At the retail store, most sales staffers are understandably focused on the sale, not the return policy. So it’s often totally up to the consumer to investigate where the store’s policies fall on the spectrum from downright stingy (brief return window, hefty restocking fees) to exceptionally generous (no fees, free shipping on returns). Which retailers, for example, grant full refunds on purchases returned within 180 days? Or a full year? Or pretty much whenever the customer feels like it?
An informative lifehacker post has some answers. Breaking down purchases into categories such as electronics, books, and clothing, the post demonstrates that electronics—computers, gadgets, cell phones, smartphones—are the most likely purchases to be sold with tough fine print for returns. Return policies on many electronics from the likes of Best Buy, Staples, Walmart, and Apple qualify as decent because they allow full refunds with no restocking fee, but only if the return occurs within 14 or 15 days of purchase. That’s better than Newegg; lifehacker says returns are often not allowed on defective items. (Generally speaking, returns are OK after customers jump through some hoops, including filing an official Return Merchandise Authorization, paying for shipping, and being subject to a 15% restocking fee.) RadioShack customers, on the other hand, can return absolutely anything from the store within 30 days of purchase, with no restocking fees.
For pricier purchases, restocking fees are more than an annoyance: They can add up to a big chunk of change. While most stores that charge these fees max them out at 15%, others charge as much as 25%. One consumer in Connecticut, for example, recently discovered to great dismay that she was facing a $260 restocking fee to return a $1,299 stove that didn’t fit properly in her kitchen.
Customers are less likely to have to cough up restocking fees on cell phones—fyi, Best Buy might hit iPhone returners with 10% restocking fees, but Apple assesses no such fees for returns initiated within 14 days of purchase—and especially for clothing and household items. Online shoe seller Zappos has a self-service return policy customers rave about, in which items can be returned within a year of purchase, with return shipping covered by the retailer. Kohl’s and L.L. Bean, meanwhile, allow returns on just about anything, at any time.
Bear in mind that there’s somewhat of a downside to making purchases from a retailer because of its generous return policies. Shoppers are more likely to buy items they don’t need or don’t really want when they know returns are granted easily. The problem is in the follow-through: Often, consumers never actually get around to returning these items.
(MORE: Customer Service Hell)