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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 4, 2010

'Buyer's remorse' after tsunami

 •  5 warning sirens balk again, but 3 are returned to service


By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Overheard at the Kapolei Safeway supermarket Monday:

Customer to cashier: "You must have been really busy here on Saturday with all the people stocking up on bottled water, batteries and rice."

Cashier: "Yeah, it was really busy. And it was really busy on Sunday when people started bringing the stuff back."

While Hawai'i is famous for wiping store shelves clean of toilet paper and other provisions before a predicted storm, less known is that if the threat passes without wreaking havoc such as Saturday's tsunami warning and evacuation that had folks heading for the hills store operators can expect to restock the shelves in part with bulk goods bought in haste before the all-clear signal.

"If they've got the receipt for it, yeah, we take it back," said Jim Finke, second assistant manager at Safeway in Kapolei. "It happens every time there's a hurricane warning or storm scare, some people will return. If somebody buys 10 cases of water, there's a chance they may come back.

"It's part of doing business."

Kapolei Safeway shopper Rich Foust had a different way of describing it.

"It's buyer's remorse," said Foust, who once worked as a Safeway meat cutter and said he's witnessed parades of customers bringing back unopened bulk items following a false alarm. "They make it too easy for people today. You don't even need a receipt to get store credit.

"Instead of us thinking about our neighbors, as we've been instructed, we think about ourselves. And we better get to the store before somebody else gets that last roll of toilet paper. And, if we don't use it, we'll just bring it back."

From Kāne'ohe to Nānākuli and beyond, there were reports of shoppers lugging 10 or more cases of bottled water back to the store after the tsunami scare. Or, in some extreme cases, folks were seen hauling in gas generators purchased the day before.

Scott Ankrom, assistant manager of Costco in Kapolei, said he wasn't at the store over the weekend. But had someone brought back a generator, they would have been given their money back.

"Costco stands behind their stuff, and anytime anybody is unsatisfied or just wants to return it, we take it back," Ankrom said.

Ankrom recalls the Y2K scare of New Year's 2000, when some residents feared clocks would freeze, lights would go dim and reality would become science fiction's "The Day The Earth Stood Still."

"There was a group of people who went out and stocked up on canned goods like crazy," he said of the fuss 10 years ago. "And then they returned them when they realized it wasn't going to happen."

Still, policy is policy, Ankrom said. Stuff comes back. He accepts it.

There are signs, though, that some merchants have decided to buck the trend. Times Supermarket in Liliha on Sunday posted a no-returns sign at its entrance.

"Right there, printed on regular white paper, it says, 'No refunds on batteries, bottled water,' and a whole list of other stuff. It was just all the stuff people were buying out during the tsunami warning," resident Rodney Lee said.

Apparently, the sign worked. Lee said he didn't see anybody stumbling through the door with 10 cases of bottled water.