Watch Out For Stricter Post-Holiday Return Policies This Year

If part of your plans this week involve trading in some of your holiday gifts for sweet, sweet cash, you may need to plan ahead. According to the National Retail Federation, 17% of stores have tightened their return policies since the end of last year. What should you know before you try to bring back that magenta scarf or duplicate toy?

Consumer Reports released some advice for potential shoppers. Here’s their advice:

  • Get a receipt or gift receipt. Despite longer grace periods, retailers are becoming more insistent on a receipt in order to get a refund, and they’re more inclined to turn away customers without proof of purchase. Without a receipt, they may offer a store credit for the lowest price the item sold for.
  • Keep packaging intact. Stores are likely to refuse a return if the packaging materials are open or discarded. Even a missing instruction manual, cords and cables or warranty card can give retailers reason to deny the return.
  • Be wary online. Don’t just throw it in a box and mail it back. Online returns usually require a packing slip (typically included in any gift order), and a return authorization number. Call ahead to ensure that all requirements are being met.
  • Don’t break seals or cut out UPC codes. Items like computer software, video games, CDs and DVDs aren’t generally returnable for another title after the seal has been broken. If an item comes with a rebate offer, make sure it works before removing the UPC code to redeem the rebate.

Also, watch out for restocking fees at major retailers, mostly for big-ticket items.

  • 15% restocking fees for computers and fine jewelry
  • Best Buy: 15% restocking fees on laptops, camcorders, digital cameras and GPS navigators
  • 15% restocking fee on all items. Plus shoppers have only 15 days to return items.
  • Sears: 15% restocking fee applies to electronics products returned without the original box, used, and without all of the original packaging. The penalty also applies to some other products.
  • Home Depot: special-orders and some cancelled orders are subject to a 15 percent restocking fee.
  • Macys: 10% restocking fee on furniture
  • 15% restocking fee on all major purchases if the box is opened

More retailers tightening return policies [Consumer Reports Money]


Edit Your Comment

  1. tbax929 says:

    I’m ignorant when it comes to retail, so maybe someone can answer this for me: is it really that much of an expense to a retailer to accept a return? I can see the problem with taking things back that have been used, but if someone returns an item in its original packaging, why is there a need for a 10-15% charge for doing so? It’s not like it’s unreasonable to return a gift that the receiver doesn’t want, or already received from someone else.

    • Esquire99 says:

      To some extent the retailers simply don’t want the items back, even if they are unopened. The item was already sold, recorded as such and chocked up as profit. Why does the retailer want to undo that process? Further, somes items will be harder to sell after the holidays when volume slips, increasing the risk they may be stuck with it for a long time.

      • tbax929 says:

        So do you think it’s more of a charge to discourage folks from returning items?

        • Esquire99 says:

          Yes and no. Most of these fees seem to apply only when the packaging is open. The justification for the charge there is clear. There is still some justification when it’s not open, especially post-Christmas. The retailers, to some extent, are taking the fee in exchange for their increased risk of not being able to re-sell the item. I’m sure there is some intent to deter people from returning stuff.

        • Shadowfire says:

          It at least is partially. And, particularly with technology, these items will probably decrease significantly in price over time, so any profit made from that sale is lost of course, plus the price of the item is going to drop resulting in lower profits when it finally does sell.

        • fantomesq says:

          Most restocking fees are relatively accurate reflections of the costs involved in processing the return, returning the item to the manufacturer and/or preparing it for resale. Returns are lose/lose situations for both the purchaser and store but restocking fees help balance the losses.

    • fantomesq says:

      The restocking fees typically apply to OPEN items which by their nature are less valuable than the sealed items. So yes, if a customer purchases a sealed item and returns an open item, they are typically charged a restocking fee for the product’s diminished value. Would you buy an open box product for the same price as a sealed one?

      The list above is not completely accurate. Best Buy for instance only charges restocking fees on those items if the item is opened and non-defective and then will often waive the restocking fee if they are buying a different item to replace it.

      • tbax929 says:

        I think you’re right. I don’t think I’ve ever been charged a restocking fee, but if sellers are being stricter about it now, maybe that will change.

        • Kitamura says:

          There’s always been restocking fees with most online purchases, I don’t know many mortar stores that charge a restocking fee with a receipt yet (of course without a receipt your “restocking fee” is basically the fact that you’ll get the lowest sale price instead of whatever it actually cost to buy). I don’t know if that part is going to change much. I’m thinking any tightening will occur on being able to return an item in the first place.

          • floraposte says:

            I think that’s very much area by area–I buy tons of stuff online, and I’ve never run into a restocking fee for a return. But most of what I return is clothing and shoes. I suspect you’re talking electronics and gizmonics.

    • bigd738778 says:

      Your not ignorant just naive. Some people return products to places that were not bought there. Some people return items that they stole, believe me this is big this time of year because of easy return process most stores offer. Some people use the item then put it back in the box and return it wanting full credit but the item has been used and should not be resold at a new price, some stores have to sell the returned items to another outlet, like Big-Lots, to be resold. Do you want to buy a used product for a new price? Most people don’t so a restock fee is usually accepted. There are alot of costs involved in getting items returned. But the reason most of these costs are added is because of theft. Like it or not almost all costs are put back onto the honest person because of some stinking theives. Next time don’t complain so much at the store for their policy but to the people who caused them to do this.

    • dg says:

      Most big box retailers (HOME DEPOT, LOWES, TARGET) get returns and separate them out by department. Then the Department head comes by at various times during the day (usually when the Returns clerk screams over the intercom that the dept cart is full). The Dept head takes out the items that can be resold as new – say you bought 15 tubes of caulk, used 12. The three returned go back on the shelf. So there’s a minimum of two employees involved right there. The items were originally placed on the shelf by some employee – now that’s got to be redone. If an order was placed because the stock was low after your purchase, now too much might be in stock – there’s an inventory procurement and carrying cost to consider.

      If the stuff can’t be resold – then it gets dumped in the back at the “Return To Vendor” cage. An RTV employee sifts through all that stuff, and punches it into a computer. The computer says “toss it now (field destroy)”, “get an RMA and ask the Vendor”, “fix it”, or “clearance it”.

      If they toss it – then the store has a certain loss, and the Vendor likely has a certain loss. Besides the loss, the store has to dispose of the item properly. If it’s non-hazardous, it goes in the dumpster – only so much fits in a dumpster before it’s gotta be picked up and there’s a cost for that. Plus, dumpsters are typically kept locked for loss prevention reasons, and someone’s gotta be involved in signing off on what the RTV employee is field destroying (this is a loss prevention and contractual obligation the store has).

      If it’s hazardous, it goes into the proper hazmat area. That stuff has to be logged, and picked up on a regular basis by some company and it’s EXPENSIVE to deal with that stuff. Fluorescent tubes, acid, latex paint, oil based paint, kerosene, drain cleaners, etc. all considered HazMat. There’s a firm to coordinate with, someone to sign off on the pickup log, someone to sign off on the disposal log.

      If it’s a “Get an RMA” – then the RTV employee calls the Vendor and waits on hold to discuss the item. Vendors don’t give unlimited RMA privileges to a store – they limit the amount per month. So once the store hits that level – they either store it until next month (more carrying costs), or “eat it” and field destroy it w/o any reimbursement from the vendor. The store (well, the chain of stores actually) partially funds this “RMA” service through their contract with the vendor. Usual overhead costs of phone service, computer maintenance, and supplies for the RTV employee apply.

      “Fix it”: You’ve got to have someone inspect it, log the reason, have a manager sign off on the “fix it” log, store it until you get a certain level of repairable items, contact the repair shop, coordinate a time for them to pick up the items, sign off on the pickup log, store the pickup log receipt, then track the items out for repair. When they come back, you have to have a manager sign off on the “drop off” log, ensure the items work, get markdown tags from a manager, decide upon a price (typically the system gives you the cost, so you try to split the diff between the cost and what it normally sells for), then get the item out on the floor and hope it sells before someone steals it, or shoves it in the back behind the new ones, or breaks it by futzing with it to make sure ‘everything’s there’ in the box… Lots of costs to “fix it” and it RARELY happens any longer.

      “Clearance it” – the RTV employee discusses with the manager whether to clearance an item, then the RTV employee has to determine the cost and normal sell price, and price it to move out, then merchandise it, and hope it sells… (similar to the “fix it” scenario). The deals have to be SUPER great for someone to buy this stuff because it’s always missing something and you don’t want them bringing that back (even if they’re not supposed to, some nitwit will take it back anyway).

      So that’s what the 10-15% restock fees are supposed to cover. That said – if you squawk loudly enough, and the store knows you’re a good customer – they’re not going to charge those fees to you because they look at the total value of you as a customer and decide that you’re going to buy more stuff with them over the year – so it makes up for some of those costs. Whereas, pissing you off only drives you to the competitor – perhaps never to return…

      To further complicate matters, you have:

      * Theft rings – dedicated crews stealing your stuff, then reselling it on eBay or bringing it back into the store for store credit, and then reselling those store credits at a discount in the parking lot so they can get cash.

      * Use and returners – people who know they need a tool one time, but are too cheap to rent the thing. So they buy it, use it, pack it up and return it. That’s what the Drivers Licenses getting punched into the computer are designed to thwart. Frequent returns. They derive a pattern of purchase/return from the DL and when you exceed the limits – it takes a manager to override. Women are famous (infamous?) for doing this with clothing and shoes…

      * One-off shoplifters. Ole snatch and grab. Gets the goodie, then gives it to his pal as a gift. The pal then decides that it’s not what he wanted, so he brings it back, gets store credit and buys something else with the credit.

      In a good economy – stores consider some of the returns to be “marketing costs” – chances are you’re going to buy something else anyway. In this economy – they’re not so sure, so they say “save the receipt or no return for you… buh bye!”

      Summary: Retail sucks. Lots of costs. Lots of crazy employees. Oh, and you get to deal with the PUBLIC. Screaming, entitled jerks, complete with demonspawn in tow.

      • Straspey says:

        What a great description.

        Earlier this fall I was in a STAPLES and happened to browsing their display of laptop computers, some of which seemed to be fairly good deals. I was chatting with the store manager about the laptops, and asked him about STAPLES’ return policy on computers.

        I was shocked to hear him reply that it was only 14 days (especially when places like Sam’s Club have a 90-day return window), but his explanation was even more shocking.

        The manager explained that STAPLES used to have a more liberal return policy, but then they discovered that certain groups of people (college kidz on spring break, i.e.) would buy a laptop, take it with them on vacation, sit there on the beach with the laptop, and then return it a few weeks later (with the sand and beer) for a refund.

        Now, after two weeks they’ll just tell you call the manufacturer and deal with your warranty. So, as always, it’s the honest many who suffer as a result of the actions of the smarmy few.

        Also –

        Whenever I buy anything – ANYTHING – at a retail store, I ALWAYS ask about their return policy. Last week at Best Buy when I bought an external Hard Drive as a gift, I asked about their policy and then asked AGAIN about any special extensions due to the Christmas season.

        Finally, it’s just plain common sense to keep all the receipts and packaging in perfect condition until you are absolutely sure the item is in good working (or wearing) condition and you plan to keep it. We had a huge box from HP in our living room for three weeks when we recently bought a new printer, until we were sure it worked – and only then did we discard the box.

  2. mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

    So Best Buy charges 15% to restock a laptop… Then charges 15% more to the next customer by claiming it’s been “Optimized?”

    • fantomesq says:

      No. Open items are automatically marked down 10% if they are resold. Most returned laptops are returned to the manufacturers. Some manufacturers expect Best Buy to resell teh open boxes so those laptops are marked down 10%. Optimized systems are new-in-box systems that are opened for the purpose of optimizing.

      Cynical guess but wrong.

      • StatusfriedCrustomer says:

        What’s worse, it may be optimized more than once if it is returned multiple times, causing the next person to pay even bigger charges!

    • jaspel says:

      I think it is important to point out that vender credit doesn’t do a whole lot of good. Most goods only get ~20% reimbursement thus restocking fees are truly are deterrent.

  3. fantomesq says:

    Restocking fees are a very common way of discouraging ‘renting’ of products – need a camera to film a wedding, purchase it, make your movie and return the camera. Need an air conditioner for the hottest month of the year, purchase and return it just before the return policy is over.

    Nevermind that by opening and using the product your are devaluing the product – why wouldn’t a store charge you a fee for your use? The same people who complain about restocking fees would never pay full price for an open box – why should the store?

    • tbax929 says:

      If the fees only apply to open items, I have no problem with them at all. If they apply to all returns, that’d be ridiculous.

      • fantomesq says:

        I’m not aware of any brick and mortar store that charges a restocking fee on unopened, factory new returns with a receipt.

    • idip says:

      I had someone do that to me once.

      She came up all frantic, being a complete non-nice person (other words I’d like to use…) and was complaining because I couldn’t find her a digital camera fast enough and she only had 10 minutes before her sister’s college graduation ceremony.

      So after opening the box without even paying for the camera, I didn’t even have a chance to say “Don’t do that!”. Luckily she bought the camera, complained some more that I was taking forever to ring her up and then she dashed out the store after paying.

      The next day she comes back and returned the camera, she told me she only got to take 2 pictures because the battery was almost dead. Of course she made comments hinting that it was MY fault this was the case and not her lack of poor planning.

      This was the day I really embraced karma. Had she been nice enough I would have been able to explain the power ‘issue’ to her.

      So yea, she ‘rented’ the camera just because she didn’t really want to buy it.

      Not right in my opinion. Hope she did have to pay a restocking fee.

    • pot_roast says:

      Fry’s mostly solved that by saying “no refunds” on certain products. How they got away with it, I don’t know, but I saw that in California frequently. It’s especially bad around the Super Bowl. People will buy a huge TV only to return it after the game.

  4. sachmet says:

    I’m surprised no one has started a website yet to trade gift receipts, in order to help people get around these restrictions…

  5. pop top says:

    I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with stores requiring a receipt for returns. It protects the stores from shoplifters, which can help keep their costs down.

    • myrna_minkoff says:

      You haven’t met my mother-in-law who refuses to give a gift receipt. She also “knows” that we need more china and glassware even though we have told her repeatedly, that we do not.

      I’m being somewhat facetious, of course. But when I know she spent $50 on an item, and I can only get $25 for it because she doesn’t like to give us the receipt, it’s frustrating. (But I do understand the store’s perspective — for every person like us who gets screwed it probably deters three shoplifters.)

      • Seanumich says:

        I would say that is a problem with your mother in law, not from the store. How else would the store know what was paid for the item? If the lowest sale price was $25, and you THINK your mother in law paid $50, then whats to prevent a smart person from buying 100’s of the item at $25 and returning them at $50 and making a killing. This is basic common sense. Hopefully your spouse has not inherited some of their mothers issues.

    • fantomesq says:

      For the same reason that people complain about door receipt checkers… it inconveniences them, even if but slightly, regardless of the greater good that the retailer is trying to accomplish *baiting the anti-door-check zealots* :)

      • thompson says:

        See, in my mind the two are totally incompatible (opposing receipt checks and opposing “no-receipt-no-return” policies)

        The logic behind opposing receipt checks is that the product is now yours — your property, they have as much right to check your receipt and bag as they do to pat you down to figure out what type of phone you have.

        On the other hand, that item is now YOURS — when you return an item you’re essentially asking the store to “buy it back” from you, sometimes in a condition materially different condition than when it was sold new.

        • fantomesq says:

          Both are done for precisely the same reason – to minimize unnecessary loss and expenses… Both are done to keep expenses and therefor overall prices low.

          • SarasiPolyxena says:

            Torturing prisoners and getting a warrant to tap a phone are done for the same reason. I’m not sure how many people you’ll find to agree that they’re equivalent.

  6. littlemoose says:

    I hope this story encourages customers to consider returns from the store’s perspective. Most stores are trying to strike a balance between good customer service and deterring loss. For one, when you are returning an item without a receipt, we have no idea when you bought it or how much you paid for it. Did you use a coupon or special offer? Was it on promotion or sale? Did you write a check, put it on plastic, or pay cash? I have no way of knowing any of these things, and that is why I cannot give you cash back for the full retail price of the item. A gift receipt at least enables me to know when it was purchased and how much was paid for it.

    And yes, shoplifting is a huge problem. I know it sucks that legitimate customers are inconvenienced by the actions of thieves, but retailers have little choice. Shoplifters kill our profits, whether they return the stolen items, keep them, or fence them online. Not only are they stealing, of course, but they are depleting inventory that other customers want to purchase, and it’s usually more expensive items. Policies that deter shoplifting, or at least reduce the reward for doing so, are a necessity.

    And yes, as other commenters have mentioned, “renting” is a big problem too. If an item is defective, I am happy to exchange or return it for you. But so many customers will straight-up lie to my face about it. They’ll swear an item has not been washed or worn, even when it reeks of detergent or perfume. If I return it, I have to damage it out, because I can’t sell clothes that have been used. Or they will make up some BS reason about why it’s “defective,” when I can tell they just don’t want it anymore. It’s infuriating, and it happens nearly every day in my store.

    Yeah, you can tell I’m a retail worker and I kind of hate the holidays right now.

  7. Caroofikus says:

    That Sears restocking fee is surprisingly reasonable.

  8. kaceetheconsumer says:

    Or be less spontaneous…after my husband and I got each other a copy of Life of Brian a few years back and then had to return one of them to Amazon, now if I’m considering something he’s likely to get me, I just ask him if there’s any reason I shouldn’t get a certain thing, wink wink nudge nudge.

    Which is why he knows about the MST3K vids I just ordered and therefore did not bother to get fast shipping on. Because he bought me an MST3K a few years back…

    Do you think we’re nerdy much?

  9. venomroses says:

    “Without a receipt, they may offer a store credit for the lowest price the item sold for.”

    Thats what my store does. Not really unreasonable. I have no idea when you bought it. Maybe you bought it a month ago when it was on sale and now its full price again?

    When people ask about our return policy, I always tell them to make sure they keep the tag (or box) because, “it makes my job easier”.

    I`ve never denied a return because of something like a missing box or instruction manual. Usually if those things are missing, the item has been used and I can`t put it out on the floor anyways and I have to return it to the warehouse.

    The best is when people try to return things at my store without a receipt and they are items we have never carried.

  10. ShadowFalls says:

    Be wary all those that buy from Gamestop. When buying one of the already opened “New” titles, or a “Used” one at that, be sure they apply a seal to the game case. I have seen more and more of them not doing that and giving people a really hard time trying to return it.

    As for Restocking, it makes a logical sense really. As mentioned by others, it is discourage the “renting” of products. Also there is an actual cost to go along with this sort of thing. Anything opened generally is resold for a lesser price and there is a cost of paying the employees to take their time to perform the entire process of making sure everything is there to getting it back to the shelf.