If you’re the type of person who would almost rather donate something than deal with the stress of returning it, our expert shopping companions at Consumer Reports have put together 5 steps that you can take to make the process a bit more manageable. Some are obvious, but you only have to read our tipline for a day to realize that obvious strategies are often the most frequently overlooked.
Know the time frame: Big merchants usually allow 90 days for returns of most items but might have far shorter periods for home and personal electronics, software, and CDs and DVDs. During the holidays, retailers sometimes extend deadlines. Electronics bought at Walmart usually must be returned within 15 or 30 days, for example, but if you buy between Nov. 15 and Dec. 25, the clock doesn’t start ticking until Dec. 26.
Store your receipts in a safe place: Many merchants used to offer at least store credit to shoppers without one. Nowadays, more turn those people away. If you paid by credit card, debit card, or check and don’t have a receipt, some stores will try to find an electronic receipt, but cash customers might be out of luck.
Bring ID: Some companies, including Best Buy, require a government-issued ID with a receipt. (That way, they can track serial returners even if the transaction is in cash.)
Be sure before you open the box: Merchants can’t resell an item as new after the package has been opened, so they impose a restocking fee, usually 15 percent of the product’s cost. The fees apply mostly to electronics, but Sears also charges for mattresses, built-in appliances, and special orders on hardware, sporting goods, and other merchandise. Items such as computer software, CDs, and DVDs aren’t generally returnable once they’re unwrapped. It might also be hard to return products with damaged packaging or missing tags.
Online? Or in-store? Don’t assume: If you bought an item online and the merchant has walk-in stores, check the website to see whether you can return it at a store and avoid repacking, a post-office trip, and shipping fees.
5 steps to successful product returns when faced with strict policies [Consumer Reports]