It’s often said that the shortest story in the world is: “For sale, one pair of baby shoes, never worn.”
As well as being the most succinct, it’s also one of the most heartbreaking stories imaginable – because there can be something unbearably sad about items that are bought and never used.
Now the spirit of those unworn shoes has been captured, somewhat unexpectedly, in a thread on Reddit, where shop workers are sharing the saddest refunds they’ve ever had to deal with.
On Sunday, Reddit user Ben_Skiller asked: “Redditors who work in retail, what’s the saddest thing someone ever returned?”
His question prompted a flood of sales assistants and shop managers to share their refund stories, encompassing everything from lost loved ones to mental health struggles and domestic violence.
“Someone returned a lot of baby clothes to us one day,” said shop worker imajustgooglethat. “Her sister had given birth to still birth twins. It was so sad.”
Proving that you never know what someone else might be dealing with, department store worker lolabythebay said that she once sold “a ton of assorted housewares” to two middle-aged women who seemed to be “having the time of their life [sic]”.
But a week later, one of the women came back to return the items. When lolabythebay asked why she needed a refund, the woman “embarrassedly” explained that she had bipolar disorder, and that “impulsive purchases were a problem in her manic states”.
Rejected engagement rings were a common motif in the Reddit thread, with several jewellery store workers sharing their stories of men returning unwanted proposal gifts.
But happygolily8 recalled a more distressing incident than a broken engagement, when a woman with “a tan line where her engagement ring was, a black eye, and her neck in a brace” came into the shop where she worked to return a set of ‘Mr & Mrs’ pillows.
“It turns out the fiancé was abusive, but he didn’t show his true colours until about a month before the wedding when he thought he had her trapped,” wrote happygolily8. “Luckily she got out alive.”
Another Reddit user, fryingsquirrels, remembered a customer who came into their shop asking for his order to be cancelled. “While he was explaining the situation I was also checking his completed purchases for the last month which seems to be comprised of expensive dolls, doll clothes and some doll house furniture,” said fryingsquirrels.
“He ordered and paid for a very expensive but beautiful doll as a gift for his sick daughter. The daughter died the night before.”
But of course, as anyone who’s ever worked in retail knows, there will always be some customers whose reason for wanting a refund is, shall we say, a little less than valid.
“I work at a grocery store where someone returned a box of crackers,” wrote NCPsArePeopleToo. “She said that she doesn’t actually eat the crackers, she just licks the flavouring off of them. This particular box did not have enough seasoning for her. So she licked the crackers and then brought them back.”