Need a super-absorbent towel? Luxury sheets made of exotic-sounding cotton? When consumers feel like pampering themselves with home goods, they head to a Bed Bath & Beyond location. The retail chain with 1024 stores across the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico was founded in 1971 with a focus on kitchen and bath amenities. Today, it’s probably best known as the store with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of 20-percent-off coupons that blanket mailboxes and newspapers across the country.
To get a better idea of what goes on between those stacks of infamously fake towels, Mental Floss reached out to three former employees of the chain. Here’s what they had to say about job perks, occupational hazards, and the grim consequences of accepting returns on used bedding.
1. Bed Bath & Beyond employees might give you the discount without the coupon.
Many of the customers roaming a typical Bed Bath & Beyond location can be seen clutching the oversized 20-percent-off coupons sent to homes and email inboxes, which are good on most every single-item purchase. But sometimes, they might find themselves in the store without one of these valuable pieces of paper. According to Eric, who worked at a Bed Bath & Beyond in Ohio for four years, cashiers will typically take care of them anyway.
“Generally speaking, we were instructed to not give out the coupon because then everyone would just get a discount and it would defeat the purpose,” he says. “However, if a customer forgot, and went out of their way to be polite throughout the transaction, I would take care of them, but usually only if there wasn’t a line built up and no one could see. If I gave it to one, everyone else would want it, too.”
Bear in mind this courtesy applies to nice people: “If customers were rude or acting immature, I would not feel like helping them out.”
2. Bed Bath & Beyond employees see some pretty disgusting returns.
Regina spent five years as a cashier, customer service representative, and supervisor at a Bed Bath & Beyond location while working her way through graduate school. During her tenure there, the store’s infamously lenient return policy permitted refunds for items with few exceptions. As a result, Regina saw things she wishes she hadn’t. “We had a lot of nasty returns from sheets with possible bed bugs to used dishes with food on them [and] used toilet bowl cleaners," she says. "You name it.”
3. Bed Bath & Beyond employees get to try products for a discount.
Ever notice Bed Bath employees actually have answers about an item you’re interested in? Turns out the company tries to make it easy for them to know their stuff. “They offer an incentive program, which was one of my favorite parts,” Annie, who worked at a Bed Bath & Beyond in the northwest region for eight years, says. “Employees got a list from corporate once a month with items at a really good discount, so they could try the item without spending full price and be able to give customers better feedback from their personal experience.”
4. Bed Bath & Beyond employees can't tell you no.
Try asking a Bed Bath & Beyond employee a question that could elicit a negative response. Chances are you won’t hear them use the word no. That’s because company policy encourages employees to avoid sounding negative or unhelpful. “Employees can't say no,” Regina says. “There has to be a solution to offer or an effort to look it up before saying no to a customer.”
5. Bed Bath & Beyond employees wish you'd stop wandering into the back rooms ...
While Bed Bath & Beyond prides itself on one-on-one customer service, its reputation for being accessible to shoppers can sometimes come back to bite them. Annie says that people often went everywhere, even off-limits areas, in search of assistance. “It was more common than you would expect to have customers push through our doors marked ‘Employees Only’ and search the stockroom looking for an employee,” she says. “If I could say anything to customers, it would be to please do not do that."
6. ... And climbing the displays ...
Bed Bath’s store layout maximizes its real estate footprint by stocking and stacking items a dozen or more feet in the air. Part inventory and part decoration, these shelves clearly aren’t meant to be areas for self-service, but Annie still watched as patrons treated the fixtures like a jungle gym. “People were typically pretty good at asking for help if they needed it, but I did catch a handful of people not only climbing shelves but unstrapping our ladders and using them themselves even though there were always signs and stickers prohibiting them from doing so.” Annie would also spot parents letting small children climb on ladders. Needless to say, this is never recommended behavior.
7. ... And stealing small parts.
Because Bed Bath & Beyond uses actual small appliances as display models and not mock-up fakes like some stores, customers will sometimes swipe a little part they need from the shelf. That might be why you notice that Keurig coffeemaker missing its tray. “Occasionally, people would steal pieces from our kitchen electronic displays since we didn’t sell parts individually and our displays were typically actual working models,” Annie says.
8. Don't bother trying to scam Bed Bath & Beyond employees with your refund.
Bed Bath & Beyond's generous return policy has sometimes allowed consumers to profit. “People started to take so much advantage of using coupons and then returning an item without a receipt for full price that the company finally had to implement a policy where any non-receipted return had 20 percent automatically deducted from it,” Annie says.
9. Towels are the bane of their existence.
Towels. They’re everywhere at Bed Bath, and although the inventory on the upper shelves is usually just one towel made to look like several while tucked around foam backing, consumers don’t treat the remaining stacks with a whole lot of courtesy. “The worst [part] was probably the towels,” Annie says. “People would unfold them, drop them off in the wrong spot when they found a better one, or mess with our display towels, which were a pain to do. For a while during the holidays, we actually had someone just for the towel department to try and upkeep it.”
Eric describes his dealings with towels as a “nightmare” due to having to re-fold them every night. “People threw them everywhere.”
10. There can be blood.
While not quite as grisly as an emergency room, employees at Bed Bath might still occasionally see something gruesome. “I cleaned up plenty of blood from people stabbing themselves trying to rip security tags off goods in the bathroom so they can steal them,” Eric says.
11. Bed Bath & Beyond employees are not fooled by your counterfeit coupons.
Those pervasive 20-percent-off coupons seem to be everywhere, but sometimes people get so desperate for their discount fix that they’ll conjure up one of their own. “We had fakes all the time,” Annie says. “A lot of people thought they could go online to Google Images and print off a copy of a random coupon. They don't work and we would never accept them.” These days, coupons have unique barcodes and can’t be used more than once. (In case you were wondering, redeemed coupons get ripped up and tossed in the trash.)
12. The “Beyond” isn't in the store.
Employees frequently get asked where the “Beyond” of Bed Bath & Beyond is. “There is no ‘Beyond’ section,” Regina says. “The back room is just overstock.” The “Beyond” refers to an assortment of goods that are available via special order and not stocked in stores, like made-to-order furniture and personalized gifts.
A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.