Did you know that refund and exchange policies are not required by law? In fact, retailers offer refund policies as a voluntary practice. There are no laws that require merchants to offer refunds, exchanges or credit on merchandise they sell, although laws do protect consumers from misrepresented or defective products.
Don’t assume you can get your money back just by taking the unwanted item into the store and asking for it. Return policies should be stated specifically by the store, but it’s up to the consumer to know what those policies are and to realize they can change from store to store.
A policy often is printed in plain sight like on a sales receipt or posted at the cash register. If you don’t see the policy, ask up front. Understand the policy of the store before you pay for the item. Keep your receipt and any packaging the item came in.
Different policies mean different things. Ask up front and do your part when returning a purchase to have a successful return experience.
Exchange: When the store’s policy states that you may exchange your purchase, it means the item may be returned to the store and another similar item taken in its place. This does not apply to “all sales final” policies or sale items unless stated.
Return for credit: This means the store will provide the customer with a store credit for the value of the purchased item. You then may apply that amount to the purchase of any other item in the same store. You may use the credit the day you return the item or at a later date. Be sure to ask if the credit has an expiration date.
Refund policy: This states that the item can be returned for your money back, and most of the time has stipulations such as receipt required, a time limit to get the refund or that items must be new and in original packaging. A refund is voluntary on the store’s part and is not required by law.
Restocking fee: A restocking fee is a fee assessed for the time the item was out of the store and unable to be sold to someone else. This usually is applied to specialty items or hard-to-find items, and is one of the most complained about return policies. Inquire if there is a restocking fee before making your purchase, if you’re not willing to pay it and there is a chance the item will be returned, you may want to consider buying something else.
Retailers may adopt some, none or all of the above-mentioned return policies. Health regulations prohibit the return of certain merchandise such as hats, bathing suits or other intimate apparel.
Product warranties often are confused with store return policies. Products often come with stated or implied warranties from their manufacturer. Federal law requires that warranties be available for you to read before you buy a product, even when you’re shopping by catalog or online.
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 customer service; however, you may have to return the item directly to the manufacturer or a service center.
With the holidays upon us, it is good advice to keep all receipts and packaging until you’re sure the purchase will not be returned. Simply knowing a store’s refund and exchange policies before making a purchase can save lots of frustration and help you avoid standing in long lines after the holidays are over.
Kelvin Collins is the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA Inc. For questions call (800) 763-4222.