Now that the holidays are over, are you staring at a heap of well-intended gifts that just didn’t work out? You’re likely stuck with the scarf your aunt kitted for you, but most presents purchased online can be returned. How easily that happens, though, depends on your approach.
National Returns Day annually falls during the first week of January, inundating businesses and postal services alike with some of the highest return volumes of the year. Understanding return policies is your key to ensuring effective returns after the holiday.
In 2020, U.S. retailers received more than $100 billion in online returns. The high volume of returns were noted to be a result of bracketing – a shopping practice where customers buy several versions of the same item to try out at home, and then sending back the products that didn’t meet the mark. For example, ordering a size up and a size down in a pair of jeans to find the right fit.
Adding items to your online shopping cart is easier than ever thanks to social media and other digital outlets for purchasing products, but the returns process can be a bit more complicated. Understanding some return policy basics before you purchase a present or go to give back a gift can make the return process much smoother.
Here’s are some tips on how to prepare and what to expect when returning an online purchase.
How to Return an Online Purchase: Gift-Givers.
Ask for a gift receipt. Spare yourself and your loved ones the hassle of an awkward conversation. A gift receipt provides proof of purchase to ensure that if your gift does need to be returned, it can be swapped out for something of equal value.
Always read the return policy in detail. The company’s return policy should be clearly stated on their website – and don’t forget to check customer reviews, as well. , 96% of online shoppers stated that a strong return policy influences their decision to purchase from a company again. Do the reviews mention the return process? If so, what were other customers’ experiences with returns?
Review return shipping and restocking fees. While many large companies offer free return shipping, don’t assume that all online retailers offer the same option. Companies with brick-and-mortar locations may only accept online returns in their stores. Even if return shipping is free, there may be restocking fees to consider. The return policy should clearly disclose restocking fees if there are any. Refer to their return policy to check for potential fees and call customer service if there is any doubt.
Verify return eligibility. Many companies offer a 30-day or 90-day return window on most purchases, but some retailers offer a little more time to account for holiday gifting. However, not all purchases are eligible for return and some departments may have smaller return windows than others. Fast fashion companies focus on trendy clothing with rapid turnarounds, so returns aren’t the most profitable path to take. Between the duration of shipping, processing, and refunding, the clothing returned will already be last season’s trend.
Watch for third-party retailers: Online retailers such as Amazon, Target, Walmart and Best Buy often allow third- vendors to sell products on their sites. Don’t assume those third-party sellers offer the same policies as the sites hosting their products. A quick check for a vendor’s return policy will save some gift-giving grief.
How to Return an Online Purchase: Gift Recipients.
Keep your gift receipts. They’re your key to confirming the original price paid for your gift. Without a gift receipt, some retailers may only offer a store credit for the item at its current sale price or even the lowest price it sold for in the past 30-days.
Return everything that came with your gift. This includes packaging, paperwork and anything else that was included in your original shipment. Especially for electronics, make sure the packaging is still intact or many merchants won’t accept the return. And if you’re returning clothing, don’t remove the tags or stickers.
Don’t delay returns. Take a couple of days to decide whether to keep or exchange the gifts you received. But try not to deliberate for too long. You may end up receiving less for the return or being stuck with the gift altogether. Some retailers have extended their return policies to Jan. 31, while others start their normal return window countdown as of Dec. 26. Make sure you know the difference.
Where can you return your package? Thanks to Amazon, consumers now expect to be able to return products via home pick-up, in-store drop offs, and lockers. As a result, many companies are adopting similar practices to facilitate the return process and maintain customer satisfaction. This information is normally listed in the return policy if these options are available.
How to shop safer (and smarter) online.
Verify that you are shopping on a credible website. With the rise of online shopping during the holidays, fraudulent websites prey on online shoppers more than usual.
Always use a credit card for online purchases. It’s easier to dispute credit card charges than debit purchases. This is particularly important when shopping online because of the higher risks of fraudulent charges and shipping mishaps.
Give your loved one enough time to return the gift. We’re not saying you’re a terrible gift-giver, but if for some reason they don’t like your gift, make sure there’s an open window for returns. Although we recommend you complete your holiday shopping early because of supply chain shortages, make sure there’s enough time for returns.
Researching vendors prior to placing an order is the best way to make sure you’re putting your money – and trust – in the right hands. Before you check out, use BBB.org to ensure your shopping experience will be a smooth one.