Many Happy Returns

What you need to know about taking merchandise back

More than 8 million American households returned at least one electronic gadget in 2000 alone, according to a survey conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), an industry group in Arlington, Virginia. In fact, U.S. retailers spend $10 billion annually processing and reselling returned items to other venues. With returns becoming so costly, many retailers are becoming more stringent about their policies.

“Whether I have buyer’s remorse or plain old don’t-like-it-when-I-get-it-home, I’ll take it back. But, there are a few things I always try to do,” explains Sarah Rayar, an avid shopper and fearless merchandise returner in Lilburn, Georgia. “I always dress conservatively and I speak sternly. If I don’t have my receipt, I bring my credit card statement,” explains Rayar. “If the store still refuses I try another one of the chain’s locations, because I may be more influential with a different supervisor.”

A basic rule for returns is securing your proof of purchase: a receipt, a credit card billing slip, or, for high-end shoppers, sometimes the brand name itself is enough. Highly reputable retailers are very flexible on “the-customer-is-always-right” rule. While they may not advertise it, many retailers are eager to exchange and replace unsatisfactory merchandise.

“We have a guiding principle that we do not want customers to have anything in their closet that they are not satisfied with,” says Shasha Richardson, a spokesperson for Nordstrom Inc., a chain known for its shopper-friendly return policy. “Our Alaska store has accepted a pair of tires,” laughs Richardson. “We have a trust relationship with our customers and they have one with us,” she adds. But nothing is written in stone, so it’s very important to know what the store’s policy is before you buy.

Online returns can prove to be a bit more challenging. Only about 58% of online retailers allow customers to return items to a brick-and-mortar store. Victoria’s Secret, the lingerie chain, and Toys “R” Us, the children’s toys titan, are not yet set up for such exchanges; but Nordstrom and Kmart are both equipped to accept or exchange items that are purchased online.

When items arrive, unpack boxes carefully to facilitate shipping them back in the same packaging. Look inside for a “return shipping label,” which alleviates the cost to the consumer and is a courtesy of the company. Ask for one when you place your order. “If it’s not policy, but you are a good customer, they’ll include it,” swears self-admitted shopaholic Rayar.

Overall, who has the best record for returns? Lands End, the Dodgeville,Wisconsin, clothier. Since 1963 the store has accepted merchandise back “anytime and in any condition,” states Tara Roth, a communications representative. “We have accepted products that were 20 years old.”

Restocking … on You
When you return certain products to companies ranging from to Best Buy, you may have to pay a “restocking fee.” It’s the charge applied when you return a product after you have opened the box. You could pay as much as 20% of the purchasing price.

Retailers charge this fee because they often have to

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