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The 5 Worst Retailer Return Policies

Last updated by on 14 Comments

Poor Customer Service by Policy

Whereas good customer service and focus should be rewarded (see my list of the best retailer return policies), poor customer service and focus should be called out and not disguised as anything else. Today, we’ll take a look at the worst retailer return policies. These retailers typically make it a pain to return things, to help boost their profit margins.

How much business do they lose to competitors because of their policies? Only time will tell. In some cases, these retailers have little competition to worry about, which has allowed them to get away with a poor customer focus. But this only leaves the door open for their competitors down the line. Show these retailers what you think about their return policies by shopping at competitors who are more generous with theirs.

Apple’s Return Policy

apple return policy

# of Days to Return Item: 14

Receipt Required: Yes

Commentary: If you’ve used iTunes, you know how prohibitive and closed the platform is. So much so, that Apple bought out competitor Lala.com and shut them down without even offering a similar service. Lala had a much more customer friendly business model and a fast, friendly-to-use interface. Apple killed the competition when it offered a superior offering. It wasn’t the first time, and it surely won’t be the last. It shouldn’t then come to any surprise that Apple’s retail return policies are not any more customer friendly.

Despite the fact that the product is their own and they know their own product release dates, Apple will only let you return unopened items within 14 days (30 for iPhone). After 14 days? You’re screwed. Open the item? 10% restocking fee. Your products are good, Apple, but that doesn’t mean they are always perfect. Why not stand behind them?

Best Buy’s Return Policy

best buy return policy

# of Days to Return Item: 15 days on all “eligible” items, but it doesn’t clarify what items are “eligible”.

Receipt Required: Yes

Bonus Negative Points: Don’t even think about returning the following items – Best Buy does not allow it:

  • Labor, delivery and/or completed Geek Squad® installation services
  • Some prepaid cards, digital subscriptions or services
  • Consumable items such as food, drinks and batteries
  • Ink/Toner cartridges that have had their factory sealed packaging opened
  • Items that are damaged or abused
  • Items that are missing accessories such as remote controls, cords and cables
  • Etched or otherwise personalized items
  • Opened computer software, movies, music and video games can be exchanged for the identical item but cannot be returned for a refund
  • Downloadable digital content (such as games and movies)
  • Microphones, harmonicas and similar products
  • Marketplace items
  • Non-defective special orders
  • Return and exchange shipments from outside the country

Commentary: Best Buy’s return policy in both prohibitive in the number of days you have to return and also complex in what items you can return within those time frames. Throw in re-stocking fees, and you provide a very poor all around customer experience. I’m not sure how long this particular policy has been around, but with Circuit City closing shop, Best Buy has a dominating market position in brick & mortar consumer electronics that has allowed them to institute/keep this type of policy without losing ground to the competition.

As I highlighted last week, Costco’s return policy, allows 90 days on all electronics and unlimited on everything else. Simple, customer friendly, and reasonable. All of which, Best Buy’s return policy is not.

Amazon’s Return Policy

Amazon return policy

# of Days to Return Item: 30 for many items, but varies by category.

Receipt Required: Yes. You must locate your order number and fill out an online form to get a mailing label.

Commentary: Amazon does a lot of things right, which has allowed them to become the clear #1 online retailer. However, Amazon’s return policy is not one of them. The first question under their return policy FAQ is ‘what is Amazon’s return policy?’. The answer: ” Our return policies vary depending on the type of item you’d like to return. See our Product Return Policies Help pages for details.”

Yikes. Amazon’s return policy is so complicated that each category of items needs its own return policy page for details. For starters, unlike Zappo’s return policy, there is no free shipping on return items. If you purchased from a seller, you must work with that individual seller. Some items, such as computers, have a restocking fee.

Amazon does get positive points for having an extended holiday return policy extension to January 31. Not the worst of the worst, but you’d expect a little more from a company that is in as dominant of a position as it is and who recently purchased a company (Zappos) with an extremely friendly return policy. They are probably guilty due to their success and dominance in the space more than anything. Still love them though for the great deals and free shipping. And I hear their customer service is great (haven’t had to use it).

Tiger Direct Return Policy

tiger_direct_return_policy

# of Days to Return Item: 30 (14 for desktop and laptop computers, tablets, televisions, projectors, digital cameras, camcorders, gaming consoles and GPS devices).

Receipt Required: Yes, and according to them, “Returns must be in a “new” resalable condition, including all manuals, components and accessories, and in the manufacturer’s original packaging.”

Commentary: All returns may be subject to a 15% restocking fee. Ugh.

OfficeMax Return Policy

officemax return policy

# of Days to Return Item: Between 14 and 30.

Receipt Required: Original receipt required.

Commentary: OfficeMax has a prohibitive time frame for returns, for starters. ‘Technology’, software, and furniture must be returned within 14 days with the original receipt. Office supplies and ink/toner get 30 days. ‘Technology’ returns are subject to a 15% restocking fee. Don’t have the receipt? You’ll have to settle for store credit.

Office Depot’s return policy is equally as bad. Slightly better is Staple’s return policy, which states, “If you’re not 100% satisfied with your Staples purchase, return it for any reason.” No restocking fees and no limits on unopened software, office supplies, or ink and toner. Isn’t that refreshing?

Poor Return Policy Discussion:

What is the worst return experience you have had?

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14 Comments »
  • Jon says:

    Just a quick note in favor of Amazon. While their return policy may be confusing, their customer support is some of the best I’ve dealt with, and have heard many other stories of the same. For example, my Kindle’s case was slightly off and they overnighted me a brand new one, with a shipping label to send my old one back. This was 2 months after purchase.

    Also had a friend just get refunded their shipping cost from Amazon when UPS screwed up the shipping (it came a few days late). Most other retailers would have told you to talk to UPS about it.

  • Wizard Prang says:

    Agreed. Amazon is the only company I have ever dealt with whose customer service peeps call _me_

  • cw says:

    Yeah, I’ve returned things to Amazon before and even though it didn’t meet the return “guidelines” for my situation, I still got a FULL refund. I doubt that they always have someone checking every product. Just saying.

    Also, having worked at Best Buy customer service, I will agree that their policy is confusing, but there are reasons. The restocking fee is in place most because the company was having issues of customers “renting” the product. Purchasing a camera, taking it on vacation, and then returning it. You forgot to mention that if your product is indeed defective there is no restocking fee.

    We can return labor under extreme circumstances and with manager permission. Think about it, if you pay for labor, and the labor is preformed, you can’t unperform the labor. Just saying.

    And yes BB doesn’t take back phone cards or music cards because if you were to buy an itunes card for instance, and then wanted to return it, for whatever reason BB does not get the money back from Apple, so that is not BB’s fault.

    Also, you are forgetting a MAJOR return policy that is HORRIBLE. Forever 21 offers a 21 day return policy and you can ONLY get STORE CREDIT, that is it.

    I’d like to point out that in a world of e-bay and craigslist, most retailer’s return policies are a lot better than what most people need.

  • Natalie says:

    The only bad experience I can remember lately is with Amazon. I received some gifts for my baby shower and I couldn’t return duplicates because it was over 30 days. I still have the items in my closet, unopened. I called and talked to customer service, but they just said if I couldn’t print a label it was too bad. I’m still a little peeved because there is no way I could have returned items from a baby shower before the baby was born. I had no way to know what I would need and Amazon was unwilling to listen to (what I thought were) reasonable mitigating circumstances. Despite this I love Amazon, and I probably buy more stuff there than everywhere else put together so it’s more likely I will have trouble there too.

    Side note, I don’t think that a return policy is bad in and of itself, especially at an electronics store. However, it’s important to know what the policy of the store is before you shop so you don’t get a nasty surprise if you try to return late.

  • BrokeProfessional says:

    Has anyone else taken note of whether company’s return policies have gotten better or worse since the “Great Recession” Started. I do not return nearly enough items to know, but I am curious if there has been an effect.

  • Greg McFarlane says:

    I beg to differ on Apple’s policy. I’ve had a couple of MagSafe Power Adapters die outside of the warranty period, and both times an Apple Store employee replaced them free without me even asking.

    I can’t blame retailers for having strict return policies. An earlier commenter complained that she had duplicate baby shower gifts that she wanted to return. Seriously? So there’s nothing defective about them, you’d just prefer the cash and would like Amazon to forgo their fair profit and reduce your clutter for you by taking the items off your hands? Sorry, but unless something you buy (or worse yet, get free from a friend) is broken or fundamentally different than what you expected, suck it up and sell the stuff you don’t want on eBay or Craig’s List.

  • Sharron Clemons says:

    Just a quick note in favor of Amazon. While their return policy may be confusing, their customer support is some of the best I’ve dealt with, and have heard many other stories of the same. For example, my Kindle’s case was slightly off and they overnighted me a brand new one, with a shipping label to send my old one back. This was 2 months after purchase. Also had a friend just get refunded their shipping cost from Amazon when UPS screwed up the shipping (it came a few days late). Most other retailers would have told you to talk to UPS about it.

  • Sharron Clemons says:

    Yeah, I’ve returned things to Amazon before and even though it didn’t meet the return “guidelines” for my situation, I still got a FULL refund. I doubt that they always have someone checking every product. Just saying. Also, having worked at Best Buy customer service, I will agree that their policy is confusing, but there are reasons. The restocking fee is in place most because the company was having issues of customers “renting” the product. Purchasing a camera, taking it on vacation, and then returning it. You forgot to mention that if your product is indeed defective there is no restocking fee. We can return labor under extreme circumstances and with manager permission. Think about it, if you pay for labor, and the labor is preformed, you can’t unperform the labor. Just saying. And yes BB doesn’t take back phone cards or music cards because if you were to buy an itunes card for instance, and then wanted to return it, for whatever reason BB does not get the money back from Apple, so that is not BB’s fault. Also, you are forgetting a MAJOR return policy that is HORRIBLE. Forever 21 offers a 21 day return policy and you can ONLY get STORE CREDIT, that is it. I’d like to point out that in a world of e-bay and craigslist, most retailer’s return policies are a lot better than what most people need.

  • Nona Mills says:

    Just a quick note in favor of Amazon. While their return policy may be confusing, their customer support is some of the best I’ve dealt with, and have heard many other stories of the same. For example, my Kindle’s case was slightly off and they overnighted me a brand new one, with a shipping label to send my old one back. This was 2 months after purchase. Also had a friend just get refunded their shipping cost from Amazon when UPS screwed up the shipping (it came a few days late). Most other retailers would have told you to talk to UPS about it.

  • BP says:

    I disagree with your criticism of Apple, they do stand behind their product. I just had a 3.5 year old laptop’s hard drive, keyboard, and casing all replaced for free. Even though the hard drive was from another manufacturer, Apple still stood behind their product two year’s after the warranty expired. I suppose it is an easy target for criticizing return policies, as they have a limited selection of products all of which would be basically worthless if return after use.
    I have also never had issues with Amazon’s policy and their 30-day TV return policy is better than most anywhere as it includes shipping. The Zappos model is a bit ridiculous if you ask me, though I have certainly used their services.

  • Elisa says:

    BEWARE OF AMAZON MARKETPLACE ITEMS. I bought an item from one of these sellers and it was not what I wanted. I returned the item, unopened and in pristine condition. The company is giving me a hard time about refunding me my money. I just read their return policy. They charge a 15% restocking fee on all returns. I paid $800 for this item.

    Unfortunately, I did not think to read their return policy before purchasing the item.

    A bit sneaky I believe.

    Most ppl assume that if they return the item in a timely manner, and it is unopened and in perfect condition, the company will fully refund your money.

    NOT SO.

    BEWARE.

    THIS IS A SCAM IMO!!!!

    Outrageous! Corporate America at its worst!

    Shame!

  • Brooke says:

    Blue Velvet Vintage has the worst return policy I’ve ever encountered. Here’s a cautionary tale for anyone considering buying from this website – only purchase their product if you’re willing to take the risk of losing your money if the product looks different in the light of day than on their website. My daughter bought a prom dress from them. It didn’t fit well and the dress looked tacky in real life. The store’s policy requires that you get a return authorization within 3 days of receipt and return the item within 7 days. Even if you successfully jump through those hoops, they will only allow you to exchange for a different size or take a store credit that expires in a year. I tried to return my daughter’s dress after the 3/7 day limit and asked for a store credit (accepting that they wouldn’t give a refund), and they wouldn’t budge. To add insult to injury, the customer service rep was incredibly rude and obnoxious, telling me basically that we were stupid not to follow their policy to the letter and that they didn’t want customers like us anyway. Ah well, live and learn.

  • Bob says:

    Buy with AMEX, you can return almost anything within 90 days (subject to a cap). This will definitely cover restocking fees, however. Look up AMEX return protection

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