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Return Policies: Big Surprises in the Little Print

‘Tis the season to return some of those unwanted holiday presents, and for those who had not previously checked the seller’s return policy, surprises await.

Here are some of the most strict (and occasionally obnoxious) policies out there:

From SmartBargains.com:

Late Returns
We can accept returned merchandise for up to 30 days from the date you originally received it. Unfortunately, items received after the 30-day return period cannot be accepted for a refund, and your package will be returned to you. If we receive the same late return package a second time, we will keep your merchandise and no credit will be issued.

JC Penney does not like women to “borrow” a fancy dress for a weekend wedding or other special occasion, and then return it the following Monday. So they put a  return tag on each of these dresses, presumably in a very conspicuous spot, and it cannot be removed without jeopardizing your return:

Special Occasion Dresses must be returned in their original condition with the “return tag” in place.

At Amazon.com, if you return items that qualified for free shipping, the value of the shipping will be deducted from your refund. [It is unclear whether Amazon really makes this deduction in practice.]

If you return any items from an order that received FREE Super Saver Shipping, the original shipping savings associated with the returned item(s) will be deducted from the refund amount unless the return was due to our error.

At Best Buy, if you bought a computer on Black Friday as a Christmas present, your return rights evaporated more than two weeks ago:

Holiday Return and Exchange Policy
Gift purchases made November 1 through December 24, 2006, qualify for the extended return and exchange policy.

  • Desktop and notebook computers do not qualify for the extended return policy.


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23 thoughts on “Return Policies: Big Surprises in the Little Print”

  1. Amazing the small print.
    One year when attempting to return a small item to a big box store the customer service desk area was clearly
    labelled with signs asking for returns not to be returned during the peak christmas /boxing day period.
    OK. When I attempted to return the new item after that time period I was informed by a young clone that the
    time period had elapsed ( the whole time duration of return was during that period) and no return was hence
    possible. Question – What is the product that these big box stores sell ? Electonics ? Furniture ? Office
    Supplies ? The correct answer is “Extended Warranties of Dubious Value !”

  2. I’m with the stores on the “special occasion dresses” policy. “Borrowing” clothing this way is not ethical.

  3. If you aren’t going to keep the item: DONT BUY IT! There are people out there who dont always buy on compulsion, and those who do are just retarded. I know there are times when you HAVE to return an item because it is defective, but companies are always cooperative. So I guess, Retarded Buyers Beware.

  4. Just a word of warning for wherever your buy something – when you buy it, it is yours. The merchant is under no obligation whatsoever to buy it back from you just because you decided you didn’t really want it.

    Return policies are really just a form of (or attempts at) good customer service offered to the consumer. Unfortunately, because certain “consumers” have abused and taken great advantage of some of these most generous return policies, merchants have had to continually restrict these policies to protect themselves and their bottom lines (let’s not forget that the ARE in business to make a profit). Bottom line – I don’t blame the merchants for the current “stricter” return policies, I blame the “consumers” who have abused and taken advantage of them over the years.

  5. I’ve always been amazed that so many companies have such liberal return policies.
    Returns should be for unopened/unused items, but lots of companies let you open/use the items and take it back without question. (Of course, many don’t offer refunds and only store credit.)

    For certain items, you really need to try it to decide whether it works for you (like computers and certain clothes where the sizes vary) but for lots of things you know what you get without opening the box, so if you open it you should not be able to return it without a “penalty” (like some of these “restocking” fees I’ve seen.)

    But Obviously many companies are willing to accept the cost of returns if they can sell a lot more items that are not returned.

    For consumers, I suggest only buying things for yourself that you really want to keep (or if it needs “trying” then make sure the return policy allows it and either sample-it-and-return-it or use-it-and-keep-it.)

    If you’re giving things as gifts, make sure you know the company’s return policy to ensure that items can be returned, or buy it in a place where the recipient feels comfortable with an exchange rather than a refund. (I would suggest gift certificates/gift cards, but we discussed those nightmares earlier this month.)

  6. This reminds me of an incident that occured a number of years ago when I was working at a drug store:

    A woman had purchased a box of store brand tissues for $0.69 and then wanted to take it back because it
    didn’t seem to work as well as the $1.39 name brand product. She ignored the line of 13 people and walked
    straight up to the register. When I told her she would have to get in line she was incensed!

    So not only was she returning a 69 cent item for no good reason, she expected to be able to skip the line
    in order to do so!

  7. I had a bad experience at the Bombay company.

    The store was only offering store credit for refunds, even though the box was unopenned. The policy is one thing (although I thought that they should have relented since I had a gift receipt and complained), but the clerk made the comment that if I wanted cash “she should have given you cash”> I did not appreciate the clerk insulting my wife for of all things shopping at his store.

  8. Please explain to me why I am unable to return a new, unused item with a receipt to Best Buy after 30 days? Keep in mind this item is still being sold and is not a seasonal item! It is because of this that I no longer shop at Best Buy. Also, why should I be charged a 25% re-stocking fee for a camera that I purchased less than 7 days ago that was never opened. All that had to be done was throw the stupid thing back on the shelf.

    I wonder if the “stores are in business to make a profit, consumers are retards” people are actually the CEOs of these “retarded” companies.

  9. Why did you buy those items in the first place if all you were going to do was return them?

    Why should Best Buy purchase that camera back from you for the same price you paid them? You’ve taken up their employees time and, worse yet, kept those employees from serving other customers who are actually going to keep the goods they purchased. I think the “re-stocking” fee is just adequate compensation for the hassel you have created for them. Plus, I don’t want to be the one to pay those extra incurred costs, in the form of higher retail prices, just becuase you’ve experienced buyer’s remorse and feel you have to return something the day after you bought it.

  10. ***Replace “Retarded” with “Stupid.” Retardation is a medical condition.
    Stupidity is an attitude.

    It seems here most people are siding with the companies.

    A person is smart, but people are stupid.

  11. To Shawn: The camera wasn’t bought at Best Buy. Don’t assume. Any decent business , be it retail, home improvement, etc. should do all that they can to make the customer happy. If you aren’t satisfied with an item, than you should be allowed to return it (within reason) or if a service, it should be repeated until done to your satisfaction. I have worked retail, so don’t tell me about having time wasted. Dealing with customers if a part of the job, even if it is a return. What is your problem anyway? And by the way, I didn’t have buyers remorse. I found a better item much cheaper that also came with extra memor. If where I bought the camera wasn’t willing to meet or beat that deal, they deserve to lose the sale and have their “time wasted.” Stop being so judgemental. Do you honestly think that consumers go into stores to purchase things just so they can “waste their time” and return it later. I guess you are the perfect consumer. Or as previously stated, you have a close relationship with these companies.

  12. I don’t understand why certain people think that returning an item is a mortal sin. Why don’t you worry about shoplifting and internal theft by employees if you are so worried about incurring extra costs. That is where the real problem lies. So, instead of complaing about the consumers who have legitimate reasons for returns, I think these people should get a job in loss prevention at these stores. Take some action and stop boo-hooing about innocent consumers.

  13. Renee: If the fact that you didn’t buy the camera at Best Buy was important then maybe you been more specific. You mentioned the camera in the same paragraph immediately following your compaint about Best Buy.

    Which ever store it was doesn’t change the fact that as far as I know Shawn is right. Stores are only obligated to give refunds under certain circumstances. I don’t think “I changed my mind” is one of them.

    Maybe you don’t make a habit of buying items and then returning them but I’m sure a lot of people do. I’ve never had a problem returning anything to Best Buy. I’ve never had a problem with them price matching either. And yes, I do realize the price matching complaint was with another store. So this tends to make me believe that there’s more to the story than what you are telling. Especially since it is two different stores you are complaining about.

    I do agree with one thing you said. You never have to conduct business with either of these stores in the future. I just don’t think they owe you anything now because you changed your mind or found it cheaper elsewhere.

    And no, I don’t work in retail. I have worked with the general public for over thirty years though. The things that some people will try to get away sometimes are unbelievable. So let’s just say I’m a little jaded when I hear about some complaints. Especially when I hear about how the customer is always right or anything along those lines.

  14. Return policies balance on the fine line between customer service and customer abuse.

    Personally, I think that IF an item is returned, it should happen within a reasonable period after the purchase (4-8 weeks) and in unused order, so the store can resell. Whether the item may have been opened should depend on whether the item is a ‘one-time’ use item. Think dresses, and large TV’s in the Superbowl weekend.

    But that said, the company should be reasonable and just give me my money back, no questions asked. I hate it that when you return an (unopened) X-mas DVD because you got 2 of the same from different people, the want your name and address. Restocking fees are also ridiculous.

    Furthermore, I like the idea that some big box stores have adopted the policy that one can only return one item per X time (even though that means they need to take your name and address). This way, honest customers can return items if on second thought it’s not what they wanted, but it keeps out the massive Tv-returns in the week after the Superbowl.

  15. Most people would like to believe it is the companies trying to take advantage of the people. But I know for a fact, working in retail, a majority of the time it is the customers trying to rip the companies off.

  16. Since this is a “consumer” board, let’s look at this from the consumer’s standpoint…
    I walk into Best Buy (or some other technical store) looking for a camera. There are so many options that I’m not sure what to get. The salesperson comes over and sells me one that sounds good when he describes it, so I buy it. When I get home, I realize it’s not what I really wanted because it is missing some of the features that I came to realize that I need.

    Well, you can argue that it’s the consumer’s fault (caveta emptor) but we consumers have (mistakently) come to rely on sales “assistants” to assist us in buying the right product out of so many complex items. Most people don’t have time to become experts in a technical field just so they can buy a consumer product so they look for help. Unfortunately, my experience is that most of these salespeople know less than I do so I feel bad for the average consumer. Is it unfair for this consumer to come back and say that he was “duped” into buying the wrong product?

    Now, consumables are one thing. They should normally not be returned. But complex products require lots of criteria to determine what is right, and that criteria can only be determined through knowledge, which is sometimes unavailable.

    Anyone remember teh Firestone tire recall? If the salesperson convinced you to buy one of these tires, do you think it’s unfair that you should be able to return it for a better product?

    As for restocking fees, these came about from companies having to re-wrap opened items that were being returned. Who wants to buy those? So they want to get some money back to discount those items. However, the policies started to apply to everything. Usually, if you ask to see a supervisor, they are authorized to give you full value back on these items. If not, but that store on your black list and spread the word.

    As for “the customers trying to rip the companies off” I’d say this is a vicious cycle. Consumers feel like they are being taken advantage of (possibly by highpressure sales) so they want to get an advantage; similarly, lots of companies take advantage of this to justify getting more sales and taking advantage of consumers. It works both ways. To some degree, this is why we have consumer laws–to help describe what’s reasonable.

  17. Realistically these days the quality of products is very poor, so many items need to be returned because they fall apart within minutes/days of opening the package.

    I returned an item to CompUSA with the receipt from the purchaser. Because it was bought with a credit card, they would not let me use the receipt for return. The manager came out and explained their policy to me. I asked to see the written policy. They had none to show me. I had to get the original purchaser (gift giver) to come back to the store for me in order to get the money back.

    I’ve never seen a manager try so hard to keep a few bucks in his store, insult the customer, and deter future purchases in my life. I have never returned to CompUSA and never will. They suck.

  18. I believe that we as a nation have let ourselves be taken advantage of by the larger retail stores that sell items a few dollars less.
    I had the unfortunate experience of having to return a calling card that I had bought when taking a vacation.Apparently (and this was through the AT&T customer service number on the card)the card was not activated correctly at the register during check-out.

    I went to customer service to A.get the card activated or B.exchange it for a card that was not defective (if that was the casw) or c. a refund. Because I bought this with a few groceries and the trip was not for another month I did not keep the receipt. (How many people keep grocery receipts for months?)

    You would have thought I was holding them up at gun point the way the treated me. For not having saved the receipt I was called careless and “Not very wise”. They accused me of using all the minutes on the card and then trying to get a refund for minutes I had used. I informed them that I had never been able to use the card and and had to buy another on the trip since I had bought this at home and would just have it taken care of there. I advised them to call AT&T to see how many minutes were left on the card. 250, the exact amount I had purchased.
    Thay all but accused me of theft until I yet again had them call the AT&T customer service number and ask when the first call came to them regarding the ID# of the card I was trying to have activated. It was a week prior according to thier records.
    Seriously I had a manager and a customr service agent acting like I was trying to steal money out of thier pocket. Still after all of this they were arguing that the card would not ring up unless activated.

    Now I was getting angry. Why would I go through this kind of hassle when all I wanted them to do was activate the card correctly. I didn’t want cash, I didn’t even want a store credit, all I wanted them to do was to replace the card with one that could be activated.

    Thier own register was telling them that the card had already been activated at the point of sale.

    Finally after 45 minutes of this arguing and the line behind me going around and out into the hall they agreed to give me a non defective card with the same amount of minutes if I would show them 2 forms of picture ID. Two…not one as thier policy states but two because the whole thing seemed “fishy” to the manager.
    Now I had my driver’s license and a credit card with my photo on it. No, they needed another form or government issued photo ID. By now I was furious and most people and I think this is what they depend on would have given up and simply taken the $14 loss.
    I drive home where lucky me I have another government issued photo ID, get it and drive all the way back to Wal-Mart. Of course I am told to wait in the back of the line. Over an hour later I showed them my two forms of government ID the second being a law inforcement badge.
    My oh my how attitudes changed.
    One thing I noticed was that each and ever customer infront of me was harrassed in some manner while trying to return an item. Almost like it was corporate policy or a bonus given for any item NOT returned.

    For two years I boycotted Wal-Mart and maybe I did pay a little more for my groceries and household items, but it taught me a valuable lesson. You go to a butcher’s shop where the owner is there day in and out you get great customer service and a better quality of meat. You go to a private dairy and you may pay more but your eggs and milk are fresh and not loaded with hormones and dyes. A roadside vegetable stand sells items that were picked that morning and taste delicious. And all the while the employees are so friendly and kind that within weeks they know you on a first name basis. I do all my shopping I can now at little privately owned stores because they actually know the meaning of customer service.
    I believe that we as a nation have taken the one stop shop for everything under the sun conveinience and exchanged the right to be treated like human beings. We are the customers. They should want us to WANT to shop in thier stores. Instead we are treated like lepers for daring to try and be treated fairly.

  19. As a small retailer who offers free shipping on purchases over $79, I understand Amazon’s policy of withholding the cost of shipping when processing a return – breaking even by returning the customer’s funds while getting their saleable merchandise back is one thing, but they shouldn’t be expected to take a loss on the return sale simply because the customer changed their mind. Believe it or not, not all retailers are out to screw the consumer.

  20. I am totally behind the JCPenney policy. I purchased a pair of sweat pants at Marshalls. I took them home – made alterations – THEN noticed there was a stain in the crotch area. These were obviously worn. I had already altered them, so I could not return them. Many people wear then return items. We need to be more careful when purchasing – although I don’t think it’s WRONG to assume that an item you are purchasing should be new and unused.

    As far as consumables – I have gone back to grocery stores to return items that I just bought and are passed their expiration date. This is more about principal. They should not have expired items on their shelves. Again – as consumers, unfortunately, we need to be more observant when buying items.

    I also purchased a small container of nutmeg once. When I got home, I noticed that the cardboard seal under the cap had been broken. Now when I buy things in plastic jars, I ALWAYS open them to make sure they have not been opened or tamperd with.

  21. I buy all my books and DVD’s from Amazon. I can state that they offer free shipping and if you return something and it’s “your” fault they do charge you for returning something. If it’s their fault, a defective item they do not. They’ll issure a credit or offer a new item without a hassle. I bought something from another company that actually had a no return policy on the item. I contacted them because I found that I wasn’t going to be able to use the item. I had bought it in good faith only to find I couldn’t use it. They told me I could return it but would have to pay
    the shipping charges. So, I guess it depends on the store and the circumstances. I must say I don’t shop at Wal-Mart either. I tried to return something that was defective – the operative word being tried. I don’t shop there anymore either. Give me small shops where they know my name every time.

  22. I’ve worked in retail for nealy 10 years, and seen my share of both incompetent employees and scheming customers. As far as I know, all stores are required by law to post their return policies in plain sight in the store. It is the customer’s responsibility to ask about the policy, and the employee’s responsibilty to explain it in full. And I think most retailers do their best to ensure their guests leave happy. Understand, however, that your laziness or inability to make a decision is not my or my store’s fault. Thirty days means thirty days. Gift receipt? Still THIRTY DAYS. Its just a receipt without a price– not a magic wand! (Even if you complain, John.) The agreements my company has with the credit card companies prohibit us from applying a credit to a card not used in the original purchase. If the store did not receive cash for your item, you’re not getting cash back. Are employees sometimes rude? Certainly, and there’s really no excuse for that. But it is ultimately the customer’s responsibility to understand the store’s return policy PRIOR to making a purchase.

  23. Ok I can understand not refunding for a thing you did not want. However what if you were lied to about the product or did not know important info about the product or had a deffective return.

    Take for example this print server I bought the info on the site stated that any computer on you’re network can access the server. However they failed to mention that there was a compatibility list for printers that was not that big. I was not on the compatibility list and the compatibility list was not even in a easy to find place on the manufactures website. I had to call the makers of it and actually be directed to find it and it is basically hidden. Which if it does not say it is not compatible with all printers I would not think to ask them about a compatibility list because it states on the manufacture site and the store site that it works with all printers.

    Well the store would not let me return it without a 15 % restocking fee. Well the item was not as it was said to be and it affected the use of it since my printer was not compatible with it. So does anyone think it is ok that I had to take that 15 % hit when the manufacturere was clearly to blame here. Yes I can do research on something but if the correct info is not anywhere I could reasonably find then that is not my fault.

    The issue is the fact that the vendor made me pay on top of it the shipping I paid to get it there and the shipping to return it and the restocking fee. They could have at least met me half way and waived the restocking fee. In fact when they said it would cost me shipping to return it I asked if I could at least have the restocking fee waived and they said no.

    For something that was border line defective. Well not really defective but I think a better word is misrepresented the product. I did not buy from them after that it just showed me that they did not stand by the things they were selling and that buying from them was too much of a gamble.

    One last thing about the policy thing. Some policies are very long have you seen some of these. Oh and they make it in legalese you know the sort of weird form of English that says and awful lot of nothing and allot of vague stuff at the same time? Where it is easy to miss interpret what they actually mean. I have seen some of those. Some of these policies are 10 pages front to back so now if I see a policy that is really long I stay far away from them.

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