Boston, MA (PRWEB) December 18, 2006
Shoppers may be in for some nasty surprises the day after Christmas as stores continue to enforce complicated and restrictive return policies, including checking a “blacklist” of “serial returners” prior to a refund, or by imposing unexpected restocking fees. That is the conclusion of Consumer World’s annual survey of retail return policies.
Some retailers including Sports Authority, one-third of Staples stores, Express, The Limited and KB Toys use a computer database by The Return Exchange of Irvine, CA to track customer returns. (Home Depot, Wal-mart, Barnes & Noble, and others reportedly use their own proprietary systems.) Typically, stores swipe the shopper’s driver’s license when a return is being made, and if the store’s return limit is exceeded, the customer’s tendered return is denied (no denials at KB). Some stores’ posted policies do not warn shoppers of a cap on frequent returns. Others, like Express and The Limited, are for the first time explicitly disclosing return limits albeit on inconspicuous signs and receipt backs: five returns within any 90 day period with a receipt, or only up to $ 300 without a receipt.
Other stores are using increasingly strict but conventional means to curb returns. Items such as computers, digital cameras, and opened goods may be subject to limited return rights, restocking fees, shortened return periods, or no refunds at all. For example:
— Last year, Sears introduced a broad 15% restocking fee on select home appliances, electronics, home improvements, household goods, lawn and garden equipment, and automotive items not returned unused with full packaging. In 2006, “sporting goods” was added, and certain unopened items now must be returned in 14 days. Their return policy still appears mainly on 6″ by 5″ signs in tiny print, and on the back of sales slips. This inconspicuous disclosure may not comply with state law.
— Circuit City and Best Buy’s return period is 14 days on digital cameras, camcorders, computers, monitors, and a few other items and they impose a 15% restocking fee if some of them have been opened. Though Circuit City’s large yellow return policy signs with small white lettering have been moved from back walls closer to counters in some stores, they are still difficult to read.
— JC Penney requires special occasion dresses to be returned with the “return tag” still in place. (This thwarts shoppers from “wardrobing” for a one-time wearing.)
— Novel policies: Amazon deducts 20-50% for certain returns after 30 days. SmartBargains.com will keep any goods returned twice after 30 days, and provide no credit for such items. Buy.com’s “Easy Returns” policy is over 1400 words long.
— OfficeDepot.com only offers identical exchanges on laptops, digital cameras, PDAs, projectors, and handheld computers returned within 14 days. New for 2006: In-store, without a receipt, technology items are only exchangeable for the same item.
— Target offers no returns without a receipt, but will search their system for one.
“There may be many unhappy returns this year if consumers are slapped with unexpected restocking fees, or find themselves erroneously placed on a returns blacklist,” said Edgar Dworsky, Founder of Consumer World