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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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I know someone who bought a large-screen TV at Costco and returned it two years later to buy a bigger-screen TV and then returned that one a year later for a bigger, flatter one. Each time he only had to pay one or two hundred dollars over the return price.

And it was all perfectly fine by Costco. I questioned him repeatedly about it and it is actually within Costco's return policy. I never took advantage of this glaring loophole because it seemed wrong and I knew that its abuse would lead ineluctably to a reevaluation. "No, no," I was assured by everyone I talked to about it, "Costco charges a membership and they make up the difference somehow."

I knew that it was too good to be true. The policy is completely ludicrous in its generosity. While Costco endeared itself to patrons who used the policy to its fullest, it simply was economically unfeasible to keep it up. At some point, someone in Costco was going to put a stop to it and my biggest fear was that they'd throw the baby out with the bath water: that they'd adopt Target or Best Buy's draconian return policies in a penduluum move.

Looks like the party's over. Happily, though, my fears of reprisal were unfounded. And the driving force was the Street. Makes sense—shareholders can't stand unnecessary generosity on the part of their companies.