This holiday season it’s important that shoppers be a bit more careful about what they buy, how much they spend and whether the gift will be put to good use. Another important element to consider before committing to that purchase is the store’s refund and exchange policies.
Laws protect consumers from misrepresented or defective products, however, there are no laws that require merchants to offer refunds, exchanges or credit on merchandise they sell. Having a return policy is a voluntary practice among retailers as a way to make shopping more attractive to customers. Shoppers should never assume merchandise can be returned unless the policy is specifically stated by the store. “It’s really the responsibility of the buyer to know what the return policy is,” said Janna Kiehl, CEO of the BBB.
Refund and exchange privileges vary from store to store. A policy is often printed on the sales receipt or posted at a “point of sale” But not knowing the store’s policy doesn’t increase your chances that the item will be replaced if the store’s policy is “all sales final”.
“Different policies mean different things,” said Kiehl. “You have exchanges, return for credit, refund policies and ‘all sales final’ which all mean something different.” A store may offer some or all of the different policies, or they may offer none of them, stating simply that all sales are final. In some cases, health regulations may prohibit the return of certain merchandise. There are also time frames to consider when returning an item. Stores may state a time after the purchase in which they require you to abide by the return policy.
Then there’s the often misunderstood restocking fee (also called an “open box” fee); the most misunderstood policy of all. The store has an exchange or return policy, but when a customer attempts to return an item they are surprised that they will be charged a fee. Restocking fees are typically charged on specialty items or very popular hard to get items; but they can be charged on any item. A restocking fee is charged when the item has to be re-handled by the store. Ask the store if they have restocking fees before making your purchase.
Product warranties are sometimes confused with return policies. Products often come with stated or implied warranties from their manufacturer. Understand the warranty before purchasing the item and read it before returning a defective product to the retailer. Some merchants will return the product for you as a service, however you may have to return the item to the manufacturer or a service center.
A written contract may provide special provisions for returning products. Read and understand the contract before you sign it, never sign a blank contract and always ask for and keep a copy. Contracts are typically used for the purchase of furniture or appliances.
While shopping this Christmas season, keep in mind
- Return policies are strictly voluntary on the store’s part
- Become familiar with a store’s return policy, including restocking fees before making a purchase and
- Keep all receipts until you’re sure the purchase will be enjoyed.