April 9 2010|03.40 PM UTC

Jennifer Jolly

10 Surprising Things You Can Try Before You Buy

Category: Personal FinanceTags: , , ,

This is a guest post by Jennifer Jolly from the Good Idea Gal, who’s all about finding, testing and sharing just plain good advice. From simple ways to save money, get happy and stay healthy, Jennifer will help you discover one thing you can do right now to make your life better.

Last week, Sprint announced a major industry first for savvy shoppers like me: try any of its phones or services for 30-days, if you’re not happy, bring it back for a FULL refund. No restocking fees, no taxes, you don’t even have to pay for the calls you made! It sounds too good to be true, for sure, especially coming from an industry with a trust index rating just slightly better than Tiger and Toyota right about now.

But this trust building tactic is popping up in the most surprising of places these days as recession-weary companies work to jumpstart new business and regain skeptical customers. GM did it for two months in late 2009 and sold some 220-thousand cars with just 200 or so (less than one percent) returned. It doesn’t stop there.

Here are ten surprising things I found that you can “try before you buy”:

1. A New House:

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Many realtors let perspective homebuyers actually sleep in a house overnight before they decide whether to buy it. One realtor I spoke with says this is especially useful in cases where there is a concern about noise from nearby train tracks, barking dogs or freeways that causes a buyer to sit on the fence. I actually know three couples who did this. Two decided to buy and one family passed because… there was a team of sled dogs nearby. (Yes, once again, a shout-out to my home state of Alaska.)

2. Designer Clothing:

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Designer Norma Kamali lets people talk or even Skype with personal shoppers to pick out the best clothing for their body type, style, etc. (I can’t wait to take one of their poor shoppers though a little cyber-walk of my own closet – those poor folks will be earning their money that day!) Then, they FedEx you whatever you want to try, including swimwear (they take a credit card number, but don’t charge you) so that you can try it at home – even wear it around a little to make sure it’s what you want. They give you 48-hours to decide whether you want to actually buy that new dress, sparkly top or business suit – or send it back. The company says this is a way to curb emotional buying and spontaneous spending and allows people to choose clothes in the comfort of their own home. They even include shoes and accessories.

3. Smartphones:

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As mentioned above Sprint ‘s brand new “Free Guarantee” gives anyone opening a new line of service the chance to try Sprint for 30 days. If you’re not completely satisfied, you can get reimbursed for the device purchase and activation fee, get the early termination fee waived, get a full refund for any monthly recurring charges incurred and get all associated taxes and fees waived. In addition, Sprint will waive the restocking fee for new customer exchanges as part of this policy.

I asked my friend, Peter Pham of BillShrink.com what he thinks of this and he said it’s great to see a company putting it’s money where it’s mouth is, “This removes a big hurdle for people who are scared to try something new, even in the face of the facts that eight out of ten people are paying too much for their cell phone service. It’s a bold move and absolutely headed in the right direction.”

Thanks Peter, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

4. Shoes:

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Online shoe store Zappos.com has a 365 day return policy, and even pays for shipping in the US! All they ask is that you send the items back to them in the original packaging, and make sure that the merchandise is in the same condition. (Ie., no stains, dirt, grime, gum, signs of a years worth of wear!) They give you a full refund and did I mention, return shipping is absolutely FREE?! Plus, with a Zappos VIP membership, you can get guaranteed free overnight shipping.

5. Laptop: (and all electronics – heck EVERYTHING – at Costco)

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Costco has a very generous no questions asked 90-day return policy on just about everything, including high-end electronics like laptops. You just have to be sure to keep the packaging and the receipt. Actor Jim Dailakis sent this raving example in, “in the past, I went through hell trying to buy a laptop. It’s an integral part of my life and I cannot live without one based on what I do… writing, comedy, business — everything. 
Being a Costco member enabled me to be able to try a laptop for three months and if I was happy I’d buy it, if not, I was able to return it. I did this with three cheap laptops deals. Eventually, I bought one and it’s the one I’m using now. 
What I like about this method is that I have absolutely no regrets and I know exactly what I’m buying. To use it in the store briefly is just not enough. At first, I was surprised that they had this policy. Perhaps some people have taken advantage of it, and it’s gone from six months to three months, but that’s still plenty of time to help you decide. 
To this day I’m still happy.”

6. Artwork:

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TheArtGallerist.com, a national and internationally reaching fine art website, has a 100% money back guarantee on paintings, photographs and sculptures. They do this because a lot of people fork over fistfuls of cash for artwork that just doesn’t work when they get it home. The company is the first to point out that sometimes, when you order art, you get it home and the colors are all wrong. Or, it’s too big and has too many colorful flowers on it and your husband hates it (okay, so that strikes a personal nerve here… I loved that gigantic field of flowers painting).

7. Lipstick/Cosmetics :

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The Beauty Guarantee at CVS Pharmacy lets people buy anything in cosmetics, skincare and hair-care products and bring them back for a full refund, even if you’ve used it. This is brilliant when it comes to lipstick, foundations, and even anti-frizz shampoo. They don’t care if it’s been opened and used – just bring the receipt. Nordstrom does the same thing. To go one step further, a lot of cosmetics counters in stores have tester tubes or other samples. I always ask for them when I consider dropping $50-$100 on the latest anti-wrinkle cream. If they don’t have any prepackaged, they usually squeeze a little into a baggie or tube for me! (Nordstrom always does this.) I just let them know that I have sensitive skin and like to try for a few days before I buy. The funny thing is, I always end up buying something from them and I’m happy with it – so everyone wins.

8. Wedding Ring:

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For the super picky, skeptical or person prone to cold feet, you can get any wedding ring, or any jewelry for that matter, at Costco (again with the Costco…) and return it “within a reasonable amount of time.” I actually know three different people, two men and a woman who did this for various reasons, including a broken engagement, a “hate it” style issue and a divorcee who put the money she got back into a college fund for her son. I took back a $300 watch that I bought in 2006 a few months ago… I had the box and the receipt and they gave me a full refund.

9. Mattress:

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Tempur-Pedic lets you buy a new mattress from their website or factory stores and “sleep on it” in your own home for three months. Then you can return it for full value if you don’t like it. You pay shipping and handling, which is usually about $175. They do all the heavy lifting for you. While this might be a little high on the “ew” factor for some people, mattresses are expensive and getting stuck for life with something that gives you a stiff neck totally stinks.


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Speaking of things that totally stink (buh-dum-dum), you can actually try out cloth diapers before you commit to using ‘em on little Johnny’s bum. Here’s what Emily Carpenter of WhizBang Web Solutions sent in; “I’m due in July with our first baby, and have been considering using cloth diapers because of lower cost, health benefits to baby, and they are friendlier to the environment. Luvaboos.com allows parents to try cloth diapers for a $15 rental fee (plus the cost of the diapers) before you decide if cloth diapers are right for you. If it doesn’t work out, you receive a full store credit for the price of the diapers to use toward other baby items. If you love it, then you get a store credit for the $15 “rental fee.” 
I’m planning to take advantage of this offer so that there is little to no risk in trying a variety of cloth diapers before deciding on what works best for my baby.” I plan to follow up with Emily to see how what she decides!

A Few Runners Up That Didn’t Make My Top Ten But Are Still Worth A Mention:

11. Textbooks:

Textbooks can be a significant household expense – for mom/dad or students footing the bill for their own education. Follett Higher Education Group kicked off a program this January called “Try Now, Buy Later.” The program is aimed at potential buyers of digital textbooks sold through its Cafe Scribe website. By visiting www.cafescribe.com, students and professors can download and use, for seven days, more than 5,000 titles for free. Students, who then decide to go the e-textbook route after the trial period, can buy it a 30 to 50 percent savings over the cost of a traditional textbook. How great is this for speed-readers or people with a photographic memory?!

12.Home Security System:

This might seem weird, but home security systems are a multi million dollar a year industry and most people have no idea they are simply paying too much. (Many people pay an average of $500 too much per year on their alarm services.) A company called SimpliSafe offers a 60-day no-questions-asked money-back guarantee, so that you try it out and return if you don’t like it. They even pay to ship the system back to them!

13. Entire Diet Cleanse – Even If You’ve Used It All!

How about “trying a 30 day nutritional cleanse” for the ENTIRE 30 days, eat it all and if you don’t like it, all you lose is your shipping? Seriously, at 
www.SolutionsForMyfamily.com , you can test drive a nutritional plan for 30 days with no strings attached. I have not tried this yet and don’t know anyone else who has, so I can’t vouch for it myself. But it’s an interesting idea… especially with summer swimsuit season fast approaching!

14. Lawn Mowers, Snow Blowers and even Tractors:

The company, John Deere, let me know that they have are all kinds of opportunities to “ride and drive” at the dealerships (and in some cases at home) prior to purchasing. In fact, John Deere’s second annual Green Tag event will take place next month, bringing hundreds of current and potential customers to the dealerships for test opportunities and the “John Deere experience.” If you’re not happy with it, you can bring it back and get a full refund – no questions asked. Dad, this one’s for you.

One more that I just can’t NOT mention:

15. Casket:

This doesn’t make the list because it goes back to Costco again, but I cracked myself up when I asked their customer service department about this one. Yes, it’s true; you can order a $1500 casket and RETURN IT for a full refund. Same goes for an urn. Insert your own punch lines here.

Do you know any other products, aside from all those infomercial ones, you can try before you buy? Let me know!

Full Disclosure: I have done consulting work with Sprint and LOVE them, so I tend to be biased here. As always, use your own judgment and discretion when it comes to spending your hard earned money!

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