By Anu Chitrapu
INDIA New England News Columnist
The best thing we love about shopping in the US is the ability to return things we buy without any questions asked. For some reason this is a big boon to all desi shoppers, both those who live here in the US and those who visit from India.
Why is this ability to return so highly valued by us desis? I think it is because we come from a country where if you take an item to be returned to a store, and god forbid you take it back during the morning time, you will hear the choicest words from the store owner. These words will include things about your great-grandfather and some curses for your unborn great-grandchildren. The words will ring in your ears and hurt your brain so badly that you will never ever try to return anything in that store again. There is a •lovely’ term that storekeepers use in Chennai on people who try to return things: “Savgiraki” — which translates to “Customer of Death”. We desis hate to hear the word death so this curse is enough to prevent the boldest customer from ever returning anything again.
No surprise then that we love returning things to a store in the US where we may be asked if something is wrong with what we bought but most often we are spared even that question. Of course, in typical desi style we test, extend, use and abuse this return policy to the limit. Some not-so-clever store policy had a limit of a year to return a purchased product. And sure enough some very clever desi read the fine print and returned a laptop exactly a day short of a year since it was bought. Given how fast technology is changing, that laptop must have been worth next to nothing to the store after it was returned! There is even a law, called Moore’s law for how fast computing speed increases. Thankfully we desis know everything about such laws. Poor store owners don’t. So we can upgrade laptops for free when computing becomes faster. The Computer Science we learned will always help us exploit market inefficiencies.
I recently heard of an innovative way the return policy was used by a couple with young children who had lived in the US, moved back to India and were now visiting the US from India. They arrived in California, headed straight to Target, bought a couple of car seats and used them for 2 weeks while vacationing (safety of kids comes first!) and then returned the car seats to Target before bidding goodbye to the US.
Of course stores like the Dollar Store, have become wiser now after several desi tourists bought and returned $1 items. There is a certain thrill in being able to buy a lot of stuff without thinking much about the purchase because you can always run back to the store and return it when buyer’s remorse hits. Now there are signs in the Dollar Store saying items cannot be returned and I am sure we are responsible for that sign. Although the other possible reason for the sign is that a lot of Dollar Stores are now being run by fellow desis who are very familiar with our love for returns. On a side note, I am still trying to solve the puzzle of why visitors from India are fascinated by the Dollar Stores. Yes, everything is “only” a dollar but most items can be bought on the streets in India for less.
Another endearing trait we have is to drive several miles in any kind of weather just to return an item. The cost of the gas and the time and energy we put into the return may be an order of magnitude higher than the cost of the item we are returning but we benevolently ignore it — that is how much we love returns! Hauling a large screen TV back to Nashua from Quincy is totally reasonable because we found a better deal elsewhere!
I was explaining the concept of Rent-A-Runaway to a nice, desi aunty from India recently. Basically you pay an amount to rent a grand dress for an occasion and then you return it by mail. What a great idea, at least that is what I thought. Aunty looked confused and then made such a profound statement that I just gaped at her with my mouth open. “In a country where you can buy a dress and return for a full refund, why would anyone pay rent to get and then return a dress?”
If you ever open a store then make sure to write your return policies keeping in mind “The Return of the Desi.”