On 4 January 2016, Facebook user Kelly Blue Kinkel published a status update to Facebook that reporting that online clothing retailer Zulily had refused a return of her recently purchased winter jacket on unusual grounds:
According to Kinkel, she ordered a coat but decided after receiving it that its material would attract too much dog hair. She tried to return the item and presented the results in an anecdote she said she "sincerely hope[d would go] viral":
I called customer service and asked how to return the unopened coat for a refund. I spoke with a sweet young man named Patrick, and he let me know he would refund my money immediately. I asked again how to send it back, and he said, "Please don't send it back. If you know someone who needs a winter coat or if you would like to donate it to a charity, that would make us very happy."
I just don't know other companies that do this, do you? I thought Zulily was pretty incredible before, but after today, I'm a customer for LIFE. The world needs more LOVE like that. Honest business. Honest ethics. How refreshing!
It took more than a week, but Kinkel got her wish. On 12 January 2016, several news outlets covered her popular Facebook post, and the Huffington Post published a 13 January 2016 article about it (but had not confirmed the report with Zulily):
In the comments, other netizens have shared their own feel-good experiences with Zulily and other brands.
“I had a smiliar [sic] experience with shoes and [the e-retailer] Zappos,” wrote Helen Hutton. “I tried to return some shoes and they told me to just pass them along to a family in need.”
Zulily has yet to respond to The Huffington Post’s requests for comment.
A commenter replied to that article and reported a similar experience with another retailer, Wayfair:
I had the same thing happen with Wayfair. I ordered some chairs and I thought they sent me the wrong color. They sent new chairs and I asked how to send the old ones back. They said if I didn't hear from them in a week to go ahead and give them away or donate them. I am a customer for life now! Great customer service!
Another commenter was skeptical that if the report were true, it was due to purely altruistic motives on the retailer's part:
A lot of businesses have a threshold and if the price is below that it doesn't make sense to pay to get it back. They can take it off their taxes as a charitable deduction. Not that it isn't a nice thing to do but there is a reason.
A different commenter noted that Zulily's operating structure, which involves group purchases of specific items shipped from a host of independent retailers, doesn't allow for easily processed returns. Wayfair, another retailer mentioned by commenters, functions in a similar manner.
We work with thousands of brands to offer fabulous items at a great value. Our partners hold inventory for us until our customers order. Working this way helps keep prices low — we pass the value to you.
So it is indeed possible that in addition to kind gestures, retailers operating on a dropshipping model are either unable to efficiently process many returns or find it less costly to write off most unwanted items rather than trying to send them back to their original vendors. Additionally, broadcasting such a policy could lead to abuse or a sudden spike in claims of product dissatisfaction, possibly accounting for Zulily's relative silence on the matter outside vague Facebook responses such as "thanks for sharing."
We attempted to contact Zulily to verify the report and their return policy, but we were unable to reach anyone at the company by telephone or e-mail. Kinkel's account of the incident was the only we found, and Zulily's web site FAQ page didn't clearly state whether returns were accepted or simply handled in the manner described:
We want you to love everything you order on zulily. If you’re not delighted with your order, please contact our Customer Service team at firstname.lastname@example.org or (877) 779-5615 so we can make it right. Please note, we cannot facilitate exchanges, nor can we accept returns on intimate apparel, shapewear, swimsuits or rashguards, or any personalized items.