How to get a full refund and not be charged a restocking fee when you make a return to a store

Many retailers offer full refunds on products but still get you with a fee

Published: July 2014

There are plenty of ads out there that promise a full refund on a product for just about any reason at all. Knowing you get a refund makes it easier to go ahead and make a purchase. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be hit with a fee. A number of companies charge “restocking fees” that that are often about 15 percent to 20 percent but can go much higher. One reader, who was told there would be a restocking fee if he returned a product, wrote to us at our personal finance newsletter, Money Adviser, about the practice. 

Q: I was not allowed to turn on the display models of vacuums I was interested in buying at Sears, and I was told I would be charged a 15 percent restocking fee if I returned one. Can a retailer do that? —J.M., Lake Isabella, Calif.

A: Consumer Reports has long come down on the practice of charging fees for items returned and not in factory-sealed packages. But it is still a common practice for many retailers.

Amazon.com, for instance, just released its first smart phone, the Fire, on July 25. It’s available through Amazon.com or through AT&T. AT&T says that if a financed smart phone is returned or exchanged within 14 days, a restocking fee up to $35 may apply.

At many retailers, restocking fees are allowed as long as the fee is clearly disclosed and as long as it isn’t charged if you’re returning an item because of a defect or missing part, or because it wasn’t what you ordered. Although Sears does have a restocking fee for certain items, vacuums aren’t among them. And Sears encourages customers to try vacuums in its stores, a spokesman told us. 

In general, though, there are guidelines you should keep in mind so that if you buy a product, you will be able to avoid restocking charges. As we have written before in Consumer Reports, to avoid being hit by a restocking fee: Don’t open a package if you don’t want what’s inside. Items such as computer software, music CDs, and movie DVDs generally aren’t returnable if the seal is broken. You don't have to pay a restocking fee if the item you are returning is defective.  Also, if you are charged a restocking fee, try to negotiate a partial refund.

Editor's Note:

This article has been updated from the May 2014 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser.



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