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The Small Print On Return and Free Shipping Policies

Asking the Right Questions Can Save You Money


Read the Small Print

Read the Small Print

There are many advertised policies which convince us to buy from one retailer rather than another, but it is what is written after the first consumer-grabbing line, which will really determine if it is as good a deal as it looks.

Many stores, online and locally, advertise extended time periods for returns during the holiday season realizing many gifts will not be opened until Christmas day. However, it is important to read the specific terms in all return policies before you buy.

Take for example, Circuit City advertises a 30-day return policy. However, for digital cameras, camcorders, desktop PCs, notebook PCs, monitors, printers, scanners, projectors, PDAs, mobile video, GPS and radar detectors the return must be made within 14 days of the sale date, and (except where prohibited by law) are subject to a 15% restocking fee if returned opened or in a non-factory sealed box.

Notice, it is 14 days from the "sale" date, not the date you received it if it was shipped. Also, the list of exceptions to the advertised extended holiday return policy is extensive.

Many electronic and computer stores advertise extended return dates, but follow a similar policy as Circuit City. It is an important consideration when purchasing a gift too far in advance to giving the gift.

Partial Refunds

Partial refunds are much like restocking fees. The retailer will return the item, but only refund a portion of what was paid.

An example of this practice is posted on Amazon.com. The partial refund policy is listed for:

    "Any unopened media item or non-media item in original condition that is returned more than 30 days after delivery: 80% of item's price. Any book that has obvious signs of use: 50% of item's price. Any CD, DVD, VHS tape, software, video game, cassette tape, or vinyl record that has been opened (taken out of its plastic wrap): 50% of item's price.

    Any item that is not in its original condition, is damaged, or is missing parts for reasons not due to our error: up to 50% of item's price."

This is just a partial list of Amazon.com's lengthy return policies.

Tip - Return policies posted often change the day after Christmas. Print all online return policies and keep the receipts from all brick and mortar purchases. If you can take pictures with your cell phone, go ahead and take a picture of return signage in stores where you make large purchases.

Gift Cards

Gift Cards are a good solution to avoiding restocking fees and the hassle of returning a product, but some gift cards decline in value within certain time periods.

Most gift cards or certificates are not refundable. Unless you know for certain that the recipient is a regular shopper at a specific store, it is safer to buy mall certificates where they have a choice on where to spend the money.

Many stores refund in cash, the difference of a purchase made with a mall certificate. This is one way to sometimes get around the 'no cash refund' policies on gift cards.

Tip - If you purchase a gift card or gift certificate online, keep a copy of the certicate number, purchase date and transaction information in case the recipient loses the certificate.

Free Shipping But Not Free Handling Fees

Many online stores advertise free shipping, often with a purchase limit as a qualifyer. It seems like a great deal, right? Well, it is unless you go through the checkout process only to find out there is a hefty handling fee. If this happens and the amount seems ridiculously high, back out of the sale and shop elsewhere.

Low Price Guarantee

Don't count on it. It is an eye catching marketing approach many retailers now use to lure consumers into making, what they feel, is a price-confident purchase. However, the acrobats that consumers often have to go through to get a retailer to honor the advertising is often extreme and most people just give up in frustration.

Before you believe the claim of a retailer offering the lowest price or meeting competitors pricing, ask for the policy in writing. You'll be amazed at all the exclusions and proof you will have to obtain before many will actually meet a competitors price.

Many brick and mortar stores do not even meet its own online prices, using the reason that the online division is run as a seperate company or online stores can offer lower prices because they do not have expensive overhead like the brick and mortar stores.

Tip - Bring the competitors printed advertisment with you when you shop.

The Bottom Line

When purchasing from a store because of an advertised policy, read the small print.

More: Save Money By Avoiding Hidden Costs and Fees

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