There was a lot of speculation around what Apple's no-questions-asked return policy would mean for developers and other content creators after it was put into place in the EU last month, and now we finally have an answer: it probably won't mean all that much, as Apple won't let customers abuse it. It appears that if Apple detects too many refunds being made within a short period of time, it'll cut off the ability for an account to return digital purchases. Presumably, refunds may still be made at Apple's discretion — as they are elsewhere in the world — but the ability to get a refund anytime you want won't be possible.
If abuse is detected, you'll get cut off
Apple implemented the policy to bring its digital stores, including the iTunes, iBook, and App Stores, in line with a recent EU directive protecting online purchases. Apple has the option to remove the no-questions-asked policy that the directive requires: all it has to do is present buyers with a message that, upon downloading their purchase, they will no longer be able to make a refund. But instead of presenting that message to everyone, Apple is keeping the relaxed policy and will only present a message like this if it detects abuse. iDownloadBlog brought this to attention yesterday, pointing out that Apple presents a pop-up message to potential abusers that bars automatic refunds. It's not clear exactly what a customer needs to do to cross the line, however.
This appears to be a sensible policy — letting most customers make convenient returns while still protecting content makers. After the policy was first implemented, there was concern that customers would take advantage of it as a way to "trial" entire games, movies, and other downloads without paying for them. The return policy remains in place for two weeks, so it is possible to spend quite a bit of time with a download before having it refunded. This is, of course, something that isn't impossible with physical purchases either, but it's a new issue for digital stores to consider. EU rules are fairly protective of consumers, but Apple seems to have found a nice balance to protect sellers, too.