Target Charges Me Restocking Fee On Returned Netbook, Resells It Before It Hits Shelves

Many consumers believe restocking fees on returns, which can be 15 percent of the purchase price or more, are a con run by retailers to discourage people from lugging their unwanted stuff back into the store. But theoretically the fees are at least somewhat merited, given the fact that the store may have to sell the item at an open-box discount and spend the manpower to ready the item for resale.

Reader S writes in with an example of Target having little excuse to issue a 15 percent restocking charge. When S returned a netbook, Target immediately sold it, presumably at full price, banking that 15 percent free and clear.

S writes:

I purchased the Acer Netbook from Target on Sunday for my son. I then found out that my mother had already purchased it for him so I decided to take mine back to the store today.

It was still in the bag with the free sleeve and I had the receipt. When I took it back, they told me my refund would be less a 15% restocking fee for electronics. I didn’t argue and was refunded (less the 15% of course).

Then, the lady behind me told the cashier that she had just been back to electronics and the store was out of them and she wanted to purchase that one if she could.

So the sale was made and she got the netbook instead.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but should I be docked the “restocking” fee if it never even left the counter I returned it on? It was returned for less than 5 minutes before being sold.

I asked the cashier to refund me the balance of my purchase but they said that the 15% fee is standard for ANY electronics returns and it’s not negotiable.

What rate, if any, do you think is fair for a retailer to charge for restocking returns?

Comments

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  1. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    The lady behind you should have offered to pay you some amount X, where X is higher than the price you paid – 15% and X is lower than the price you paid + tax (which would be her price + tax).

    • bender123 says:

      I did this at a Gamestop, once. I had a game the store did not have, person behind me asked if they could buy it, the counter monkey said they needed to “process it”. and it would be out later. So I recinded my offer to Gamestop, was told we couldn’t do that in the store, so we went into the parking lot. I got the game sold for an extra $10 and he bought it for $10 less than the standard price in the store. It was a win-win.

      Thats why i always try Craigslist now before I return something…The return is as bad as it can get and anything extra is a bonus.

    • teke367 says:

      Yeah, but if its a netbook, I doubt she was using cash, and setting up some other means of payment probably isn’t worth the hassle.

    • Griking says:

      And I’m sure the OP would have given the lady her name, phone number and home address where she would be able to return the laptop if she had problems with it.

      Right?

      • Griking says:

        Oh and another thing, did the OP even ask to speak to a manager or did she just race straight home and post to Consumerist?

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    If the woman had mentioned the desire to purchase it prior to the return, she could have turned around and offered it to her at cost. Unfortunately, it sounds like that did not occur.

    My vote – refund the fee. Target lost no revenue.

  3. TalKeaton: Every Puzzle Has an Answer! says:

    Sense seems to say no, you shouldn’t have to pay it since it wasn’t restocked.

    There’s a part of me that thinks these fees also exist to prevent people from just constantly buying and returning electronics over and over again.

    • Kitamura says:

      IMO that’s pretty much exactly what it’s for most of the time. If you have to “pay” for that video camera you were just going to “rent” from the store for the weekend, you might think twice before doing it.

      The rest of it is probably to pay for the employee time that has to be spent ensuring all the widgets and gadgets are in the box, all the manuals, warranty cards, cords, etc have been brought back, I know many stores aren’t terribly great about checking everything, but supposing they were to actually check properly that can take quite a bit of time, especially when you start running into things like digital cameras and the like.

    • d0x360 says:

      This is what its for. As someone who has worked retail people would buy things like cameras and tv’s then use them for the weekend and simply return them. Buying a electronic item and returning it is cheaper than renting one obviously. Even minus the restocking fee its cheaper than renting which is why people still do it and stores keep raising the fee’s. If the item isnt opened there is no fee.

      As far as this story goes..does it matter if the item never went back to the sales floor? The restocking fee isnt because it takes an hour to tape a box back up. Its so like what was said above, you dont use a retail store as your try before you buy or rental chain.

      • mobiuschic42 says:

        Yeah, but it sounds like this item was never opened, so it shouldn’t have been charged the fee according to your above logic.

      • dush says:

        They need to stop lying to customers then and call it a return fee rather than a restocking fee.

  4. MonkeyMonk says:

    While I agree with S in theory it shouldn’t really matter if Target makes the sale in 30 seconds or 30 days. Plus, his particular situation is something that happens so rarely that I can’t imagine any retailer altering their policies to account for it.

    • Brian says:

      That’s the exact reason why Target SHOULD refund him. A rare event with the potential to create a loyal customer.

    • keepher says:

      I was about to post the same thing.

      And even if this is a chance happening the clerk was still being paid to process the item back in to inventory so there was a cost involved.

    • squirrel says:

      Most retailers charge the restocking fee on *opened* items. Target charges whether the item is opened or not? I assume “still in the bag with the sleeve” meant they never actually took it out and opened it.

  5. Straspey says:

    That’s easy…

    Target gets your 15% restocking fee and you *NEVER* purchase an electronics item from them *EVER AGAIN*.

    Their business model them becomes one where their rate of return customers for high-end purchases diminishes over time as the pool of “fool-me-once-shame-on-you-foll-me-twice-shame-on-me” people shrinks to zero.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Sadly, new customers continue to arrive, as the population is refreshed. Like a cosmic F5 key.

  6. ssaoi says:

    That lady should not have paid full price. That was a returned item.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      Sounds like an xmas gift the second customer wanted no matter the price.

      I hate to say but the key phrase from the OP ” It was RETURN for less than 5 minutes…” . It would’ve been a good PR move on Targets part to refund the fee but I don’t think they were obligated. What Target did with the return after it was returned is really non of the original customer’s business.

      BUT I thought if you return an unopened/unused item these places weren’t supposed to charge you a restocking fee. If any factory packing and/or seals were broken or missing I can see Target’s point of view. But if the item/package were in their original condition a fee shouldn’t have been charged.

    • mszabo says:

      this seems to be the correct answer.

    • KingPsyz says:

      I would have nope, I changed my mind, give me back my computer… I don’t work to generate phantom profits for Target.

      Then told the lady you’ll sell it to her for MSRP outside, no tax. You split the loss and everyone is happy.

    • Griking says:

      The story isn’t clear whether the box was ever opened or not. Yes, technically it’s still returned but there’s a big difference if it was never opened.

  7. Angry JD says:

    Should have sold it online and banked the difference.

  8. z4ce says:

    Why do people buy anything from Target? And how does Target seem to catch less flack than Walmart? Walmart’s return policy is amazing. You would definitely never have this problem there.

    • alSeen says:

      Because Wal-Mart is evil and Target is nice.

      At least that’s what I keep reading.

      The unbridled hatred and derision of Wal-Mart has always amazed me.

      • Gramin says:

        Agreed. From a consumer standpoint, I can’t fault Walmart for too much. Sure, they sell cheap quality products… but they sell them at a cheap price. Walmart is single handedly responsible for putting so many flat screen TVs into the hands of consumers (and forcing Circuit City out of business). And they employ 2 million people. How many other companies can say the same? These aren’t high paying jobs but their employees aren’t skilled labor either.

        And then there’s the argument about receipt checkers. Personally, I don’t care. Either way, I think most consumers don’t really care about the receipt checkers. I see no financial evidence suggesting Walmart is losing customers because some old guy asks to see a receipt.

        Overall, I’m in Walmart’s corner. I’ll never shop there but I think they’re doing a pretty good job.

        • selkie says:

          Those low-paying jobs are low-paying enough that many employees qualify for state-subsidized health care, meaning my tax dollars go to help prop up Walmart’s profits. Privatize the profits, socialize the losses as the modern American business model goes.

          • ldub says:

            Hush, now… apparently all corporations are the same, they all do the same bad things so there’s no point in trying to make informed choices about where you spend your money – except to pay attention to your own selfish interests. THAT’s OK to do. Any attempt to make decisions based on what kind of “corporate citizen” a business is a complete waste of time, OK? Because none of them are perfect, they are all equally bad. Or something.

            We’re just supposed to hand over our money like good little consumers – got that?.

        • squirrel says:

          Wal-Mart put Circuit City out of business?

          See, Wal-mart isn’t all that bad.

    • ldub says:

      When I read about Target locking employees in overnight forcing them to work, not paying employees for worked hours, and purchasing “dead peasant” policies on employees I’ll hate them as much as I hate Walmart. How’s that work for you?

      • z4ce says:

        Locking in & and not paying employees? Check. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071125165359AAnS9aP

        Seriously a tax avoidance scheme using life insurance gets you all roiled up? In any case, apparently no one really uses them any more.

        I’m sure with any sufficiently large company you’ll find SOME abuses. After all, corporations are made up of people.

        • DFManno says:

          Yahoo Answers? You’re joking, right? Come back when you have real evidence.

        • ldub says:

          Yeah, I’m weird that way about corporations taking out life insurance policies against their employees deaths, thereby incentivizing poor treatment of said employees. And if they’ve stopped doing it, it’s not out of a sense of ethics or decency.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I’ve never had any problems with Target. I haven’t stepped foot inside a Wal-Mart in years because, without fail, every single time I have ever been in Wal-Mart, it has been a nightmare. Whether there aren’t enough checkout lanes open, or stuff being thrown all over the aisles, or people letting their children run amok, or just plain bad customer service.

      The Targets I have been to are well-maintained, and organized. The lanes are short most of the time, the cashiers are always polite, and I’ve never had problems with returns at Target either.

  9. balthisar says:

    Perhaps he could have asked for a manager. Explain the circumstances, admit that you know what the policy is, and would they mind making a one time exception due to the special circumstances. Don’t be a typical American, entitled butt-hole. You’re not entitled. Policy is policy.

  10. BStu78 says:

    The OP should realize that had they returned the item a half hour later, they’d have caused Target to lose a sale entirely because they took an item out of the store’s inventory only to return it for a refund. Target got lucky but the OP did nothing to merit a refund of the fee.

  11. snarkysniff says:

    Call corporate and make a complaint. Their customer service there is VERY responsive tell them the whole situation and you will probably get the rest of your money.

  12. Mom says:

    The return policy is the return policy. Eat the 15%, then remember to check the return policy before you buy electronics and high ticket items. As long as people continue to buy from stores that charge a restocking fee, stores will continue to charge the fee. The only way to stop them is if it cuts into their business.

    • RevancheRM says:

      +1

      I’m usually on the consumer’s side (except when that ‘consumer’ is the AFA), but this complaint reeks of entitlement.

  13. GMFish says:

    To me you’re charged a restocking fee to stop people from buying electronics such as cameras and laptops to use for awhile and then return.

    • mrstu says:

      Exactly… I worked at Best Buy for three years…. every year, we’d sell a ton of TVs right before the super bowl… then get half them returned the monday after.

    • slappysquirrel says:

      Which is why you charge the fee if the box has been opened-doesn’t sound like this one was.

  14. Skellbasher says:

    “When S returned a netbook, Target immediately sold it, —>presumably

    What evidence is presented that the laptop was resold at it’s full price? Nothing.

    The restocking fee is generally bogus, but let’s try and get our facts straight, eh Phil? I know that you write for about 4 different places and time is short, but some journalistic integrity would be nice.

    • eyesack is the boss of the DEFAMATION ZONE says:

      Seriously? The OP was standing there while it occurred.

      • Skellbasher says:

        And nowhere does the OP state that the laptop was resold for full price. It was either an assumption by Phil, or included elsewhere in the email that was not published.

        His objection to the restocking fee came from the fact that the item was not returned to the sales floor, which means nothing. The restocking fee is there to cover the discount that they give when reselling as an open box item.

  15. Beeker26 says:

    If the box was never opened there is no reason they should charge a restocking fee, plain and simple. They can resell the item at full price without any kind of open-box discount.

    The restocking fee serves two purposes: 1.) to prevent people from buying an item, using it for a specific amount of time (say, for a vacation), and then returning it afterwards for a full refund, and 2.) to compensate the store for having the sell the product at a reduced price as an open box item.

    If the item has never been opened then neither of those two situations apply, and no fee should be levied. I would have made a massive stink about it.

    Now if he opened it up, then all bets are off. He’s required to pay the fee regardless of what Target decides to do with the item. And he has no way of knowing how much the lady behind him paid for the item (unless he stuck around to see, which he doesn’t say). If it was opened she may very well had demanded a discount for it being “used”.

    There’s a lot of info missing here.

    • OSAM says:

      THIS. SO MUCH OF THIS.

      The restocking fee, at most places, is only on OPENED merchandise. If it’s unopened, there’s no fee.

  16. ldub says:

    I wonder what a manager might have said about this? If I were the manager, I’d have given the customer the 15% back, since the situation made the “restocking fee” rationale completely worthless, and by playing fair I’d be generating good will from both customers – and anyone else in line witnessing this. Now that 15% fee they got is costing them the negative publicity here.

  17. aybara says:

    It’s not entirely clear if the netbook was opened. I am assuming that the ‘restock fee’ was charged as the box was opened.

    If the box was unopened, there should be no restocking fee.
    If the box was opened, the second purchaser shouldn’t have taken it for full price.

  18. jshier says:

    The article doesn’t clearly say, but it sounds like the machine was unopened, so there shouldn’t have been any restocking fee in the first place. If it’s unopened they don’t have to check it and can sell it for full price. I’ve only ever encountered restocking fees for opened items.

  19. Jacquilynne says:

    Restocking fees aren’t a custom match to the exact cost of returning each item. They’re a guidelines. Sometimes a product comes back a mess with pieces missing and they take a loss on it, other times it comes back pristine and they get 15% for having a clerk check that there are no pieces missing and shove it back on a shelf.

    There’s no really practical way to sort on situation from the other in most cases, and while a one-off policy exception might have made sense in this case, the clerk almost certainly wasn’t authorized to make it. A manager might have been able to, if you’d made a bigger issue of it, but really? You bought it, you returned it. Pay the fee.

  20. macoan says:

    Target has a policy, the person knew about the policy – the fact that it sold right away does not really matter in my opinion.

    Take for example —- lets say the item ends up selling 3 years from now, should the person own MORE then 15% since it took a long to sell the returned item? (The answer is no – so why should he expect less or no fee if it did not take as long to sell?)

  21. Hungry Dog says:

    Back when I worked at Target I only did the 15% restocking fee if the person was a blatant douche.

  22. Karnivore says:

    That’s odd. My nearest Target never charged restocking fees.

  23. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    IMO, there shouldn’t be a restocking fee if the item is unopened.

  24. coren says:

    So here’s my thing – what is the point of this fee?

    Is it to cover for a lost sale? If so, how is that a justifiable fee in any fashion, and why isn’t it charged on everything?

    Is it because the item needs to be restocked and checked? If so, it clearly was never done with this item, so Target charged a fee for something it never did.

    • BannedInBrittan says:

      Computers are often sold very near cost at retail. The 15% restocking fee is to allow the retailer to sell the item at an open box discount. It makes it so the retailer doesn’t loose money on the deal.
      For example:
      Cost: $295
      Price: $300
      Restocking fee: $45
      Open box price: $270

      It also allows the retailer to pay for labor to repackage and restore the computer. Open box items if they possibly can contain personal data, like a computer, should be reset to factory prior to resale and this takes labor.

      If the netbook wasn’t opened I say the OP got a raw deal. Bestbuy doesn’t even charge restocking fees on unopened merchandise… but yet they got vilified the other day and Target which has similar restocking fees did not?

      • coren says:

        If it was open box, I agree. But I’m not sure it was, and even if it was, an open box fee is the alternative, not restocking which covers things that aren’t open box too.

    • d0x360 says:

      Is to keep people from buying things, using them for whatever they needed than return them. People buy things like cameras and tv’s for parties then bring them back to the store when they are done.

      • coren says:

        The solution to that is not accepting open box returns, or charging a fee for open box returns – not a blanket fee on anyone doing whatever.

    • hoofoot says:

      I have an online business and charge a restocking fee. I added the restocking fee after I started getting a lot of “Oh I changed my mind” and “Oops, I bought the wrong item” returns. Not only do I take a loss on each return, but it stings knowing that it could have been sold to someone else for full price with no hassle. Since adding the restocking fee, I’ve significantly cut down on the number of “buyer’s remorse” returns without adversely affecting the rest of my sales.

  25. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Since it wasn’t even open, Target is totally slimy for charging a fee. All they have to do is go back and put it on a shelf or in the stock room. That isn’t worth 15%. The fact that the resold it immediately makes the fee even more skeezy.

    • Gulliver says:

      Whay part of it is sleazy? The part where the refund policy is clearly printed for you? The part where you were told up front about it? Or the OP trying to get out of the AGREEMENT made at time of purchase? If Target NEVER sold the item after how would you feel if Target came back to her and said we want the other 85% back since we could not resell it?

  26. milty456 says:

    I don’t understand why there is a story here unless this gets cleared up “presumably at full price”

    If you don’t know what she paid, how do you complain about the restocking fee?

  27. Tedsallis says:

    Even Best Buy doesn’t charge the fee if the item has not been opened, something is not quite right with this story.

  28. Tedsallis says:

    Also it sounds like the OP didn’t argue with the fee or have any problem, until they sold it right in front of them. So if they just restocked it and sold it 10 minutes later sight unseen would we even have read this story? The time to argue BS policies is before they enforce them on you, if you are going to act like a sheep then expect to get fleeced, no bleating about it later.
    //pretty much rode that sheep analogy into the ground there. Thanks folks, enjoy the buffet!

  29. MrsBug says:

    The thing is, they have a 15% restocking policy. Period. It doesn’t matter what it’s used for or whether they can sell the product again. If the OP didn’t like that, she shouldn’t have bought it at Target. It wasn’t like they developed the policy in between the time she bought it and then returned it.

  30. kathygnome says:

    The restocking fee on certain electronics, primarily notebooks, GPS, portable DVD players, and cameras. All things that one might take on a vacation. And that’s exactly why it’s there. People were buying them, using them on vacation, then returning them.

    Target seems to be one of the few that tries to apply this to unopened packages. Most stores that have restocking fees in my experience will waive them for factory sealed packages.

    • Scoobatz says:

      Yes, that’s true based on my experiences with Target. I’ve returned several electronic items without restocking fees because the security tape was still intact. The OP did not indicate whether he opened the box or not.

    • dew_crew says:

      Ive sold cameras, gps and dvd players where the customer specifically TOLD me they were only “renting” the item.
      to which i replied with the rental fee! (restock) and a lot would go somewhere that doesnt charge one (though i dont know which places dont these days)
      but honestly, most places will cave and wave the fee if you piss and moan enough..

  31. DanKelley98 says:

    Given the circumstances, Target should have refunded the fee. It might show that they actually care.

  32. skylar.sutton says:

    Restocking fees should only be applied to OPENED electronics. I understand the reasoning behind them and I can’t fault retailers for it… but if the product was never used I really can’t side with them.

  33. jaymer says:

    Was the seal broken on the box? Restocking fees shouldn’t be charged on electronics which are in “as sold” condition. I.E. never opened, never turned on.

    That’s how Apple and Best Buy does it. x% restocking fee is opened.

    -Jamie

  34. tz says:

    What wasn’t clear is if the box was actually opened, and if it was did the lady who got it pay full price instead of the open-box price.

    Or you could have canceled the return and offered the lady your price plus 5% since she seemed desperate for it. And if she opens it and it got a virus from your network, can she return it as “defective”?

    As others have suggested, you can always write corporate and ask nicely.

    For laptops and such, when you start them up, they usually do some kind of registration or something else which requires time and effort to get back to the factory setting. I’m also careful to save all the packaging (I have a 30-90 day pile of boxes with packing).

    If the seals were intact it should have not had the restocking fee. Or give the one you bought to your mother and return hers (which should be intact).

  35. FlashFlashCarCrash says:

    It sucks to have to deal with a policy in place to deter shady con artists from abusing the store, doesn’t it?

  36. davidrocks says:

    I think that if you return the product in the exact same condition you bought it (unopened), was purchased recently, and can be easily carried by one person, a full refund is the only fair option.

    • Gulliver says:

      Well that would be nice, EXCEPT that is not the case. The netbook left the store. So there is no way Target can guarantee ANYTHING about it being what they sold the next person. How do we know the OP did not drop the net book, beat it around in her car for a week, Her kid may have dropped it down the steps. Target is not only RIGHT in doing what they did, I wish more retailers would do it.

  37. dew_crew says:

    Read the return policies. if it says you will be charged a restock fee for returning it (opened or not) TOUGH BEANS.
    If it says you should only be charged for an open item, you’re good.

    I wouldnt want a returned item. I sold a tv once, we returned it without charging the fee (it was unopened, only out of store an hour) and when it was resold, the new customer discovered the screen was shattered. they must have dropped the box, returned the tv and went elsewhere to buy a new one.
    and don’t complain that we didnt check, it was an unmarred box, why would a store open it to look thus forcing us to sell it as an open box when it was in apparently fine condition??

    (customer 2 was understanding, we swapped it for another we had in the box, everyone was happy)

  38. Sardis says:

    If you don’t like it being called a restocking fee, call it a return fee, or a wasting peoples’ time fee.

  39. Gulliver says:

    So lets say Target NEVER sold your returned item, can they now change the restocking fee to 30%? Sometimes things work out well for the merchant, sometimes not. If each individual transaction were a negotiated deal imagine the headaches that creates. This guy bought 10 of the item, and the cost to process the transaction with labor etc was much smaller than the transaction for the guy who bought one. The guy who comes in and buys one pack of gum is not as profitable as the guy who buy $1000 on the trip. Should the consumer say, well I want the gum for half off, since it has not cost you as much?
    Finally, YOUR transaction has NOTHING to do with another customers transaction. Yours ended once you returned yours. (whoever bought it most certainly was aware of the policy). If I bought an item that was on sale a week ago, and was no longer on sale, should I be able to say, well I want the price she paid?

    This is why returns and exchanges are a PITA for all of us. Somebody wants something for nothing. Tell me Ms OP, what exactly did YOU do to deserve the 15% bonus? Target actually had to take time with ringing you up the first time, THEN crediting you with an exchange. That takes time, which is money.

  40. easilyamused says:

    It’s odd that in working with Target Guest Service and Electronics both extensively, I’ve not once seen the restocking fee actually applied. I think that the cashier would’ve had to specifically selected that the product needed to be repackaged while processing the return, which they shouldn’t/wouldn’t have done if it actually wasn’t opened already.

    Once that option is selected the product is automatically marked down to a repackage price, usually 30% off, and a new barcode sticker prints out reflecting the new price. So if the restocking fee was charged, the price paid by the next customer would’ve been lowered to meet or exceed that 15% restocking fee.

  41. JANSCHOLL says:

    If this was an unopened item, there should not have been a fee-period. It was returned in new unopened and pristine condition. Restocking fees has always been for open items.

  42. Mr. Stupid says:

    The restocking fee is to prevent users from buying electronics, using them once, and then returning them. Nothing more. Shut up and deal with your mistake.

  43. jaredwilliams says:

    Maybe you shouldn’t buy something you don’t need, and this never would have happened. Try communicating with people before making an impulse purchase, that’s why stores have re-stocking fees, to discourage people from impulse buys. I charge re-stocking fees at my store too, think about the purchase before you buy it. You’re an adult, right?

  44. Starfury says:

    If the item has not been opened then they shouldn’t charge a fee. If it’s been opened and can’t be sold as new then a fee should be imposed.

  45. dush says:

    Great, now I know never to buy electronics at target.
    I love this website!

  46. Darkneuro says:

    She returned the item and didn’t have any problem with the 15% restocking fee.
    The store, now in possession of the computer, having given the person her money back, then resells it (the way they’re supposed to).
    NOW the woman has an issue with the 15% restocking fee?
    GET A LIFE!

  47. rwalford792 says:

    I say this… Deal with it on your credit card. Let them know you returned the item, and that they failed to offer you a full refund as the item was defective. Let Target try to figure out where the item is.

  48. farker says:

    OP said it was “still in the bag with the free sleeve”, so I presume the box was unopened and the box was in the shopping back yet.

    Store shouldn’t charge a restocking fee if they discern the box was unopened and still sealed.