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Point of no returns

    Shelves were emptied of water Tuesday at the KTA Pua­inako store in Hilo. Businesses have varying return policies on items bought for storm preparation.

After the storms, retailers are bracing for a rush of another kind: returns.

News that Tropical Storm Iselle and Hurricane Julio were taking aim at the Hawaiian Islands triggered a shopping frenzy this week as residents stocked up on essentials such as bottled water, Spam and toilet paper.

Many also bought higher-ticket items, including generators and so-called portable power packs to charge cellphones, computers and other electronics.

At Home Depot in Iwilei, assistant manager Mae Shimabukuro is expecting to "get tons of stuff back," a normal occurrence following big storms, she said.

The home improvement retailer typically sees 35 percent of returns following a emergency, compared with 10 to 15 percent on a typical day, she estimated.

Returns include empty gas cans, lanterns, flashlights and high-priced generators that "weren’t needed," she said.

"We’re pumping so much business right now," Shimabukuro said, adding that the national retailer has a 90-day return policy. "As long as it’s in sellable condition or defective, then we’ll take it back. If it’s to where it’s dirty … we end up taking a hit if anything."

Over at Battery Bill’s, owner Bill Ogawa has a "liberal return policy" and is expecting at least 5 percent of sales to be refunded.

"I already had a number of big-ticket item returns," he said. "You just know that some of them are going to come back; you kind of just have to expect it."

He accepts almost all returns without penalty but "may change my policy depending on what happens over the next couple days."

"I can get burned the first time, but it’s not going to happen again," Ogawa said. "I just asked myself, ‘Can I live with that?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can live with that.’ We have to just factor in losses."

This is the first time consumers flocked to his store following news of the storms.

"It was like a frenzy, shark feeding; it was like Christmas," he said. "We sold five times more than a typical day on Tuesday and Wednesday."

On the other hand, retailers such as Aloha Power Equipment, which sells Honda generators, is anticipating few returns, said owner Mike Ward.

"There’s a ($50) restocking charge that kind of prevents a lot of people from taking advantage, hoarding and stocking, and bringing them back because it’s going to cost them," he said.

The shop ran out of generators after selling its stock of 100 totaling $100,000 earlier this week. The retailer waives the restocking fee if items are unused and returned within two weeks.

Big-box giant Costco takes back everything but also doesn’t expect an out-of-the-ordinary number of returns, according to assistant general manager Scott Ankrom.

"You might get the occasional person who bought 10 packages of batteries return half of them after they’ve loaded all their flashlights,"he said. "As far as food, toilet paper, paper towels, water, those are everyday staples people are able to use. They just don’t have to buy for a while."

In addition, grocery stores such as Foodland also see some returns after the threat of a national disaster, said spokeswoman Sheryl Toda.

"While we encourage customers to use their best judgment in making sure they are well stocked during hurricane season, Foodland will accept returns on products that are unopened, undamaged and accompanied by original receipts," she said.

Walgreens also offers returns within 30 days of purchase for exchange or refund; however, spokesman Phil Caruso said the drugstore will "reserve the right to limit or refuse a refund."

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