Inside a Lawyer’s Head: An Anniversary Gift for my Wife and the Sales Receipt

“We are happy to offer an exchange or merchandise credit within 30 days of your purchase for items in their original condition and packaging with an original receipt or gift receipt. We cannot accept damaged, altered or ‘Final Sale’ items for return or exchange.”

A couple weeks ago for our wedding anniversary, against my wife and me typically getting one another token gifts, I purchased a larger-ticket item from a high-end boutique store. At the time of my purchase I told the store clerk there was a good possibility my wife will ask me to return the item, particularly if it does not spark a strong preference for her. To make the story short, three days later I returned the item. Not exactly my wife’s style. We men are not the greatest personal shoppers.

The bottom of the sales receipt includes the blurb at the top of this blog. And, BTW, this was not a “Final Sale” item. My impression at the time of my purchase was the sales receipt includes no express denial of a refund and gave me arguably room to press for a refund, if necessary.

Why this blog post? Two points.

When I went back to the store for the return, the store manager (not the sales person I dealt with earlier) referred me to the bottom of the sales receipt. She nicely said “No refunds. Store credits only.”

Well, I in a mild-manner politely told the manager I am a lawyer and that the sales receipt provision, in my opinion, is insufficient to deny a refund and that it would never stand if challenged. She, again very nicely, gave me a refund.

Here is my first point for this blog post. I remind readers that the printed policy at the bottom of a sales receipt, especially when signed by the customer, is legally binding. I already knew this. And, I already knew that if a sales person gives you verbal assurances contrary to the sales receipt provision, such as “Sure you can return the item if your wife does not like it”, the sales receipt will trump these verbal promises. There is a Georgia court opinion on point, Google: McCrimmon v. Tandy Corp., 414 S.E.2d 15, 202 Ga.App. 233 (Ga. App., 1991).

The second point is that I had already observed when I purchased this gift that the sales receipt arguably has some defects. One, it states the store will “offer” within 30 days an exchange or merchandise credit for returns. Under contract law, an offer is an offer. It requires an acceptance. I have, therefore, the option of rejecting this “offer” option.

And, more interesting (at least to me), this sales receipt reminds me of my favorite law school legal doctrine, often stated in Latin: Expressio unius est exclusio alterius, which reads generally “The express mention of one thing implies the exclusion of another.” It arguably applies as follows.

The sales receipt expressly and clearly states there is no return for damaged, altered or ‘Final Sale’ items.   Under this expressio unius argument there is an implication that all other items — if not damaged, altered, or marked “Final Sale” — are returnable with no prohibition otherwise on the sales receipt. The term “Final Sale” also implies other sales not marked Final Sale can be returned.

Regardless of the possible legal arguments, the take-away point is to plan your anniversary gifts carefully. No one likes returns. I also commend the store manager who dealt with me in a patient, courteous manner. Not everyone likes lawyers.

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