10 Common Problems With Online Returns (And How To Avoid Them)

Dear Rich Lifer,

Are you planning to shop online this holiday season?

If you answered yes, then you’re in good company. A recent survey by CreditCards.com found that 7 in 10 baby boomers say they will do most of their holiday shopping online this year.

This is an almost 20 percent increase from last year. Convenience was the top reason cited for shopping online, but more than half of respondents said avoiding other people amid the coronavirus pandemic is also a factor.

In past issues, we’ve shared tips on how to avoid scams when shopping online. We’ve also covered how to score the best deals.

But a question we hear a lot is “What happens when I have to return something I bought online?”

Nearly 30 percent of products purchased online are sent back, says B-Stock Solutions, a liquidation platform. Compared with roughly 10 percent of in-store purchases, that’s a significant number.

If you’ve ever had to return something online, you might have thought it was easy — pop the item in a box, ship it back to the retailer, and wait for your money to get credited back to your credit card or account.

In theory, online returns should be this simple. But the reality is problems crop up. With a global pandemic still looming, shoppers have to contend with changing store policies, processing delays, and not to mention retailer bankruptcies, which can all prevent you from getting your money back.

To make your life less stressful, we’ve dug up 10 of the most common problems you may encounter when returning something online and how to side-step them like a pro.

Plus, as we approach the most critical election of our lifetimes in 2020…what should you expect?

Problem #1: Your Return Credit Is Taking Forever

Sometimes online refunds can take awhile to process. Amazon suggests it can take up to a month for you to receive a credit, depending on the payment method used, which includes processing time.

With the coronavirus pandemic, you can expect these time frames to stretch out even further. If you need the money back ASAP, see if you can return the item you purchased at a retail location nearby.

If that’s not an option, try calling the retailer and complaining. It’s not always pretty, but it gets the job done most of the time.

Problem #2: The Online Store Disappears 

It’s not uncommon for smaller boutique websites to suddenly vanish, leaving customers who’ve paid for products in a lurch. To avoid getting burned by shady retailers, always pay with a credit card online.

Credit cards typically have more protections than debit cards. This also applies to online stores that are unresponsive. Perhaps the retailer still exists, but they’re not answering your emails or phone calls.

You can usually dispute the charge on your credit card and get your money back, which is called a charge-back. This also applies to merchandise you were billed for but returned. For details on how to get a charge-back, go to consumer.ftc.gov.

Problem #3: The Company Files For Bankruptcy 

Most of the bankruptcies this year were Chapter 11 reorganizations, which means most of those retailers are still in business. For example, J. Crew’s parent company declared bankruptcy in May, but as of August you could still shop and return items online.

However, a lot of companies in Chapter 11 end up shutting down for good, so if you have returns at retailers who’ve declared bankruptcy this year, make sure you start the return process ASAP!

Problem #4: Your Return Is Rejected 

According to the Better Business Bureau, stores are not legally required to give refunds unless merchandise is defective or misrepresented.

It’s critical you pay attention to return deadlines. Every store has a different policy and some items are not allowed to be returned. If you run into this issue where a retailer is rejecting your return, see if your credit card offers any protection.

But be aware that your credit card might have coverage caps and will likely require tons of paperwork to fill out. Another strategy is to sell the product you bought on a resale platform, like eBay. Amazon also has a trade-in program that pays you in gift cards for your returned products.

Problem #5: You Get Hit With Return Fees

As we said earlier, always check the return policy before you place the order. Some retailers charge restocking fees and return shipping fees which can eat away at your return credit.

Amazon’s policy states that if a customer misses the return window, the item is no longer eligible to return. Apple charges a 15 percent fee on iPhones and iPads. Beware of these hidden fees, and if you run into one, see if you can avoid the fee by returning the item to a nearby store. Or try calling customer service to see if they’ll waive the fee.

Problem #6 :You Bought It On Best Buy, But Best Buy Didn’t Sell It

More and more online retailers are creating “marketplaces” where third party sellers can list products for sale. Best Buy, Amazon, and Walmart all allow third-party sellers.

This is good news for selection, but can cause problems and confusion with returns. Always look for the words “ships and sold by” under the Add to Cart button. The product page listing should tell you who’s selling it if it’s not the retailer.

There’s nothing wrong with buying from a third party seller, but you’ll need to review their return policy to make sure you know what you’re signing up for. Also check the resellers ratings and customer reviews.

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Problem #7: You Opened The Box 

Just because you opened the package doesn’t mean you can’t still return it. A lot of online retailers take back opened merchandise. Read the return policy to find out if you’ll receive a full refund or store credit.

Problem #8: You Threw Out The Box

Depending on the retailer, you may still be able to return the item without the original packaging. Even if you have the original packaging, be careful when shipping the items back to the retailer to ensure no damage occurs in transit. Some policies require items to be “like new” or in their “original” condition.

If you lost the packaging, there’s still hope. Amazon allows you to return unboxed items inside Kohl’s stores now.

Problem #9: The Product Broke, But It’s Past The Return Deadline

If a retailer won’t take back a product it sold you that stopped working, contact the product manufacturer. Most electronics and appliances have manufacturer warranties. Also check with your credit card issuer, as they may offer damage or theft coverage.

Problem #10: You’ve Been Blacklisted

If a retailer denies you a refund and says you have made too many returns, you might be blacklisted. This is something not many shoppers realize, but there are entire companies dedicated to fighting for retailers.

TheRetailEquation.com is a website that tracks returns for retailers and flags buyers it deems suspect of fraudulent or “abusive” returns. If you’ve recently been denied a refund, check TheRetailEquation.com for steps on how to get your name off a retailer’s black list.

Hopefully these 10 tips will help you resolve any refund disputes you may encounter this holiday season.

Online shopping is a great way to avoid the crowds and save time, don’t let the fear of not being able to return something dissuade you from shopping online.

To a richer life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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