1. Janthina

    I have never understood why some folks return purchases when the item isn’t broken or defective. I kind of understand making a mistake in the excitement of things and feeling guilty spending too much money and thus needing to return. But, otherwise I don’t get it. But, your explanation/theory has merit in the pleasure..or relief..on the return. Mostly, I like to be sure and not do that to a store. Enjoying the read, made me smile.

    1. Thanks for reading! I tried to keep it light and fun, but who knows, maybe there’s something to it!