When I recently went on a road trip with my family, a friend suggested that I “buy” a portable DVD player for the kids to watch during the long trip. He suggested that I buy it from a store with a 60-day no-questions-asked return policy, and then simply return it after the trip. I told him that I didn’t think it was ethical, and I didn’t do it. However, this got me thinking: From the perspective of Jewish law, what are the guidelines for returning items that I purchased?


Let start with the basics.

Once a sale is complete and you’ve acquired the item, the sale is final, and in the absence of a specific return policy, neither the seller nor the buyer can nullify the transaction.1

However, if the item is later found to have a defect—even if it’s a few years later—you are permitted to cancel the sale and ask for a refund, on the condition that you didn’t use the item once the defect was discovered. If you did continue to use the item, it is as if you forgave the seller for the flaw, and you are no longer eligible for a refund.2

The above applies even if the merchandise was sold at a reduced price, but the buyer was not made aware of the item’s defects.3

Before returning an object, there are a number of things that one needs to be aware of:

  • Definition of a defect—Unless there was a specific agreement to the contrary, only flaws that are generally considered serious enough in that specific locale to be grounds for returning an object have the power to nullify a transaction. (One example may be the slight fading of color, which in many locales may not be viewed as that serious, while in others it would be grounds for a refund).4
  • Transaction is completely nullified—When a defect is found and the merchandise is returned, neither the seller nor the buyer can force the other to accept a partial refund or discount in which the buyer retains the item and the seller pays the difference for the defected item, in lieu of a full refund. The seller can simply say, “Either return the item for a full refund, or keep the item with no refund.”5
  • Store policy trumps all—As is the case with most monetary issues, if there is an official policy that the purchaser agreed to when buying the item (e.g. there is a sign displayed clearly in the store), we follow that policy.

Having established that unless the item is flawed, neither the buyer nor the seller can simply renege on the sale, the question remains: What if the store has a no-questions-asked return policy. In keeping with that policy, can you buy something with the intention of returning it later?

No-Questions-Asked Return Policy

In general, it is forbidden for one to ask a seller the price of an item if one has absolutely no intention of buying the item.6 Doing so is considered a violation of the prohibition “And you shall not wrong one man his fellow, and you shall fear your G‑d, for I am the L‑rd, your G‑d.”7 By asking the price, you are essentially raising the merchant’s hopes that you are a potential customer, only to dash his hopes when he realizes that you never had any intention to buy anything.

This would also apply if you “buy” something from a store when you have no intention of keeping it and every intention of returning it.

Another consideration is that when you return an object to the store, even if it is in perfect condition, the store has to pay to restock it, and it is often not possible to sell it as a brand new item. Thus, the store incurs a loss for you having used the item, and your using the item can be considered a form of damage.8

In addition to the above concerns, since you just plan on having the item for a short while before you return it—but you have no real intention of actually buying the item—this may be considered as if you are just planning on “borrowing” the item. However, as far as the store is concerned, the intention is to sell you the item, not lend it. This raises the issue of not only deceiving the owner and/or damaging the object, but stealing as well. For the law is that if one “borrows” an object without the knowledge of the owner, even if it does not result in any damages, it is considered as if he stole the object.9

Nevertheless, despite the above concerns, there are stores (usually bigger chain stores) that, based on their own research, have come to the conclusion that it pays for them to let you “buy” an item even if your intention is to return it in a few days. They reason that in the end, there are many who will either change their minds and decide to keep the item, or who will forget to return it. Therefore, some stores have a policy that allows you to try and outsmart them by buying an item with the intention of returning it, knowing full well that in the end, many times it is the buyer who is ultimately outsmarted when he fails to return the item.

In conclusion, unless you know for sure that the store has a specific policy that permits the practice of buying something even when the buyer’s intention is to return it, it is forbidden to buy an item with the intention of using it a bit and then returning it.